When I get a client that wants to start a new business, one of the first steps I do is look what we can get as a domain name. That domain name will become the online home of the business.
And it’s especially important when your business is an online only one.
Even though your average domain will only cost you about $10-20/year, the impact it can have on your business is huge. Before you buy and get your website live, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
If You’re in the States, Try to Get a .com
I know that there are tons of other domain options out there, but the sad reality is that as much fun as that .ninja domain can be, .com’s are still one of the best values (about $7-10/year) and are the most commonly “guessed” domain extension. If you’re dealing with a B2C customer base especially, they’re most likely to type in yourbusinessname.com to try and find you.
I’ve actually named companies I’ve worked with (and my own) differently depending on whether or not I can get that domain as the .com. The .com still rules the internet, but it’s also the original. While it can be hard to get yourbusinessname.com anymore, not being able to get the .com can actually mean you’ll hit on other snags we’ll hit on below.
If you’re outside of the US, your country might have a more common extension. For instance, in the UK, many businesses are .co.uk. If you’re not sure what domain to look for, check your local competitors and what they’re using.
If you’re a non-profit organization, you should look for the .org. You typically have a little bit of proving to do that it’s the right fit for you, though the process is a lot easier than it used to be years ago.
But avoid getting just a .co . . . you’re just asking for people to be confused and type in .com on accident.
Make it Easy to Type and Remember
This one is really important. If you do use a variation of your company’s name for whatever reason, you want to make sure that it’s still super easy to type and remember. After all, you could be including your website address on everything from TV commercials to billboards to print collateral and hoping people can remember it to still find you.
Keep it simple and straightforward. I just had a client who operates as Action Physical Therapy. In planning his website, that .com was already taken (not surprising). He only plans, at least currently, to operate within the state of Kansas but he does want to grow from his current single clinic. We purchased actionptkansas.com for his domain, because it not only incorporates his business name (in a much shorter, easier to type length), but also helps to geotag him. It’s still easy to remember, still easy to type, and orients where he is. That’s a win-win in a crowded domain space!
Check Social Media Handles
Do you want to make finding you really easy, no matter where people are using? You’ll want to match your social media handles to your domain name whenever possible. That makes it super easy for prospects to guess how they can find you.
Before you buy a new domain, I highly recommend looking at Instagram and Twitter especially to see what’s already taken or what’s available. If you’re dealing with an individual using your dream social media handle, you might be able to tweak yours or even purchase the handle down the road. But often you’ll find another business operating with the handle you also want. That can be your first clue that you might run into some trademark issues (see below) and it can be hard to compete against someone who’s already established.
I actually ran into an issue where I took the Instagram handle I had been using for years – captaincoder – and wanted the domain. Unfortunately, the .com of just captaincoder.com was considered a “premium” domain and GoDaddy wanted $800 for it. For a brand new business, that just wasn’t in my budget. So I compromised with captcoder.com for now. It’s not ideal, but it’s also a bit shorter and easier to type so I’m OK with it. I’m taking some other steps to safeguard my business long-term and one day I will own the captaincoder.com domain, damnit.
Make Sure it Isn’t Trademarked
This one is big. If you want to operate under a company name and therefore want a domain for that business, you’ll want to be sure you’re not violating any trademarks. Checking that doesn’t actually require a lawyer. If you’re in the US, you can do a quick search at the USPTO website and do a Basic Word Mark Search. If nothing comes up with the name and domain you want, you’re probably in the clear. However, if there are listings there, you’ll want to make sure you’re not in the same industry at the minimum. You can also see if a Trademark has been abandoned or expired in their listing, so keep your eye peeled for that.
If you do have someone already using that name as a trademark (including your domain without the .com potentially), it might be easier to just pick a different business name. You can talk to an attorney who specializes in trademarks that can help, but be aware that you might need to change regardless.
Avoid Hyphens and Numbers
You can use a lot in a domain name, including hyphens and numbers. I know that we’ve talked about how having hyphens or dashes in between your page URLs can help improve your SEO, but in the main body of your domain that’s actually the opposite. A lot of that is simply the average person won’t think to put the hyphens in your main domain name and might miss them.
So if you find someone else is using yourbusinessname.com, don’t compromise with your-business-name.com. More often than not, your customers will end up on the other company’s page and not yours.
The same thing applies to numbers, as most people won’t be sure if you’re spelling it out or just using the numeral. One option, if your business includes a number, is to buy a version of the domain with say 2florists and twoflorists and forward one to the other. Personally, I think the spelled out version is best for user experience so I’d use that as your main domain.
Protect Your Privacy
When you purchase a domain, you have to provide your contact information. This is used to verify who you are, but it’s also publicly listed in a database that anyone can access. The sad thing is that anymore, you can register a domain and then get flooded with spam calls and emails. There is a way to prevent that.
Now when you purchase a domain, you can pay a little extra to protect your privacy. Those public databases will now list a ghost email that gets forwarded to your own, but doesn’t list yours for everyone to see. Instead of showing your name, it’ll also say something like “Domains by Proxy” and provide contact information that will still get to you, it’ll just be filtered. It’s far nicer than having your cell and personal email out there on the internet!
Buy from a Reputable Provider
There are lots of places you can buy a domain name from, but not all are created equal. Some take forever to populate any changes across the internet. Others don’t do a great job of protecting your privacy and some charge you far too much money.
Recently, I’ve been really enjoying Namecheap for my domains. They’re cheap, they’re currently offering that privacy protection we talked about for free, and they change settings almost instantaneously. I liked GoDaddy for a long time, but they’re simply more expensive and a clunkier experience. And fun fact: just because you purchased a domain one place doesn’t mean it can’t be moved to another domain registrar service.
One thing I highly recommend is that even if you are planning on using Wix or SquareSpace to build and host your website that you don’t buy your domain from them. There will come a day when you want to leave their services and it’s a bit of a nightmare to move a domain out of Wix and SquareSpace. I’ve had clients forget that’s where their domains still were, forget to pay the charge, and their sites go down. It’s best to simply use a domain registrar and then point that domain to whatever website hosting service you’re using. You’ll be glad you did that in the long run.