Before a website goes into design and development, there is one important housekeeping item that needs to be addressed. Domain names (also known as URLs, or uniform resource locators) will need to be purchased. It is strongly recommended that organizations own their domain names and website hosting for ease of management. Having a third party control these elements gives them (not you) power and can incur extra charges or headaches if transitions occur.
Selecting a Domain Name
When considering a domain name, think of factors like URL length, misspellings, and company synergy. Will it be remembered easily and work on business cards? Does the name need to sound the way it is spelled for branding? Is the domain only being used for search engine optimization (by having priority key phrases in the URL)?
When contemplating domain name selection, there are some expanded points to ponder so you can build a website using an address that will live on for the life of your organization.
Size may matter
A short name could be important for several reasons. Does the website address need to be easy to remember and fit into logos and on business cards, support branding, and be easily recognizable? Does it need to be easy to spell? Some organizations have long domain names. Repeating them over a radio ad, at a cocktail party, on marketing materials, in e-mail addresses, and other venues may be difficult. If the domain is being used in marketing materials, consider the fact that long domain names don’t always fit well in forms, on billboards, or in online advertising.
A memorable domain name may make for memorable results
Generic names, such as Art.com and Garden.com, are easy to remember, but so are more unusual names such as Amazon.com or Google.com. Say each prospective domain name out loud. Listen to how it sounds. Is it a tongue twister? When spoken quickly does it sound like something else? Whatever domain name you choose, if it sticks in the mind like glue, it may make your web marketing more meaningful. Consider domain name confusion. Trademark laws are designed to prevent consumer confusion. However, as more and more domains are being purchased, and .com is now neck and neck with .net, .org, .edu, .biz, and more, it is worth doing competitive research on the names you are considering. Also, if the holder of a similar domain name has trademarks secured, it could threaten your use and the ability to exercise it as a brand. Be sure to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database (www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm) or the trademark database for your country. Search domain name records and the web to see if other organizations are using names you are considering.
Don’t mistake the power of misspelling
If people can misspell something, they will. The longer or more complex the domain name, the harder it is for customers to type it in correctly. Given the low price of domain names, it may be worthwhile to purchase the most common misspellings of your domain name, simply so your competition can’t. Poachers (aka cyber-squatters) can be driven off by the threat of lawsuits, but no one wants that hassle. Securing misspelled domains is a preventative measure. Simply holding the rights to the domains (not necessarily building websites around them or redirecting) can be a safe, smart strategy. Consider a domain name that relates to your organization name or core values. Ideally, customers will be able to guess a domain name from the firm’s name. If this isn’t possible, then find a functional name; a unique name (Yahoo!); or one that expresses an emotion or attitude associated with the brand, person, or mission. It may be worthwhile to purchase several domains that relate to your organization’s name (and secure the .com, .net, .biz, etc.) so your competition cannot. It will also give you other URLs that can be used for future web marketing efforts like online advertising, affiliate marketing, and search engine marketing.
A domain suffix should sound solid to your target audience
If possible, get a .com domain, or the domain that has the most respect in your country or region. Today, .net has similar clout to .com. However, some web surfers will assume that an organization has the .com and may type that into a browser’s address bar first. Nonprofits are able to secure .org and educational institutions are able to secure .edu, which are also solid to their respective target audiences. It is okay to be a “domainiac.” Many organizations buy all versions of their domain like .biz, .info, .cc, .co, .ws, .tv, and .to, just so their competitors can’t. They’re inexpensive. If you become successful, you’ll wish you’d kept them from poachers.
To get the domain selection creative process going, write down desired domains and visit domain purchasing sites like GoDaddy.com and Register.com to see what is available. Registration sites will often show you alternatives to names already taken. Doing Google, Yahoo!, and Bing searches will reveal competitive domains that already exist so you don’t buy a name that is too similar or already used by another company.
At this stage in the planning process, the most important step is to secure the names you want to build your brand around. Once you have a more detailed idea about the scope of the website you want to build, then you can comparison shop hosting providers. (Hosting providers house the computer servers where your website will reside.)