There are 2 crucial parts to any website, no matter what service you want to use. One is hosting, which can come in the form of a full controllable server you buy from a company like LiquidWeb or SiteGround. It can also come in the form of a full service website business, like Squarespace or Shopify. The other is a domain, which is the web address that people will use to get to your server. No matter what hosting service you use, you will always need to make sure you choose the right domain name. Here are some tips to make sure you buy a good one.
A Quick Primer on Domains
Servers make websites available for public view. That website gets an IP Address, or a unique number assigned to your website. Think of it like a mailing address or a phone number. Since these numbers are not very easy to remember, you can purchase an easy to remember name called a domain or URL (Universal Resource Locator).
Usually, you can purchase domains from the same place you get your hosting, but it’s not always recommended in-case one day you decide you want to change hosts. If you’d like to purchase a domain separately, which is recommended, Hover is a great service. They offer a number of different types of domains (known as TLDs or Top Level Domains) from .com and .org to .io, .me, and .xyz.
Domains like .edu, .mil, .gov, and country TLDs require verification. You can view all of the restricted domains here.
You might also notice that some domains use http:// and some use https://. The difference is that https:// uses something called Secure Socket Layer, or SSL. This means any data sent to and from your website will be done so securely; you will want this if your processing payments, taking user information, or logging in with a username and password. Google is making this a priority in search ranking too, so it’s important to make sure you’re using a secure domain. Luckily, in most cases it’s free, and the hosting company handles it automatically for you.
Choosing a Good Domain Name
There are lots of tips out there for choosing the right domain name, but here are a few important once to consider:
- Make it unique and easy to remember. You want your domain to stand out, but not so much that it’s difficult to remember when someone tries to visit.
- Make it easy to type and speak. A hard domain will send people to the wrong place or dissuade them from going at all.
- On that same token, try to avoid numbers and hyphens. They are very hard to speak (is the number typed out or is it the digit?) and hyphens are often forgotten about.
- Try a .com first. About 70% of TLDs are .com, even as the number of TLDs grows. That means that most people will have an easier time remember a .com domain and will likely try that first.
- Make it a short as possible. This goes back to making it easy to remember, speak, and type. joesbakery.com is easier to remember (and spell) than joesscrantonbakery.com. I’ve heard 11-14 characters max, if you can.
- Avoid copyrights. Make sure you’re not using a copyright term in your domain. The last thing you want to do is change it because of infringement. An example is “wordpress.” According to the WordPress Foundation, who holds the copyright for WordPress, you cannot use “wordpress” in a top level domain. That’s why most sites WordPress-related sites use “wp” instead.
- Be aware of words combinations. This sounds silly and somewhat juvenile, but you don’t want to accidentally create a vulgar domain.
- Snag the matching social media if you can. Domain and matching social media accounts takes away the guess work for users.
- Grab some alternatives. If you can, pick up the .com, .org, and other related fun ones. For example, with a podcast you could grab the .com and the .fm.
Buying a Domain
There are a few places you can buy a domain from. My personal favorite is Hover – they offer a lot of great services built into the price that others charge for, like WHOIS Privacy protection. They also offer bulk-discounts for those of us who are chronic domain-purchasers.
If you’re having trouble generating ideas, there are some fantastic tools that will allow you to give 1-2 keywords, and they’ll generate available domains for you. A few good ones:
WinningWP also has a fantastic list of domain name generators, with pros and cons to boot!
This is not a Checklist!
Keep in mind that this isn’t a checklist. If you have the perfect domain but it uses a number, use the number. Since you can point 2 domains to the same website, grab it spelled out and with a digit. If a .com isn’t available, buy the .org instead. The goal is to do the best you can and most of all, make it relevant to your website and business.