How to choose a domain name for your business website

A website name for your business!

So you’ve decided to build a website for your business? Excellent! Your website will represent you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, engaging your customers even while you sleep. It’s your online calling card, the home of your digital community,  and the easiest way for people to find you whether they are searching on their home computer or already shopping and looking for stores on their mobile phone.

Finding the best domain name is the first step

Whether you are going to use a website-building tool like yola.com or set up a hosting account and do it yourself, one of the first steps is picking your new domain name.

What is a domain name?

A domain name is the name of your website. “SEOhowto.ca” is the domain name of this website. To help in selecting the right domain name for your business, let’s get a bit of background information first. (For a much more technical explanation of domain names, see the Wikipedia page).

What is a website, exactly?

A website is a collection of files on a computer that is connected to the Internet, and publicly accessible through the World Wide Web. The computer where the website’s files are stored is called a server, and is said to be hosting the files. When you build a website for your business, you will be creating a collection of computer files, which are the pages of your website, stored on a server at your web host.

Today, almost all websites are hosted by web hosting companies, although it is possible to host websites on your own computer if you have the right kind of Internet connection and enough technical knowledge to do it right. Most people and small businesses use hosting companies because they not only cover all the technical stuff that has to be done to make a web server work, but they offer customer support and some level of security, backup and up-time guarantees as well.

Is a Domain Name the same thing as a URL?

A domain name is a unique address on the Internet, such as amazon.ca or google.com. A domain name is part of a URL, which is the full location of a file such as your website’s home page, such as “http://www.mywebsite.com/index.html”.

In most modern Web browsers today you can simply type a domain name into the browser’s address bar and the browser will automatically add the “http://” part (the “protocol”) and the web server will simply send the default home page, i.e. the “/index.html” part.

So this is how typing a domain name into a web browser will get you to a website’s home page. In this respect, there isn’t much difference between a domain name and the URL of a website’s home page from the end-user’s perspective. It’s important to know the difference though, if you are going to be the master of a domain of your own.

How will people navigate to your website?

Most browsers today will let you type anything into the address bar, and if it’s not a URL or a domain name, the browser will actually execute a search for the words you’ve typed in. So if you type “mywebsite.com” into your browser it will take you to the home page of mywebsite.com, but if you type “my website” into your browser you will likely see a search results page, hopefully with mywebsite.com at the top of the results. This will be in Yahoo! or Bing or Google or whatever other search engine your browser is set to. In the world of SEO, the words or phrases that you type into an online search are referred to as keywords.

So what should your website’s name be?

Your first inclination might be to pick the exact name of business as your website name, for example, if your business is Jimmy’s Shoe Store then your website would be JimmysShoeStore.com. This is the same as jimmysshoestore.com since domain names are not case-sensitive. You should definitely register one or many domain names that match the name of your business, but there are other things to consider if you want to get the most visitors to your website.

People search for keywords

If people already know the name of your company, then they might type it into their web browser. This is handy if you have 30 years of corporate marketing and advertising behind you, like Nike does for example.

If someone is looking for new shoes, they might type “nike.com” into their web browser or search engine. But most likely they will type in keywords instead. They might type “shoes” or “new shoes”. People are most likely to search for what they need, so you need to think about what your business offers from the perspective of your customer.

Most shopping trips start with online research

When people are further along in researching a purchase, they will type in successively more specific keywords like “white running shoes”, and keywords that indicate intent (called converting keywords) such as “buy shoes” or “shoes on sale”, or more location specific keywords like “shoe store Toronto”.

If someone is searching “Nike LunarGlide on sale in Toronto”, they are probably on their way out the door to buy shoes (Nike LunarGlides) or are already out shopping and are doing comparative research on a smart phone. If you have a shoe store in Toronto and you have Nike LunarGlide shoes on sale, you want this person to find your website!

Of course, most businesses have more than one product or service to offer, so it wouldn’t be practical to have your website be “NikeLunarGlideSaleToronto.ca”. This is also way too long for a domain name, even though most searches are 4 words long or longer, but more on that later.

But I wanted to illustrate that the advantages of having a keyword-match domain name are significant enough that you should think about whether jimmysshoestore.com or torontoshoestore.ca is the best name.

Which domain should I have? .com, .net, .info or .ca, .co.uk, .com.au?

These are called Top Level Domains, or TLDs. The .com top level domain is the most commonly used one, at least in North America. If possible, register the .com. You can register the .net or .info as well, but people generally assume that a website will be .com. Search engines do not give advantage to .com over .net or .info, but people generally consider .com to be more authoritative.

If your business is tied to a specific country, register the country domain as well: .ca in Canada, .co.uk in Britain, .com.au in Australia, etc. Registering a domain gives you control of that domain for as long as you keep it registered for, so you can lock up as many domains as you like and protect them from your competition. Search engines do give geographic preference to country TLDs. So if I search for “shoe store” from a computer in Canada I might get shoestore.ca at the top of my list, while the same search in the U.S. will have shoestore.com at, or near, the top of the search results.

Register multiple website names and forward them

You can forward web addresses just like you can forward phone numbers. When someone goes to a domain name that has been forwarded, their browser is automatically re-directed. For example, amaxon.com forwards to amazon.com as you may have discovered if your typing is as sloppy as mine.

So, if my business were Jimmys Shoe Store in Toronto, I would register jimmysshoestore.com jimmysshoes.com and jimmyshoes.com. Since the store is in Toronto, Canada, I would register jimmysshoesstore.ca, jimmysshoes.ca and jimmyshoes.ca and set them all to forward to one domain. I think jimmysshoes.ca would probably be best, but because of the double “s”, it might be cleaner to just be jimmys.ca if that’s available, although that would lose the advantage of having “shoes” in the domain name.

We talked about the advantages of exact match keyword domain names, so it would be good to have torontoshoestore.ca or shoes.ca or shoestoretoronto.ca, if you can. If you host your website at one of these keyword match domains, you’ll likely get more traffic from people who are searching these names, but this will be a branding decision you’ll have to make.

Ideally my business would be named something better from the start, like Downtown Shoes, Inc or Queen Street Shoes, then I could have my business name and my keywords in my domain name!

Other things to consider with domain names

  • Domain Name Length: shorter is better

The shorter a domain is, the easier it is for people to read, remember, type and say. Don’t forget, your domain name is going to go on your business card and any other promotional materials you have such as ads, t-shirts and so on. Search engines also prefer shorter domain names as longer domain names are often used by spammers.

  • Dashes in Domain Names: not recommended

Another alternative is jimmys-shoes.ca, but there is some debate about how user-friendly dashes are in website names. Plus you’ll be telling people to go to “Jimmys dash shoes dot c a” which is a bit awkward.

  • Exact Keyword Match Domain Names: an advantage

As a rule of thumb, if you can get an exact keyword match domain you should. Most likely, unless you can be very specific about one main product or a very small geographic location, then the best keyword-match domain names for you will already be registered by someone else. You can always offer to buy them, but the good ones will cost a small fortune because of the amount of type-in traffic they get. New domain names cost about $10 per year, which is why it’s worth finding your own new ones, and why you can afford to register 3 or 5 or 10 or more.

  • Numbers in Domain Names: not recommended

Numeric characters are allowed in domain names, but should generally be avoided because of the confusion they can cause (is it “3bakers.com” or “threebakers.com”?) and again, search engines don’t like them as much because they are often used by spammers.

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