Picking a domain name is a necessary step for your website. Having a domain name allows you to identify your website using a keyword or a set of keywords. In addition, the domain extension further identifies your website by category or geographical presence. Without a domain name your website would simply be a dedicated IP address or a directory of an IP address, which most likely would have a ~ in front of the directory name.Who wants that? A domain name gives you an identity – a brand. A brand that gives you the potential to grow online.

Choosing a domain name for your website can be difficult, especially now-a-days when there are so many websites – domain name prices have decreased over the years. You need to consider what to name your website, what domain extension to use, what registrar to use, your budget, domain security and brand protection.

It’s true that there are hundreds of articles about tips for picking the right domain name, however, to me, they are incomplete – they talk about which registrar to use and not all the factors and considerations involved. This article is going to talk about everything you need to know, a complete guide, from a person who owns thousands of domain names and has used numerous domain name services.

Picking a Name

Your Domain Name Should Be:

There are many things to consider when choosing a domain name. The name of the domain, not including the extension, should be:

  1. A keyword, term or phrase; and
  2. A maximum of three (3) words;

If you are using more than one (1) word for the name, the words together should make sense. Just combining keywords, as others suggest, can make your website hard to brand because the domain name may not make sense or may not be fully in line with the name of the website.

The less words, the more valuable your domain name will be. However, it is hard to get a single word domain name because of the growth of the Internet. Your domain name should not exceed three (3) words and this way, your brand will be easy to remember. In addition, the less yet precise keywords can give you a greater potential for higher keyword search engine rankings.

You can argue that words like a, the, and of should not be counted in the three (3) word maximum, but I believe it should. They are words and contribute to the length of the domain name.

Things to Consider

You should also consider the following when deciding which name to use:

  1. The word or word(s) chosen should match the name of your website;

The closer the keywords match your website name, the more valuable of a brand you’ll have and the potential to have great search engine rankings.

What To Do If Your Website Name is Too Long?

If the name of your website exceeds three (3) words, you have a hard decision. While, three (3) keywords is a great rule to follow, it may not work in all situations, so you can ignore the three (3) keyword rule or you can smartly cut the size of the website name to have a shorter domain name within the three (3) keywords.

Example 1: The South African Safari -> southafricansafari.com

Example 2: The Best South African Safari -> southafricansafari.com

In both examples you could also use africansafari.com, but you should avoid shortening South African as SA, i.e. sasafari.com. It is easier to remember, but the keywords are not there.

The Exemption

That’s a lot of things to consider, huh? So, now I’m going to throw you a curve ball. There is an exemption to everything: three (3) or four (4) character domain names. Domain names that consist of three (3) or four (4) characters are rare and valuable. They are also easy to remember and most brands consisting of three (3) or four (4) keywords will also abbreviate the name and make the abbreviation a part of the brand.

Example 1: The South African Safari -> tsas.com or sas.com

Example 2: Canadian Travel Bloggers Association -> ctba.com

You won’t be able to obtain two (2) character domains, as they are reserved by the domain registry and come at a premium. Though, some domain registries may allow it.

Note: Domain registry is the organization looking after the domain extension and they do not allow you to buy the domain through them – exemption: two (2) character domains (most likely). They give rights to registrars to sell domain names for that extension to individuals and businesses.

What to Avoid

You should avoid the following:

  1. Hyphens; and
  2. Mixing keywords and abbreviations.

Hyphens will decrease the value of your domain name and most people will not remember to use a hyphen when typing the domain in an Internet browser – so, confusion can occur.

In addition, you should avoid using keywords and abbreviations together, i.e. WordPress Bloggers Association -> should not be WordPressBA.com. As there is really no brand there and there is a lack of keywords in comparison to the website name.

Domain Name Extensions

Domain name extensions also play a critical role in choosing a domain name, as some extensions are more valuable than others and can contribute to the overall value of your domain name.

Domain extensions give individuals and businesses more options to choose from, because keyword(s) can be used multiple times.

The older the domain extension is and the more general the domain extension is, the more value it will give your overall domain value.

