Regardless of the reason you want to have a website, choosing your domain name is one of the most important decisions in the whole process. It’s even more significant if you plan to do offline promotion as well. If you don’t care about branding and building a readership you can choose any domain. But getting people to remember your domain name and actually typing it in their browser’s address bar, you should think twice before jumping on the first name that comes in your mind.
In the online world your domain name will be the single most important brand building tool. Needless to say how much money companies spend on the research of branding. Most of that knowledge is also applicable when choosing a domain name. Some of it is even easier to apply to domain names than physical consumer products.
So here is the checklist for domain names. The more criteria it meets, the better.
Choose a Domain That’s Easy to Spell and Pronounce
Keeping in mind that your visitors have to be able to remember your domain name, it’s a good idea to choose simple words that are not too difficult to spell and can’t be spelled more than one way. Your domain passes this test if you can tell the domain name to your friends and they can type it in their browser without you helping them.
Some good examples are: google.com, yahoo.com, cnn.com, facebook.com etc. You get the idea. They are not even regular words, but they still can be spelled and remembered easily.
Here are some bad examples: web-hosting.com; eidos.com; tanztreff.com; hisel.com; schweizr.com. How do you pronounce these? I certainly wouldn’t konw exactly how to spell them if I had to enter it in my browser.
You might ask why I put web-hosting.com in the list of bad examples. It’s because of the hyphen. I would probably type webhosting.com in my address bar, unless you emphasized the hyphen. Even then some people would have a hard time remembering and would type in something like “web hyphen hosting dot me”.
Hostingmanual.net is not a bad domain name, but it still not the best possible option. I’d bet some people are looking at the .com version of the domain. .Net was perfect for us since this website is dealing with internet related stuff.
Choose a Domain That’s Easy to Remember
Who wouldn’t want people to visit their website more than once? I certainly want that. You have to come up with a distinctive name that people won’t mix up with your competitors. It should be easy to recall. In this piece I am going to give you some guidelines and many of those help making your domain memorable. Hyphens and random numbers make things more complicated and harder to remember.
Keep It Positive
“Bliss”, “Brilliant”, “Deluxe” are words often used in brand names and also for desccribing them. What’s common in these brand names is that they invoke positive assiciations in the customers’ mind, even though they often have no direct connection to the actual product.
Some research indicates that people process information more completely, remember them better, and take a more positive stance towards products when they invoke positive images and associations.
Example of positive domains are: google.com, yahoo.com, delicious.com.
Reinforce the Site Concept
It’s self explanatory that your domain name and the topic of your website have to have a connection. A domain name that’s not related to the website’s content will cause confusion in the visitor. It also makes it harder to remember the domain and connect it to the topic of the webste.
In some cases a difference in the topic and the domain name can be accepted, most often when it’s ironic or humorous.
A very good example is the site you are viewing right now, Hostingmanual.net.
The Shorter the Better
I have already mentioned how important it is to have a memorable but easy to spell domain name. Shorter domain names are usually easier to spell and remember, and certainly to type. So if you have the choice, always go for the shorter one.
The problem is that most of these shorter domains are already taken from the most popular TLDs. They worth a lot more than regular domains, so there is a huge demand for them by domain investors. I don’t think you would be able to register a 3-4 word domain that makes sense for your site concept.
Three letter domain names seem to be especially popular, probably because so many organizations have names that are initialized into three letters (e.g. IBM, NFL). Since all such domains are already taken, some folks started to use 3 letters but adding hyphens between each letter, like g-e-t.com. Now that’s a bad idea for several reasons I have already mentioned above. On top of that I would add a finishing hyphen in there, and I guess a lot of other people are like that.
The domain name system has some resitrictions, but one can still go crazy with it. Domain names should not be longer than 63 characters. That includes letters, numbers and hyphens. The domain name cannot begin or end with a hypen.
Unique Domain Names are Memorable
This one is not an wasy task to accomplish. If you have ever looked for a really memorable domain, you know that most of them are already taken. It can take a lot of research to find that little gem that’s perfect for your purposes.
Here’s what to avoid. Make sure your domain name is unique enough not to be confused with other domain names (possibly your competitors’).
Distinctive brand names are not new in the world of marketing. Companies like Exxon, Citi, Xerox created new words for their brands for the purpose of distinctiveness.
Those examples are still easy to pronounce. You could come up with gibberish like xdfkjhalj.com, that’s quite unique. But it’s impossible to recall or build a brand for.
Build Connection with the Visitor
Some domain names are more personally relevant for the visitors. You can achieve this by incorporating words like you, my, your etc.. This way the visitor feels a connection to the website and have a sense that it’s actually about them. Doityourself.com is a perfect example.
That said, it’s not too typical. I cannot recall any websites I have recently visited that has these words in the domain. It’s not a hard rule, just a small hint.
Choose Words Carefully
I have mentioned companies that came up with new words for their brand names. Part of the reason they do this is to make sure that their name doesn’t have potentially negative connotation in other cultures and languages.
One very famous anecdote about this fallacy is when Chevrolet tried to sell Nova cars in spanish-speaking countries. One possible translation of Nova in spanish is that “it won’t go”. That’s a very bad message when you are trying to sell a car.
Don’t jump at a domain right away. Step back and observe it from as many angles as you can think of. If you want to use multiple words in your domain, try coming up with misspellings to see of it’s distinctive enough. Are there other words that sound the same but spelled differently?
Your target audience should be the final and most important factor when choosing a domain name. All the above advice can be thrown out the window if they would interpret your domain name in a good way and if it’s memorable enogh for them.
It has never been easy to find really good domain names, and it’s getting even more difficult. There are only a handful of 4 letter .com domains available at the time of writing this article. Still, doing proper research is one of the most critical steps for somebody seeking success online.
A good way to come up with domain ideas to ask friends and family to tell what associations they come up with for your ideas. Ask them to try to spell it to see if it passes the spelling requirement. Ask them what kind of website and content would they expect for such a domain name.
This is a taks you have to do once. Whether you do it right or wrong, you will be stuck with it for a long time, unless you are prepared to move your website to a new domain name prematurely. Do your research carefully and it will pay off long term.