Since 1985, the task of choosing a business domain name has been a part of the process of setting up intellectual property for new (and established) businesses. The very first registered domain name was Symbolics.com, appropriately snapped up by the Massachusetts business Symbolics Inc.

In the 35 years since 1985, the importance of aligning a domain name with a company’s brand image has continuously grown. Today, it is inconceivable that a serious business would present itself with a second or third-rate domain name. The domain name is now the singular most important piece of intellectual property owned by most businesses. It is the gateway to their empire.

You don’t get a second chance at a first impression, and so it is with domain names. They are often the first indications of a business presence that a prospective customer may hear. The domain name must conjure up a positive image of the brand or company; it must excite and enthral; it must be aspirational; it must not disappoint. As long as the name is remembered, a prospective customer can visit the website, and all that company’s secrets will be revealed. But forget the domain name and that company may be lost to them forever.

What is a domain name?

There are currently over 350 million registered domain names. Each represents a piece of real estate on the internet, a front door to a world created exclusively by the owner of the domain name. Each piece of real estate is defined by an IP address which looks something like ‘123.123.123.0’. Imagine trying to remember even five of these numbers.

Well, luckily, you don’t. The Domain Name System was established in 1985 primarily as a naming system for all internet related resources – an internet telephone directory effectively. Instead of numbers, you only have to remember names.

Consider your business domain name for a minute.

    Does it…
  • … portray your business as the key player in your market, or is it an also-ran?
  • … add value to your business proposition or detract from it?
  • … lockout your competitors or leave them to help themselves to your customers?
  • Suppose you’re in the coffee business. A prospective customer is interested in learning about (and hopefully buying!) some premium coffee. They know very little at this stage, so they are looking for a website they feel they can trust. Which domain name do you think they would most likely turn to; coffee.com or coffee-uk2.com?

    Similarly, the angler looking to buy fishing tackle online for the first time would probably place their trust in angler.com, fishing.com or fishingtackle.com before venturing to onlinefishingtackle4.com, tfsanglersandco.com or bestfishing417.com.

    Like it or not, domain names now really do hold a vital key to customer traffic for most businesses. The good news is that, by carefully selecting that name, even small businesses can punch well above their weight in the marketplace.

    You instinctively know which are the best domain names above, but let’s take a few moments to look in greater detail at what you should consider when choosing a business domain name.

    10 things to remember when choosing a business domain name

    1. .COM is still king! The TLD (top-level domain) is the bit after the dot; The original generic TLD’s – .com, .info, .org, .net, .edu, .gov etc. – have now been joined by over 1,300 more. Among these are .actor, .attorney, .bargains, .bingo, .blackfriday, .creditcard, .eat, .frontdoor, .horse, .ninja, .spreadbetting, .vodka, .web …..etc. The list goes on, and on, and on. We can save the rationale for this TLD explosion for another today but, for now, just accept that they are here.

    Top-level Domains

    With so many new generic top-level domains available, it is becoming harder for a business to understand the natural pecking order, the hierarchy of TLDs. Which TLDs have a higher status than others? Which one is relevant for my business? If my business is a legal practice, then perhaps .attorney makes sense. But what about .lawyer or .legal? Perhaps my business is associated with building construction, then .builders may make sense. But what about .build, .construction or .contractors?

    With so many options, how can your business stand out as the ultimate authority? The answer is that there is still a single, stand-out TLD that trumps all the others, regardless of what industry you represent: The .com. So, whichever TLD you consider and perhaps invest in, always look to secure the .com alongside. You will then be the undisputed authority in your business area.

  • Keywords v brandable: keywords can accurately describe your business, i.e. qualitycoffee.com or coffeesupplies.com. You can pick up passing traffic. When consumers are looking for coffee supplies, they will often type coffeesupplies.com without even knowing if that website exists. If it does, then it is probably the authority in coffee supplies.

    Alternatively, while brandable names such as coffeo.com, coolkoffee.com can take more money and time to build, they can be memorable, available and provide a new edge to your business promotional activity.

  • Radio test: Imagine your domain name was referenced on the radio. Is it intuitively easy to spell? Is a potential customer likely to be able to type it in the first time and get to your website (and hopefully not your competitor’s!)? Say it out aloud. It might be great to call out the name coffeestore.com on the radio, but if it is spelt kaupheestoor.com then no-one will ever find it.
  • Avoid numbers/hyphens: As a general rule, they just shout out that you’re second best and often make it hard to spell out. Occasionally it makes sense to include numbers or hyphens, but this is very much the exception. c-a-r-s.com really is a website but I bet you’ve never heard of it.
  • Length: it is becoming more commonplace to see acceptable two, three and even four-word domains now that they key single word .coms have primarily been taken. They need to be catchy, easy to remember and spell but don’t rule these out. Some great examples would be WeBuyAnyCar.com and MoneySuperMarket.com.
  • Trademark: Always, check that the domain name (and underlying business) you have in mind isn’t likely to infringe any trademark issues. Keep well away from any potential conflicts. The world of domain names are governed by the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). Sometimes UDRP rulings seem a little random and illogical. Steer clear.
  • Social media: Can you access the main social media handles, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok, Redditt etc.? A standard naming structure across these which tie in with your domain name portrays a professional and authoritative business.
  • “Like a storefront and location in the offline world, your domain name is the very first vehicle by which potential investors, customers and employees evaluate your company before they even engage. A bad domain can sink you.” FORBES Entrepreneurs – David Teten

    1. What does your domain name say about you and your business? Does it portray how you would like people to think about your business? If your business is fun, professional, authoritative, exciting, aspirational, conservative, adventurous, determined, easy or mysterious, does your domain name reinforce those values? If not, consider a change.
    2. Can you quickly understand what the business is? I once ran a company situated next door to a business called F1 racing services. It was a car body shop. Would you have guessed? At the least, if your domain name isn’t going to spell out precisely what your business is (i.e. because it is a brandable domain name), make sure it doesn’t suggest that it is something completely different.
    3. Research the name carefully. Does it mean something unpleasant or offensive in other cultures/languages? An English woman seeking a thong in Australia might be surprised to be presented with some open summer shoes instead of some intimate – and rather minimalist – underwear. Meanwhile, when a European sees a sign by the elevator “I Fart”, they would probably not break down in a fit of giggles. To them, it means that the elevator is “in service”. To the Englishman, it is an expression of one’s ability to break wind. Be careful!

    So, choosing a business domain name can be time-consuming and frustrating, but the rewards can be significant. Don’t convince yourself that all the good names have gone. Of course, most of the powerful one-word names have gone, but there are still plenty of opportunities to pick up two, three and even four-word domain names which can be compelling and memorable. If you are looking for a brandable name, then your choices are only limited by your imagination.

    If you need any help choosing a business domain name, feel free to give me a call or check out our domain marketplace as a starting point for your search.

    Good luck!

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