How to Choose the Right Domain Name and Extension for Your Website

    by Alisa Meredith

    Date

    October 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    domain-names-1This post originally appeared on Inbound Insiders, a new section on the Inbound Hub blog.

    Well, you’ve done your market research (who knew there was such demand for a kielbasa manufacturer in Cleveland?), chosen your business name (“Greg’s Kielbasa” -- after your grandfather!), and perfected your product and delivery -- Yum!

    Now you’re planning a website that’ll have your potential customers' mouths watering and distributors lining up around the corner. But there’s one step that can turn even the most confident of business owners into a waffling, indecisive pool of jelly: choosing the perfect domain name and extension.

    There are plenty of different aspects to consider before selecting just any old name. So how do you ensure your website is represented by the best possible domain name and extension? First, a short lesson on how they came to be.

    Domain Names & Extensions: A Brief History

    Before 1984, when University of Wisconsin technicians developed a name server, there were no domain names, only numbers like http://174.120.153.75/ to designate a website address. Imagine that on your business card!

    Suddenly in 1985, domain names using the extensions .com, .net, and .org were available to the world.  And today, tens of thousands of new domain names are registered every single day -- with over 300 domain extensions ranging from .ac to .zw!

    Your domain name will probably cost around $10 a year, but premium domains can go for up to $20,000 and in 2010, sex.com sold for $13 million. Ooh-la-la!

    Why find a .com domain?

    Think of a website address. Any website address. Unless a government or nonprofit site came to mind, chances are, the domain extension is .com. In fact, 52% of all websites are .com sites.

    Especially if you're going to be telling people what your website address is (as opposed to them finding you in search engine results), there are benefits to using the “default” domain extension .com simply for easy recall.

    What if my .com name is not available?

    Well, there are a few workarounds here, such as utilizing a hyphen or an underscore. If you choose do so, limit yourself to one to avoid looking spammy -- but consider the possibility of missed opportunities when you tell someone, “That’s gregs-kielbasa.com.” They may get back to the office and forget the hyphen, or type in “gregsdashkielbasa.com.” You’re rolling your eyes, (us too), but it happens.

    To avoid these mishaps, consider using keywords in your domain instead of your company name. Could you choose a domain name that is not your company name? For example, you could choose the domain name PremiumKielbasa.com. Keywords in domain names are not as helpful to SEO as they once were, but as long as you aren’t trying to game the system with something like PremiumAllBeefKosherClevelandKielbasa.com, it won’t hurt!

    If you're concerned about branding, you could always purchase a branded URL later and redirect it to your generic domain name. This is a considerable project, however, as each individual page must be redirected.

    Should I buy ALL the related extensions, too?

    Think you’ll get a lot more traffic if you buy up every extension possibility on your domain name? According to MOZ, “it is not recommend that SEO-conscious webmasters purchase low quality TLDs such as .biz, .info, .ws, .name, etc. as a means of increasing traffic.”

    However, if you’re simply concerned about protecting a branded website address, it’s not a bad idea to pick up related domain extensions and redirect them to your home page, just to avoid brand confusion in the future.

    How do I pick the right non-.com extension?

    Why Use .Net?

    If you simply MUST have a domain name that is not available with the .com extension, consider a .net address. These are a good option for tech companies since there is a subtle mental hook -- .net = internet or network. This is the second most popular extension and is widely accepted for businesses of all types.

    You can even have a little fun with this one if your business name happens to end in “net.” For example, “Bluebon.net,” anyone?

    When NOT to Use .Net

    When you can have the .com or if the resulting domain name gives the wrong impression. “GreatHair.net,” for example, might be good for supplying hairnets to the food service industry, but not for your high-end hair salon!

    Why Use .Org?

    If you are a nonprofit, especially if you are reasonably well known, by all means use a .org domain name. The .org extension is technically open to all, but is not recommended for business ventures, as there is an expectation that .org = nonprofit.

    When NOT to Use .Org

    If you’re not a nonprofit. Who’s going to trust a site at GregsAwesomeKielbasa.org? Unless, I suppose, you’re a well known food bank provider -- but and even then, you should have another domain for your for-profit business.

    Why Use .Info

    If your kielbasa site exist purely to compile and provide information, as opposed to promoting a product or service, you could use a .info domain extension. In this world of information overload and personal obsessions, there could even be enough to justify a kielbasa.org site -- recipes, history, regional variations, etc. This would still be appropriate on a .com site, though.

    When NOT to Use .Info

    If you’re clearly promoting yourself, a product, or a service. GregsKielbasa.info should be about Greg’s recipes for the Eastern European sausage -- not a resource for potential distributors of said tasty processed meat.

    Why Use .Biz?

    If you’re a business owner, you are allowed to use .biz. But deserved or not, it has a trust problem, being frequently associated with poor quality, spammy websites.

    When Not to Use .Biz

    If your domain name could be interpreted in a way you didn’t intend, adding .biz is just going to make it sound more dubious. Deliverspain.biz, certainly sounds more like a website you wouldn’t be caught dead on than a resource for great imports from Spain (Side note: DeliversPain.com isn’t a whole lot better).

    What About Less Commonly Known Extensions?

    With 300+ available, we can’t cover them all, but here are a few examples:

    • .name - For use by individuals only.
    • .me - Good for personal branding, or if you can cleverly make it part of your business name (ie., chowti.me). Some of the other more obscure extensions could work that way, as well.
    • .pro - For registered professionals only; hasn’t caught on.
    • .tv – Technically for websites in Tuvalu, this is open to everyone and is a good option for a television-related site.
    • Specialty domains such as .aero and .travel are reserved for their specific industries and might be a good choice only if your customer base and business associates are extremely well-accustomed to the domain extension.

    The Bottom Line on Domain Extensions

    While choosing the perfect domain for your new website might feel like a hugely important decision, much more important to the ultimate success of your online endeavors is your decision to commit to creating plenty of quality content, ensuring ease of use, and fostering lead generation potential.

    You should also make sure the domain you’re considering doesn’t come with any built-in Google penalties. If purchasing from an existing site owner, ask to see the Google Analytics overview from the last six months. A dramatic drop in traffic is good reason to reconsider.

    Finally -- before there is no going back -- ask the closest 10-year-old what he thinks of your new domain. If he starts giggling uncontrollably, he may have just saved you from ending up on yet another list of unintentionally horrible domain names along with “speedofart.com.” You know what? Give the kid a free kielbasa.

    Alisa Meredith is the co-owner and inbound marketing strategist at Scalable Social Media, an inbound marketing agency in Wilmington, North Carolina.

    Image credit: Rubber Dragon

     

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