Monday, April 3, 2006

Bloggin’ On Up, Part 3: Picking the Perfect Domain Name

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

Yup, I’m switching up the order of posts I had planned here because it’s taking me a bit longer to get the new website looking how I want it to look. In the meantime, I can share with you my strategeries for choosing an awesome domain name to complement your fantastic new website.

Domain Names: Why You Need One

Before you start thinking about what your new domain name should be, you should convince yourself why you need one. Fortunately, the reason is simple. All the disk space and bandwidth in the world won’t do you any good unless people actually find your site. How do they do that? Likely many of your visitors will find their way to your blog or website through links on other blogs or websites. And while you might draw in a big crowd for a particularly juicy piece of content, you’re probably hoping that many of them will return. But how will they remember you? How will your existence to them be more than a fleeting memory? If you’re lucky, they’ll bookmark your site or add it to their RSS feed reader and visit it again later.

Compare the problem of attracting repeat visitors to that of companies trying to draw in repeat shoppers for their products. When you have 37 different kinds of laundry detergent to choose from, how does a company get you to keep choosing theirs over the others? Part of it is quality–people will stick with products they know work. Similarly, people will revisit websites with quality content. But what if all 37 different kinds of laundry detergent work just as well? In some cases, it could very well come down to a name. Assuming equal quality and price, are you going to pick a detergent called Zip! or one called Laundry Detergent Formula? Given the choice, the majority of people would go with Zip! It sounds more exciting, and they’ll buy it hoping that Zip! will make a difference in their otherwise dreary lives.

In the same manner, you will find that your domain name quickly becomes your “brand name.” When a person thinks about your website’s content, they’ll associate it with your domain name. And the easier your website’s domain name is to remember, the easier it will be for them to make that association. That’s why subdomains under a free host don’t work; when you’re blogging from ILovePorkAndBeans.blogspot.com, you’ve got two “brand names” working there–yours and Blogger’s. If someone runs a competing website at ILovePorkAndBeans.com, they will automatically come off as more professional even before you consider the content of their site.

Granted, there are many fantastic websites hosted by Blog*Spot.com (see the links menu for just a few of them). Domain names aren’t free, either; you’ll generally have to pay five or ten dollars a year for your own .com address (sometimes far, far more). But it’s a good investment because having your own domain name helps build and strengthen your brand image.

How to Pick Your Name

Selecting your domain name can be extremely simple or groin-grabbingly hard. If you’re lucky, you can just follow these steps and you’ll have your new domain name.

  1. Think of your website’s name. (If you already have one, like a Blogger blog you want to move to a paid host, this should be simple.)
  2. Add a .com to it.
  3. Register it.

That’s how easy it is for some people who decide to leave their free hosting service and explore the option of hosting their own site. There are many cases, however, where you can’t or shouldn’t follow these steps. Perhaps YourName.com is taken. Or maybe your website’s name is something long like “Hi, This Is My Website and It’s So Freakin’ Cool” so YourName.com would be obviously impractical (more on long domain names in a minute). Or maybe you’re starting a new site or willing to ditch your current title and you need a new name. If any of these apply to you, you’ll be looking to start fresh. And if that includes you, there’s just one rule to remember for picking a domain name…

Rule #1: Your domain name should be your website’s name with a .com at the end of it.

You’re on your own coming up with a name for your website since you best know the subject of your website. (That said, feel free to ask me for suggestions if you have a site in mind and need a good name.) You should try your absolute best to come up with a title that describes the content of your site and/or provokes the interest of your readers. Once you have that name for your website, you should register that name (or part of that name) with a .com at the end of it. If the .com is already taken, you will probably want to come up with another name. There are, however, exceptions that make .org (and .net or .us to a lesser extent) an acceptable alternative.

Rule #1a: Failing Rule #1, your domain name should be a .com related to your subject.

