Your website is, collectively, a calling card, a company brochure and even a store. One of the most important aspects of your website, even before design, is selecting a proper domain name.
With more than 327 million registered domain names, choosing the best one for your business can mean the difference between being seen and being passed over for your competitors. Finding a name that is unique, memorable and available can seem daunting, but it's doable and worth the effort.
"For businesses of all sizes, choosing the right domain name can feel as challenging as coming up with a company name, but it doesn't have to be [so difficult]," said Kellie Peterson, registrar operations wrangler at Automattic.
Peterson offers four tips for picking the perfect domain name:
Use correct spelling
This might come as a surprise considering the immense success companies like Flickr and Tumblr have enjoyed, but those are exceptions. After seeing Flickr's success, many startups followed suit by rushing to register domain names with dropped letters. But it's no coincidence that you haven't heard from any of those companies. Going the trendy route makes it difficult to convey the true spelling of your domain orally, and people tend to go directly to the correctly spelled site by habit.
What if the correctly spelled version of the name you want is unavailable? Use a top-level domain (TLD), the part of the website after the "dot." There are more than 1,000 TLDs registered as of December 2016, from .photography to .xyz, giving you plenty of choices. However, despite the growing use of specialty TLDs, customers still default to the most popular ones. If you can get a .com, .net, .biz or .org, it's worth investing in a common TLD as a backup.
Shorter is better
Short names are easy to spell and are often easier to remember. Plus, shorter names make for fewer typos. Also, avoid extra punctuation; you should use howtosave.com as opposed to how-to-save.com.
Do not sacrifice clarity to get a short name, however. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your domain name is easy to say on the phone. You want the person on the other end of the line to remember exactly what to type into the search bar after the conversation.
Be relevant and unique
Your domain name should describe your purpose and brand clearly. When someone looks at or hears your domain name, they should be able to make a reasonable assumption about what they will find when they go to your website. For example, if your company sells surfboards, the domain h20ride.com might not be the best choice, as customers could misconstrue your domain as that of a drinking water company.
In addition to choosing a name that's relevant to what you do, pick a domain name that customers won't easily confuse with other businesses' names, or worse, that will infringe on another business's trademark. To avoid doing this, use the World Intellectual Property Organization's searchable database to check the name against other products or services to ensure that you're in the clear. You can also take an additional step by consulting an intellectual property attorney.
Pay for the best
Some people buy domain names on speculation. If someone has already bought your perfect domain, consider buying it from them. You can approach the registrant of the domain name directly or go through a domain name broker. Both independent and corporate brokers can guide you through the process. As a less expensive alternative, purchase a new top-level domain with the same domain name: howtosave.biz instead of howtosave.com.
The good news for 2017 is that more than one million .com domains have become available again. This is primarily because in 2015, hundreds of thousands of domains were purchased by Chinese companies as a speculative venture; these came due late last year but were not renewed.
A domain name, like a company name, defines your company: its purpose; its personality; its brand. Finding the right domain name is the first step to making a strong online presence.
Additional reporting by Karina Fabian. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.