Each domain extension has a meaning: .com = commercial, .net = network, .org = organization, .info = information, etc…

Some domain extensions may be used as “hacks,” meaning they mean A but a set of individuals or businesses use them as B, such an .io being used for Internet start-ups, when in reality it was meant for Indian Ocean Territory.

If you targeting a specific geographical location or you are a business or individual in a specific geographical location, you can also use a domain extension for that geographical location, i.e. you can use .ca for Canada or .de for Germany. Using a country specific domain extension can also increase search engine rankings when someone uses a country specific search engine. What I mean by this is, if someone goes to Google Canada, google.ca, and searches for a keyword, by you using a country specific domain extension, can give you the potential of ranking higher in that search.

Domain Names are Internet Real Estate

You should 100% consider domain names to be real estate for the Internet. Domain names are of course not as valuable, in general, as real property like homes and condos but they can be sold for thousands and even millions. In addition, the name of a domain can contribute to the income potential of a website.

Domain Name Value

The name of the domain contributes to the value of the domain and should consider that before registering a domain. It’s a great add to have a domain that matches your website name and is worth more than your yearly cost.

You can estimate the domain name value by using one or all of the following services:

  1. EstiBot
  2. Valuate.com
  3. GoDaddy

Remember, the value is that of the domain name and not the website or the income potential of that website.

Domain Name Variations

You also need to be aware of variations, both language and extension. This can lead to devaluing of your brand, as others are using similar keywords. Plus it can lead to brand confusion and loss of loyalty.

Language variations? Really? What do I mean? The same language can have different variations of a word, this is common in English. A diction word in English can be spelled differently, i.e. travelling which is British English would be spelled as traveling in American English.

You can and should also register any plurals of a word for your domain, i.e. South African Safari is the name of your website and domain name, so you may want to register the domain for South African Safaris.

You need to take this into consideration! Protect your brand name! Make sure you register both versions of the word.

Also, you need to protect your online brand from country extension variations, i.e. yourbrand.com, yourbrand.ca yourbrand.co.uk, etc… You also need to consider this and if you are targeting other geographical locations with your website, you may want to register those country specific extensions as well. By not doing so, you are giving another person or business an opportunity to use the same keywords and therefore compete against you.

Buying a Domain Name

You can buy domain names three (3) ways: a domain registrar, through an auction or private domain buying.

Most people and business only consider buying through a registrar and many articles only name this method, but it’s not the only method and buying through an auction or a private method can get you the domain you want or acquire potential competing domain names.

What to Buy

When buying a domain through a Registrar, make sure you know what services are included. Some registrars may offer free e-mail or DNS. In my opinion, they are not important and it’s best to buy from specialized service providers.

Do Not Buy

You should avoid buying the domain name(s) through your web hosting provider, as some web hosting providers may hold your domain hostage, so you cannot move it to another hosting provider or registrar. This practice is common and is often done when the web hosting providers gives you the domain for free or a part of a long-term billing cycle.

Build Traffic with Expired Domain Names

You can also try buying expired domain names that hold value in the name or that have traffic. As buying a domain that still has traffic coming to it, can give your domain a little or a lot of traffic boost. Especially since most domain names only cost USD $10 per year.

Buy Domain Names for Categories or Services of your Website

You can buy domain names for sub-brands of your domain name: categories, topics, services, etc… This is designed to protect the overall brand, i.e. South Africa Travel Agency may want to register the domain for South African Safaris.

Before You Don’t Renew Your Domain Name

You should understand domain names can be valuable, so before you let your domain name go, consider keeping it and trying to sell it or use a domain name parking service to monetize the domain; this is to make money off of the domain name. After all some domain name extensions are cheap to own.

Legal Stuff to Understand

You should make sure to avoid registering domain names that consist of a trademark. Individuals and businesses take trademark infringement seriously and will take action to stop you from using that trademark. If they do, you may have serious legal / financial ramifications and in addition you’ll need to re-brand, which can be difficult.

You should also understand the legal agreements that come with the domain name – all of them: registrar, registry and ICANN (the governing body of domain names. There maybe restrictions that may cause you to lose your domain name.