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Where Marketers Go to Grow

October 16, 2013 // 10:00 AM

How to Pick the Right Domain Name and Extension

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domain_nameWell, 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. Plus, 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. Oooh-la-la!

Why Find a .com Domain?

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

Especially if you are 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. If you choose do so, limit yourself to one to avoid looking spammy and 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 hypen, or type in “gregsdashkielbasa.com.” You’re rolling your eyes (us, too), but it happens.

What about 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!

Consider carefully, though. A domain name not matching your company name does not help with branding at all. Of course, later on, you could purchase a branded URL 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 Extension?

Why Use .Net?

If you simply MUST have a domain name that is not available with the .com extension, consider a .net address. Particularly are these 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 non-profit, especially if you are reasonably well-known, by all means use a .org domain name. That extra mental cue is enough to overcome the .com default mindset. The .org extension is technically open to all, but is not recommended for business ventures, as there is an expectation that .org = non-profit.

When NOT to Use .Org

If you’re not a non-profit. Who’s going to trust a site at GregsAwesomeKielbasa.org? Unless, you’re a well-known food bank provider – 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 be enough to justify a kielbasa.org site – recipes, history, regional variations, etc.

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 often associated with poor quality, even 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 if your customer base and business associates are 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 plenty of quality content, ease of use and lead generation potential.

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.

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Topics: Inbound Marketing

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