What’s in a (Domain) Name?

dot-com with green globe

What’s in a (Domain) Name?

This article is part of the “Beginners” Series. Links to all published articles in this Series will be posted here and at the end of each article. To see all published articles in this “Beginners” Series, click here.

This article is designed for Beginners.

Your Domain Name is Your “Internet Calling Card”

As is the case with 90% of everything related to your web site’s planning & design, this is an iterative process. In other words, you start somewhere, generate some ideas, analyze & assess (try on for size / suitability), evaluate, then REPEAT. It’s not exactly “trial & error” because you probably have a substantive starting point. The point is: have realistic expectations! Don’t expect to get this (or most other aspects of your web site topic or design) “right the first time.” Again, allowing time for Planning is key.

The Importance of Your Domain Name

Don’t underestimate this importance…It’s like naming your business. You will be living with this name for a very long time, so take your time to really think this through.

In a way, it’s easier to name your business, since similar business names are not all that uncommon, especially if you have a local business and similar names are located in distant parts of the country. However, your domain must be unique! There are a few “best practices” as well, which I’ve listed below:

  1. Your domain name should be distinctive! Some beginners think if they come up with something similar to a well-known brand, it will help bring them business. WRONG! This will only confuse and annoy your potential clients, and could result in a costly lawsuit by the established brand.
  2. Your domain must be unique! (It’s your “address” on the global internet, and you simply can’t be found if it is not completely unique. Think of postal mail sending to a street address, but the neighborhood is the “world.”)
  3. Your domain name MUST be a “dot com” (.com); do not bother with any other of the possible “top level domains” (or TLDs, the part that comes after the “dot”) such as .net, .org, etc. Statistics have repeatedly shown that web site visitors or searchers assume your name is a “dot-com,”  and that having a dot-com generally affords you a major traffic advantage, simply because searchers can find you. This is especially important when you consider the places your domain name should appear: in radio & tv, buses, billboards, sandwich signs, etc. (where visual recognition is either brief or non-existent), your business cards, other web sites linking to yours, social media sites, etc.
  4. Your domain name should represent your business / industry / niche: being “clever” has its place, but be careful! You could “out-clever” yourself and reduce your potential site traffic by being too cutesy. Be concise and clear!
  5. Avoid ambiguity! It may be tempting to use numbers (like “2” instead of “to,” or “4” in lieu of “for”), but these can be misunderstood (see #3 above: aim to be easily understood, especially if name is only referenced briefly); a similar caution applies to “homonyms” (to, too, and two; foul and fowl; for, four, and fore). [Isn’t the English language just great! No wonder it’s so hard to learn if it’s not your native tongue!]

Creating & Registering Your Domain Name…Step-by-Step

1. Brainstorm ideas using the “best practices” above and write them down. Hint: You’ll need a lot of names…See #2 below!

2. Next, the domain name you are considering MUST be available! (Duhhhhh! See #2 in the previous list.)
You’ll need to check out the best names on your list in a Domain Name Registar’s web site. I use RegisterFREE (part of Melbourne IT)…they have been my registrar of choice for a decade!
FYI: A “registrar” is a specially-authorized (and connected) business entity that has access to the global database of all domain names currently in use.

Every registrar has a search form (usually on their home page), where you can check availability of your desired domain name. You obviously can’t register a name if someone else is already using it. This search form will tell you if your name is available, and if not it will suggest alternatives, but remember my caveat in #3 above! Do not accept non-“dot-com” names…although sometimes their alternative .com suggestions are not bad (you might want to go back to brainstorming!)

3. REMEMBER: This is an iterative process…You start out SOMEWHERE in an industry or niche, and test through research. If you hit gold the first time, AWESOME! If not, just keep brainstorming and researching…until you find that acceptable ratio between clarity and suitability… There is no magic formula here…
4. CAUTION: Don’t register your domain just yet…if you are planning on also purchasing hosting (a place for your web site to “live” on the internet).
If you are ready to select a web host, it is much easier and more efficient to let your web host handle the registration for you. If you just register your domain, then subsequently purchase hosting, you’ll need to transfer the domain to the hosting company’s computers. It isn’t difficult, but it’s an unnecessary step and time delay.

If you are NOT purchasing hosting right now, see #5 below…

Why Would I Wait to Get Hosting?
When you purchase hosting for your web site, you are charged immediately (monthly or yearly). It’s really inexpensive — usually starting at less than $10/month.

However, if you are not ready to start building your web site, or you are outsourcing the initial design and development, then it may make sense to defer the hosting until you’re ready. [Any web designer/developer can handle the “domain transfer” I mentioned above. Make sure you tell them you want that included in the site estimate.] But…you may NOT want to wait to register your domain…See #5!

5. When you find that “perfect name” and it is available, GET IT NOW (but see #4 above)! Don’t think about it; don’t save it for later; don’t put it off until tomorrow…or until you get paid…GET IT NOW (even if it means having to transfer it later on)!
If you’re confused and it sounds like I’m contradicting myself this should help:
  • If you’re really not ready to actively start building your site, and getting hosting is months away (for example, if you are still in the site Planning stages) but you have found the perfect domain name, then register now.
  • If you are going to get hosting in the next few weeks, do it all now! Waiting a couple of weeks to a month won’t break the bank, but waiting to register your perfect domain name might mean someone else beats you to it!

Once you register your domain, Congratulations! That’s one more thing you can cross off your to-do list. If you’re also getting hosting at the same time, watch for my upcoming article on “best practices” for selecting a web host before committing to one. I’ll link to that article here when it’s published. It will also appear in “Related Articles” in the sidebar & at the bottom of these articles.

About the Author

Karen McCamyKaren is a WordPress Trainer & Coach. She currently teaches WP101 in Los Angeles, and a Girl-Develop-It class where you build your own website from the ground up!View all posts by Karen McCamy →

  • Jon says:

    Great article !

    What would you do if after all your hard work and years developing your site at freelancetechnologyreview .. you found that someone else just 2 months ago registered the same domain name but with an ‘s’ at the end making it plural i.e. freelancetechnologyreviews . The content they produce is poor and people trying to find YOUR genuine site could accidentally end up at the competitor site. What practical steps would you take if this happened to you ? (because i have this very problem !)

    • Karen McCamy says:

      Hey, Jon!

      Thanks for reading!

      If your website visitors are finding you through organic search, then they should find you… Google’s modern algorithms will not rank a poor-content website highly for very long… They will have a quality problem and not ever really be a “competitor” in the long run…

      If you feel you must do something about it right now, you could try the civilized approach & ask them to take it down, change their name, try to be amicable about it…

      At the same time, you could contact Google and tell them exactly what is occurring. That will get their attention and they hate it when this garbage-quality occurs! It’s bad for their business…which is serving both the (millions of) searchers using Google to find information and their advertisers.

  • >