Does domain name matter?
Your domain is an important part of the identity of your website, and this can really make a difference to the traffic that you receive.
But, picking the best domain name can be tricky.
Not only do you have to find something that works for your site, but you also have to find something that is available to start off with.
Keywords and Branding
One of the key decisions to make is whether you are going to target keywords in your domain name, or whether you are going to choose a name that is brandable.
Keywords used to be a big part of domain name choice because they would directly help the site to rank.
In particular, people used to look for domains that were exact matches to a keyword within their niche.
This trick allowed them to rank higher, even if the sites themselves were poor quality.
As you can probably imagine, that trick doesn’t work very well anymore.
In 2012, Google made a change to its search algorithm to stop exact match domains from ranking so highly.
Since that point, it has become clear that keywords in a domain name really don’t do that much at all.
This really isn’t a surprising situation, because search engines are becoming much more aware of content and domain names simply don’t mean as much as they used to.
Does this mean you shouldn’t use keywords in your domain name?
No, not really.
Search engines largely ignore the domain name, so you are free to put in whatever you like.
Using keywords may help because they are relevant to your topic and often easy to remember, which is important to branding.
This brings me to my next point. Search engines might not care about your domain, but your readers do.
When you pick a domain, you should be looking for domain names that will work well with readers.
This is the idea of a brandable domain name, which is one that is memorable and recognizable.
Done right, having a brandable domain name can really help to promote the site.
It also makes it easier for readers to remember and find the site again.
In some cases, the domain name (and the name of the website itself) doesn’t even have to be related to your topic.
A really good example of this is The Onion, which is an online satirical newspaper, and a very popular one at that.
The website even comes up as the top ranking site under the search term onion, even though this isn’t normally what you would expect.
The most significant problem with choosing a brandable domain name like The Onion is that people can’t work out what the website is about simply by looking at the domain name.
For The Onion, this is probably intentional, as some people still think the news stories on The Onion are serious.
Certainly, having a domain name that doesn’t relate to your topic can be a good thing if you want to make people curious.
It’s also very possible to have a domain name that contains keywords and is brandable.
Ultimately, there is no single approach to picking the best domain name, and some domain names might work well for one site, but not for another.
The idea is really to look at what you want your site to be about and who your audience is.
However, despite this, there are some general tips that you can follow to help in finding a domain name that suits you and your site.
Tips for Picking the Best Domain Name
1. Stick with .com
When picking a domain name, it can be tempting to go for an uncommon top-level domain like .net or .info to get the precise domain you want, but it simply isn’t worth it.
.com is by far the most common top-level domain out there, and it also conveys a considerable amount of authority.
Using any other top-level domain makes the site harder to remember and may actually reduce your traffic.
After all, if you don’t remember a domain name all the way, odds are you assume it ends in .com.
The main exception to this rule is if you are designing a site that is region specific.
For example, if you were writing a site that had content that was only relevant to people in New Zealand, you might consider using .co.nz.
Using a regional top-level domain can be helpful in showing just who the site is designed for, particularly if the content is irrelevant to people from other parts of the world.
While this may not increase traffic, it is likely to increase relevant traffic, which tends to be more important.
2. Avoid hyphens
Hyphens are a good way to get a domain name that you couldn’t get otherwise, but it is a risky approach.
The most significant problem is that hyphens make the site much more difficult to remember.
People trying to return to your site will either forget about the hyphens or they will put them in the wrong place.
Additionally, the domain name without the hyphen is still out there.
It is very likely that people will end up at that site (if it exists) when they are trying to get to yours.
Not good for traffic.
A final note on hyphens is that they make the site seem cheap.
It often looks like you have chosen a lower quality name simply because you could not get (or could not afford) a better one.
Regardless of whether this is true or not, it isn’t an appearance you want to encourage.
Now, there are some sites out there that do use hyphens in their domain name and do so successfully.
In fact, you could break every single piece of advice on this list and still end up with a successful domain – it would just be less likely.
3. Avoid confusion
You don’t want your domain name to be confused with anything else.
One way of doing this is to make sure there aren’t multiple ways to spell your domain name, else you might find a competitor turn up using an alternate spelling.
When you consider this aspect, remember that some words are spelled differently in British compared to American English, such as Gifts for Mums versus Gifts for Moms.
4. Simple is good
Simple web domains are great for grabbing attention, particularly if there is something about them.
Google itself is a good example of this.
Most people know about the company Google now, but all the organization did was take a relatively obscure math term and used it as a simple but powerful brand.
Many people don’t realize it, but the name Google actually makes a lot of sense for what the company does, because the math term refers to a 1 with 100 zeros after it, which is a pretty large number.
My point was that simple can be very brandable although it can be a little challenging to find a simple domain name because there are so many domain names out there already.
5. Be creative and be unique
Finally, your domain name is a reflection of your site and yourself.
You want it to be unusual and you want it to be unique.
Otherwise, people will forget it quickly, and you may not get as much traffic as you would like to start off with.
After all, sometimes people will click on a link out of curiosity alone.
On a Related Note
One approach that can be useful for getting a bit more traffic to your page, particularly repeat traffic, is to purchase other domain names that have different top-level domains than yours, and then redirect from these to your main page.
This prevents any competing sites from making use of the same domain name and it also means that if people misremember your domain name they will get to the right place anyway.
You can also do this with other domain names, such as misspellings of your main domain name or slightly different variations.
Whether you do this or not is a personal decision.
Some people do, others don’t.
As a general rule, it probably isn’t worth purchasing additional domain names if they are expensive or if you have a very low budget.
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