One of the major to-dos of starting a new business is choosing a name. Really, you have two challenges—creating a name that’s fitting and original, and finding a version of it for your website’s domain name.
My journey with domain names
My very first website was jburekindexing.com for my back-of-the-book indexing services. I decided on the domain name first and then I formed my business name around it—J Burek Indexing Services.
I remember more vividly trying to come up with a name for my copywriting business. I had four criteria. The name had to be distinctive and poetic—I’m supposed to be a wordsmith, after all. It had to reflect what I do. It had to look good as a domain name. And the domain name had to be unique. I checked each name on whois.com to make sure it was free to use.
I could have used my own name for my website, i.e., joanneburek.com. Or my name plus a modifier, like jburekcopywriting.com. It wasn’t poetic, but it would have been accurate. At the time, my niche was B2B copywriting. Today, however, I specialize in website copywriting and audits. The name I ended up with, wordbeats.com, still fits. And it will continue to fit for as long as I’m a writer.
Four years ago, I launched a hobby website, pottedgreens.com. I was writing about growing herbs in containers. Two years later, I relaunched it as foodforkandfootpaths.com. I found that I really wanted to write about food and travel with an emphasis on local culture.
Would joanneburek.com have made sense for these hobby websites? Not for a minute. I was offering information and entertainment, not me and my services.
Anyway, that was my experience picking and using domain names. I thought it was one of the more fun aspects of starting a business.
I’m not saying it was easy, but I feel lucky to have found names I like that hadn’t already been scooped up. It may seem even more challenging today to find a good name now that there are many more millions of websites out there.
So here is a collection of advice—and myths exposed—from expert sources around the internet on picking a domain name in 2020.
Do keywords in your domain name help with SEO?
Years ago, a website would automatically rank higher in Google search results if it had a domain name composed of keywords, e.g., besthaircuts.com, cheapsolarpanels.com.
Then Google caught on that these websites didn’t always deliver the valuable content that would be deserving of this high ranking. They named this type of domain Exact Matching Domains (EMD for short). And they changed the algorithm. It has even been suggested that Google penalizes websites with EMDs.
There are two take-aways here.
One is that if your domain name has keywords, you should add a unique brand name so that it doesn’t look like an EMD.
The second is that once again, Google has gone back to depending on the quality of the page’s content to determine its ranking in search results.
What makes a good domain name?
The answer to this will never change. As always, you need to appeal to the human reader. And humans are looking for relevance, legitimacy, and trustworthiness in a website name.
Don’t forget user-friendliness, too. For instance, if your domain name has digits, make sure the 1’s (ones) don’t get mixed up with the l’s (els) and vice versa.
What about the top-level domain (.com, .net, etc.)?
The extension after the dot in a domain name is called the Top Level Domain (TLD).
It used to be a hard and fast rule that you should always go for a .com domain. If it was not available, you were better off choosing a different name altogether, rather than settling on an alternative like .co or .biz. Readers were so used to typing “.com” that they might end up at your competitor’s site, and you would never know about it.
These days we are familiar and comfortable with the many new alternatives, e.g., .tech, .mobi, .design, etc. that we are unlikely to make that mistake. And so this rule doesn’t seem to apply any more.
If you primarily serve a region, a geographic extension like .ca, .uk, or .us can work well, and may even improve trustworthiness. And Hostgator, for instance, claims that your website will be more likely to show up in the results for people searching in that location.
Zoom, the virtual meeting company, seems to be an exception to the location/trustworthiness theory. Its domain name is zoom.us, yet people outside the US have no qualms about setting up and joining meetings. Clearly the company serves people anywhere in the world, and seems to be trusted equally.
Why should you register your own name as a domain name?
So, I did register joanneburek.com, even though I’m not using it. It’s just common sense.
I want to keep control of my name, to prevent someone using it for unsavory or malicious purposes. I’m paying a very small price to prevent confusion and to protect my online reputation.
In my next post, I’ll talk about choosing and working with a domain name registrar—which is something you need to do in order to acquire a domain name.