What’s in a Domain Name?

Blog - Domain Names

4 Questions to ask before you choose yours

Naming stuff is hard. I’ve helped name three humans, three fish, two cats, one dog and quite a few brands, products, service offerings and website domains. Every naming project comes with its own challenges – why the heck do you think Blueberry the Fish died and was followed by Blue 2? – but domain names come with the unique obstacle of needing to be available for purchase. In addition to trying to reflect your brand and stick in people’s heads long enough to drive your customer base to your biggest content hub, you can also get caught up in this weird game where you’re adding letters and numbers or chopping words in half to concoct a usable name. You know, it’s how a car company ends up with something barely comprehensible like dabestkarz4u.auto. You can do better than dabestkarz4u.auto, right? We all can – and should.  

But first, some terms

Your website’s domain name is comprised of two parts worth mentioning: a top level domain (TLD) and a second level domain (SLD). The TLD is what you may have heard referred to as your “extension,” most often .com for businesses and .org for organizations. In my terrible car company example, the TLD is “.auto.” Your SLD is the phrase that, after hours of searching GoDaddy for available domain names, makes you consider selling your business and living off the grid in a straw-bale house in the Appalachian foothills. In my example, “dabestkarz4u” is the SLD.

OK, let’s move on to some important considerations before you click “add to cart” on the domain name of your dreams (or the strange iteration you’ve landed on)!

1. Is .com the only acceptable TLD?

The familiar .com extension has been in use since 1985. We know it, we love it, we trust it… and that’s what makes .coms so hard to secure. The good news is there are actually 1,500+ TLDs you can choose from. But, should you? I’m afraid there’s no cut-and-dried answer. On one hand, Google itself promises using a newer TLD will not negatively impact your search presence, and the right one could even help you stand out from a branding standpoint. However, people are resistant to change. We’re cool with .org, .gov, .edu  and .net, but beyond that, some people’s trust starts to wane. The difference between being a trailblazer or getting dismissed as spam really comes down to audience perception, so do a little surveying beforehand if possible to gauge how your audience feels about TLDs.

2. Is my SLD logical?

Your SLD needs to be on brand, industry appropriate and easy to remember. The most obvious choice is to use your brand name. When that’s not available, make sure any additional words are absolutely clear and relevant. You might consider adding a location-based word like “ohio” or “NEO” or an SEO keyword that makes sense and will help boost your rank. Take our car example and pretend the company is called Reggie’s Cars. If reggiescars.com is taken, Reg might opt for reggiescarsohio.com or reggiesdealership.com. Remember, you’re asking someone to come across your domain name in a marketing piece and actually type it into a browser. And, next question…

3. Is my domain name idiot proof?

Leave no room for human error when it comes to your domain name. One study revealed that the 50 most popular websites have only six characters in their SLD. Of course, that study was completed a decade ago, and your odds of getting that short of a domain name without an incredibly unique brand name are pretty low. Still, Google recommends 2–3 words max for your SLD, and the shorter, the better. You should also avoid commonly misspelled words, intentionally misspelled words (don’t be cutesy with “karz” instead of “cars”) and homonyms (stretch back to phonics class, these are words that sound the same but are spelled differently, such as write/right or to/two.) You should also stay clear of numbers and dashes… yeah, we know.

4. Is it… weird?

Some really bizarre things happen when you remove the spaces between words. From a comedic standpoint, it can be a thing of beauty, but a domain name (penisland.net) that reads as “Penis Land” when you’re trying to sell pens at your reputable company Pen Island is no laughing mater. Please, please take the time to type your domain name in a blank document, print it out and have a 14-year-old boy proof it for you. At the very least, review this list of mishaps before you proceed.

Here’s one more pro tip you definitely shouldn’t skip. Once you’ve settled on a solid domain name, purchase alternate TLDs and any close misspellings you’re worried about. You don’t want competitors or individuals with vastly different goals developing a site your audience may land on. Just ask Brett Kavanaugh.

Even after asking all the right questions, naming is hard! We’re here for you if you need a hand.

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