A domain is a bit like a company name, in that just about anything can work. If I were advising Sergey Brin and Larry Pac 25 years ago on the choice of company name for their new search engine, I’m not sure my first thought would have been the mathematical term to decribe 1 followed by 100 zeros, yet within a few short years that name had taken on its own personality and become synonymous with the product itself.
The same is true of a domains. Identify a rule for choosing the right domain and you can quickly find half a dozen examples of domains that contravene that rule while still dominating their market, but it’s still important to be aware of those rules, so here they are:
- Brandability – your domain name is one of the most prominent manifestations of your brand, so if you already have an established brand name that needs to be reflected as closely as possible within the domain (an exception to this is B&Q who made the remarkable decision to use DIY.com for their domain). However, if you are launching a new brand and have complete flexibility then please keep reminding yourself that brand trumps everything. If for any reason you can’t see your choice of domain becoming a synonym for your brand, stop.
- Keywords – the search engines are important in your market, it can be awfully tempting to pack your domain with keywords. Not only will this directly inform the search engines of the keyword your site relates to, but it means when other sites link to you using your domain name as the anchor text, they are building authority for exactly those keywords. So, if there’s a legitimate way of including keywords within the domain that doesn’t undermine its brandability, do it. An example would be our former brand name, Inbound.co.uk. This enabled us to rank well for terms like “inbound marketing” (number 1 in fact), but still felt like a legitimate brand.
- Length – the reason inbound.co.uk felt like a brand was because it was just one word. Had we been called inbounddigitalmarketing.co.uk it somehow wouldn’t have been quite the same. In fact, domains of just three or four letters are considered highly liquid in the domain market, even if they don’t mean anything!
- Use of hyphens – this is a slightly more contentious topic. A lot of people would say that hyphenated domains are less attractive than non-hyphenated domains, and it’s certainly true that they fetch less value on the market, but I think it’s more nuanced than that. Perhaps as the owner of a hyphenated I’m biased, but I think hyphens can really aid legibility. However, one unquestionable downside is that they make the domain longer, so if the domain is already a beast then they’re best avoided – inbound-digital-marketing.co.uk, for example, looks notably more cumbersome than its non-hyphenated sibling.
- Extension – the final consideration is the extension. On the domain market, .coms usually fetch the most (about 10 times that of a .co.uk for most verticals), but for conventional businesses a .co.uk (or equivalent for their host country) is absolutely fine. The .uk variants are also good. If you’re a charity then .orgs or .org.uks can work well, and I also like to use them for sub-branded content strategy domains (like our bosstoboss.org). .Infos and .nets can be reasonable back up options, but typically I’d avoid anything else. So if we turn our example into inbound-digital-marketing.biz – now we’ve got real problems!
Rules are there to be bent and, at times, broken into a googol pieces, but it’s important to understand what they are so you can navigate through as quickly as possible and get on with the real work of building your domain, whatever it may be, as a trusted brand and authority.