Maybe you’re absolutely set on a name but it’s either a long one (say, more than 10 characters) or it’s already taken. That’s okay; you have an alternative. While YourName.com would be ideal, you can also try YourSubject.com. If your website is called “Tasty Vegetable Recipes,” then carrots.com would not be a very bad domain name to have at all.

Rule #1b: Failing Rule #1a, your domain name should be a short .com.

(Yeah, I’m kinda stretching that “one rule” thing I said earlier.) As with the situation in Rule #1a, you might have a great name for your website but it’s either impractical or impossible to register its .com equivalent. It might also be hard to find a related word to .com-ize. In these cases, you might be best off coming up with a new name. Alternatively, you can settle for something short. If your site will be called “Bob’s Blog of Bananas,” go for something like bbb.com or bbob.com. While people may not immediately connect the acronym with your site’s name, a short, seemingly unrelated domain name will be easier to remember than a long, definitely unrelated one.

Speaking of short domain names, I generally like to keep my domain names under eight characters anyway (preferrably under six). Under no circumstances should your domain name exceed 20 characters since you can probably come up with a shorter, easier to type subset of your name to .com-ize instead. While most repeat visitors will be clicking a bookmark to come to your site, some people may not use bookmarks (or not have theirs handy) and will need to rely on their memory and ability to type and spell to find your site. If your name exceeds even 15 characters, you’re probably start missing out on visits from manual typing of your name.

Rule #1c: Failing Rule #1b, go with Rule #1, #1a, or #1b but substitute a .org (or maybe a .net or .us) instead.

There are very few reasons you should go with something other than a .com extension for your domain name. Even if you’re a non-profit organization or from another country, you should try to stick with a .com if at all possible. There are a few exceptions that make it okay to go with another extension. The first is if you have a domain name in mind that meets all three of the rules above but the .com is taken. In this case, you may still want to think about looking for a new domain name. But if the .com is either not in use (but still owned by someone else) or completely unrelated to your subject, then going with the .org is okay. Why .org over .net and .us? Simply, .org sites are generally more closely associated with providing content (like Craigslist, The Internet Archive, and The Open Directory Project) while .net and .us sites are usually services (like MS Passport, Comcast, and ImageShack). Still, if both the .com and .org are taken, don’t let me stop you from yoinking the .net or .us. Absolutely stay away from all other domain extensions. Period. Exclamation point!

If you’re looking for more information on what .coms other people are registering, Dennis Forbes has an in-depth analysis of all the .com addresses currently registered.

Where to Register Your Name

Once you have your name picked out, you’ve gotta spend a few bucks to grab it. Unlike the web hosting itself where quality can vary wildly from host to host, most of the big-name domain registrars will give you the same quality of service and selection of tools as every other registrar. If you simply must go with a “top” domain registrar, here’s a site that lists them by registrations sold. For the most part, you just want a domain pointing at your website without a lot of bells and whistles. In that case, you’ll probably end up at since they dominate the registrar industry.

Beware of web hosts who offer free domain registrations with your web hosting package. Sometimes the domain registration is only good for one year and then the host will charge you more than the average registrar price for subsequent years. You always have the option of continuing to host with them and transferring your domain to a different registrar, but people often don’t bother and just settle for the higher price to avoid the hassle of transferring. While you should take the free year if it’s offered, try to overcome the status quo when the second year’s bill hits you.

FunnyMunny.huh?

At this point, I’ve got my new domain name picked out and registered. While I’m going to hold off revealing it until the new site is ready for business, I will mention that it falls under Rule #1c. I grabbed a .org because the .com was taken (though not being put to any real use) and I really liked the name. No, it’s not FunnyMunny.org (even though FunnyMunny.com is taken by someone else).

As a side note, a couple people have asked me what “kweee” means. It’s the handle I usually go by on the internet. It doesn’t really mean anything (though I do give it a meaning when asked), and I registered this blog before I knew what I’d do with it. I do own kweee.com, but it just points at this Blog*Spot blog for now. The new site will have a new name and a new domain, and I promise that both will totally rock your computer box.

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