Choosing a domain name

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, when it comes to making your mark on the internet. There are a whole slew of factors you need to weigh up when picking a domain name for your business’s website.

A domain name is your stripped-down internet address.

For instance, our domain name here at Rocketspark is rocketspark.com (none of that “http://” business in it). And just like choosing a brick-and-mortar location for your business, your domain name is not only where customers will find you—it can also function like an advertisement. A well-chosen domain name will help existing customers find you easily and draw new customers in.

Should I use my brand or keywords?

There’s no magic formula for picking the perfect domain name. There aren’t many clear-cut rules—just guidelines with advantages, disadvantages and trade-offs aplenty. So be prepared to give some thought to the process and make some tough calls. The first of these decisions is settling on what type of domain name you want—brand-oriented or keyword-oriented?

Brand-oriented domains are constructed around the business name or some variation of it. Let’s say you own a bookstore called Words’ Worth. A brand-oriented domain name would be something like wordsworth.co.nz or ilovewordsworth.co.uk.

Keyword-oriented domains include keywords that are likely to be typed in when a potential customer is looking for whatever goods or services you provide, without specifically looking for your business (or even being aware that your business exists!). Searchers might type in something like “books " or “best bookstore,” so your domain name could be books.co.nz or bestbookstore.co.uk.

So which is better? Well, there are pros and cons to both. To figure out what’s best for your business, you need to think carefully about searchability and credibility.

Searchability—will they find it?

Conventional wisdom says that keyword-oriented domain names are better because they’re more searchable. Search engines recognise the words in the domain name and so when a user types “books” into Google, books.co.nz is probably more likely to rank higher in the results than wordsworth.co.nz. So if you can find a keyword-oriented domain that matches (or at least gets close to) what your potential customers are likely to be typing into a search engine, that can be a very powerful tool in attracting people to your website.

But wait! Not so fast. Before you rush off and get yourself a keyword-oriented domain name, you need to consider the advantages of a brand-oriented domain. Times are changing. Google — where almost 90% of all searches are performed — has recently changed the way things work so that keyword-oriented domain names are no longer as dominant in search rankings as they used to be.

You also have to keep in mind memorability. Is your domain name easy to remember? Customers are probably going to see your domain name on your business card, on your company car or on a TV ad and later have to type it in from memory. A brand-oriented domain could be a big plus on that front. Likewise, is your domain name easy to say? This is a big deal when it comes to customer word-of-mouth. Hyphens, numerals and anything quirky usually won’t help in this regard. The bookmarking site, Delicious, changed its domain name from the clever but knotty del.icio.us to the more memorable and intuitive delicious.com for precisely that reason. Another advantage to brand-oriented domains is that not all customers will use a generic search phrase, like “best bookstore.” Often they’ll search for a specific business—assuming they already know your business’s name. And let’s not forget the obvious: the most famous websites and biggest companies use brand-oriented domains: apple.com, wikipedia.org, bbc.co.uk, trademe.co.nz—and it works just fine for them!

Credibility—will they click it?

Searchability is only half the story. Just because your business appears in the search results doesn’t mean the user will necessarily click on it. Microsoft’s recent research uncovered something interesting about searcher behaviour: credibility (of a domain name) trumps ranking. In other words, a searcher is more likely to click a result that’s listed in 8th position in the search results (or even 15th position—only 52% of Google users click on page one) if they deem the domain name credible than a result in 3rd position that has a domain they feel lacks credibility.

Often brand names look more credible because they give the appearance of legitimacy. Keyword-oriented domains can go either way on this. Something like books.co.uk, is extremely credible. But often those short and punchy domain names are tough to get because they’ve already been snapped up (if you’re desperate for a domain name that’s already taken, you can always try buying it off the owner—but be prepared to shell out quite a bit of money for it). A long, convoluted domain name lacks credibility—users probably won’t click on aplacetobuybooksandsimilaritems.biz. The average length for a domain name is about 12 characters, but generally the shorter your domain, the better.

So, as far as credibility goes, either a brand-oriented or a keyword-oriented (if it’s short and relevant) domain will do the trick. But perhaps you’ve had a brainwave: can’t I have two domain names—one brand- and the other keyword-oriented—and point them both to the same website? Yes, you can, but be careful—it’s not quite the best-of-both-worlds solution that you might think it is (click here to read our blog post on this topic). But it is possible to combine brands and keywords in one domain name. For instance, wordsworthbooks.co.nz or even wordsworthlondon.co.uk combine a business brand name with a keyword that could potentially be searched.

How do I build credibility?

There are other ways to ensure the credibility of your domain name, maximising your chances of being clicked on. Take hyphens, for instance. The overuse of hyphens is a credibility-killer, because hyphen-heavy domains are a favourite ploy of spammy websites. One hyphen in your domain name is totally fine, but more than that might make your business look questionable.

An absolutely crucial component of your domain name is the bit at the end: .com, .co.uk, .net.nz etc. In tech lingo, this is referred to as a Top Level Domain (TLD) and it’s vital to how customers will perceive your business. No doubt, .com is king of domain names. It screams credibility and 75% of all domain names end in a .com. But they’re not for everybody; they tend to belong to multinational or American businesses. That’s fine if that’s what you are but if not, you risk looking foreign or just plain pretentious. Tellingly, 80% of British searchers prefer domain names with .co.uk, so if your business caters to a national or local clientele you should look at getting something that ends in .uk or .nz. While .com (or, by extension, .co.nz/.co.uk) is most credible, .net and .org, and their county-specific equivalents, are also very respectable. Once you move beyond these TLDs, the credibility of your domain name is likely to plummet—so stick with these basics.

With so many variables, picking a domain name might seem maddeningly complex. But your domain name isn’t the be-all and end-all. Brand- or keyword-oriented, make sure that you promote your website like crazy. Some businesses even go as far as using their domain name as one of their primary brands. And the greatest domain name in the world won’t do much for you if your website is terrible! So don’t forget the most important thing: once a customer gets to your site, the website needs to be top-notch. And here at Rocketspark, we know a thing or two about top-notch websites!

A Rocketspark website plan allows you to purchase your own domain name so if you are unsure what domain or domains you should be using please get in touch.