Sunday, 15 March 2009

Domain Names

From time to time I encounter people who need a domain name so I thought I'd share my thinking about choosing one:

Choosing a domain name is like naming a child in that you're as well to give it some very careful consideration because, although it's not impossible to change it again later, it can be rather difficult. In another way however, it's not at all like that because while there are a lot of people called, for example, Andy Slater, there is and can only be, one

Things to consider when choosing a domain name:
  1. Availability
    As stated above, every domain name has to be unique so if somebody has already registered the one you'd like, although you may be able to buy it from them for some exorbitant sum, it's probably just a case of hard luck.
    You can find out if a name is available at places like
    On the front page of their site is a box where you can type the domain name that you're interested in registering and click a button to see if it's available. Chances are that your first choice won't be so be prepared for some disappointment and for some considerable time spent thinking up alternatives.
    Please note that if you are planning to ask me to host your website on my server that the whole thing is a lot easier if your domain name is registered via UK2 but please contact me before jumping in.

  2. www.
    Pretty much all domain names start with www. so you don't need to worry about that bit.

  3. .com? .net? .info?
    The bit at the end is called the extension and there are various different ones available. However:

    1. .com is the one that's best known. If people can't remember your extension, .com will probably be the first one they'll try so it's well worth having.

    2. Search engine results show your domain name including the extension. If you've ever used a search engine to find something you want to buy then you'll be aware that much of the time you end up looking at shops in the USA. Amongst the results however you will see sites that have a extension and this is a valuable clue that the site is based in the UK. When I'm shopping, I make a beeline for the ones with a extension. Thus if you are selling to the UK market, a extension can be a bonus.

    There are many other extensions available. Check UK2 as described above for a list of what they have i.e. those available in the UK (you will see other country specific extensions when you're browsing which have to be registered in those countries). However, unless you have a good reason for using something other than .com or, I'd stick with those. For a business I'd be inclined to want both.

  4. Name Length
    Short names are best. eBay, Amazon, Google, etc. Short and snappy. I used to run a business from a site called and found that the domain name was too long to fit on till receipts, too long to get printed onto pens for promotional purposes, etc, etc. Doh!

  5. Hyphens and Underscores
    You can't use spaces in domain names but you can use hypens and underscores. If your desired name contains more than one word you could therefore:

    1. Join all the words together:

    2. Use hypens:

    3. Use underscores:

    Although I said you could use underscores, I recommend that you don't. It's not common practice and is bound to cause confusion; people will mistake them for hypens and spaces.
    Note also that for business purposes it's probably wise to obtain all variants. You can for example access Games Workshop's site with:
    Smart move guys. Note however that eBay, Amazon, Google (businesses that were Internet businesses from day 1) and the like only need half as many domain names to cover all the options. Even smarter.

  6. Memorability
    My experience with The Model Makers Resource has shown me that on the web, unless you can become a household name, you're at the mercy of the search engines if you want people to 'stumble' across your site. Obviously the more memorable your name, the better your chances of people coming straight back to you rather than heading for the search engines. The Model Makers Resource Ltd is too long and clumsy for most folks to remember. There's also an issue about whether "model makers" should be one word, two words, or hyphenated and arguing that your choice is correct according to the dictionary is of little value if potential customers are failing to reach you because they are typing it in wrong.
    It is strange, but it is a fact that I would often hear people outside my shop saying "Oh look, The Model Makers Resource Centre". The sign did NOT have the word 'centre' anywhere on it but for some reason people just seemed to add it on the end. What chance have they got of remembering the domain name if they can't even read the company name off the sign above the shop window correctly?
    It's a bad name and more 'field testing' would have told me that before I invested in it.

  7. Spelling
    If you're a business, having a name that's easy to remember has to be a smart move. Even if you're not a business, obscure spellings, or things that people have difficulty in spelling, are best avoided. Choosing something that you have to explain or spell out every time you tell someone your domain name over the phone is a bad move. Choose something such that when you tell people your domain name, their first guess at how to spell it will be correct.

  8. Keywords
    'Keywords' are words that people type into search engines when they are looking for something. Having a keyword in your domain name can enhance it's position on the list (it's ranking). Perhaps more important, the search engines are fickle after all, is the fact that your domain name is displayed and can be used to say something about you.
    When I was setting up The Model Makers Resource, having the word 'model' in the name was on my list of priorities. Part of the trouble I had finding a domain name was that the word 'model' can be used in more than one context. You've got model kits, catwalk models, data modelling, model citizens and a huge range of other things. As a result, pretty much every domain name I though of was already in use. I did find one short one, models-uk, uk-models or something like that; however, all of the other 'variants' were taken up by competitors, model agencies and in one case a rather nasty porn site. I decided to steer clear.
    If you can slip a keyword into your name it's certainly worth considering but I believe that there are more important issues, as listed above, and I wouldn't compromise them for the sake of inserting a keyword.
    At the end of the day, Boots (the chemists) don't seem to have suffered from having an inappropriate name although one is inclined to wonder what ever became of Mr Chemist the cobbler?

That's about all I want to say on the subject of choosing a domain name. Hopefully you'll find some of it useful. Hopefully I haven't scared you off the idea of having a website altogether. The things above are things to CONSIDER. You don't have to comply with all or even any of it. If you're wanting a website for fun then you can probably ignore most of what I've said. The same is true if you wanted a website to which you can direct people as a means of answering a question that somebody has asked you. If your site is for business and you will want people to be able to find it and remember it without your jotting the name on a bit of paper for the, then the more of the above that you can take into consideration, the better.

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