Choosing a Domain Name & Registrar
Ready to build your business brand online?
The first step to building a website is to choose a unique URL. Ideally, your company name will be available. However, with thousands of URLs being purchased everyday for the past decade, there is a chance you won’t be able to find exactly what you want. Whatever URL you choose, this is the first step in starting your website.
Your objectives in this chapter include: discovering the parts of a URL, understanding the best top-level domain to use for your business, and choosing the best domain name and registrar for your business.
Let’s get started!
What is a URL?
A URL is the website address that you type in to your browser to access a site. The URL is then used by your browser to find the actual server that hosts a website’s files. It is much simpler to remember than a series of numbers that describe where a website’s files “live.”
Parts of a URL
There are four major parts to a URL. For the purpose of this article, we are going to use our own website URL as an example: https://orangefox.wpengine.com/
Part 1: The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http://)
The http:// is defined by Wikipedia as “an application protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web.”
Essentially, it’s a necessary protocol for every website. Most modern browsers will automatically add this in even if a user does not type it, and they will hide it once the site has loaded.
Part 2: Sub-domain (www or other)
The “www” is referred to as a sub-domain. The most common is “www.” You may also see “blog” or “news” as sub-domains.
Part 3: Domain (orangefox)
The main name of the website.
Part 4: Generic top level domain (.com or other)
In recent years, there have been hundreds of gTLDs that have become available. The three most standard in the U.S. are “.com,” “.net,” and “.org.”
Which version is the best to choose for your business? (.com, .org, or .net?)
From a user perspective, “.com” seems to be the most preferred. However, right now there is a shift going on in the market where people are purchasing other versions. For example, you can now purchase the domain “car.insurance” or “baby.pictures.” Since the trend is shifting, it is difficult to know how these domains will be perceived in the future. In the past, “.org” domains were only allowed to be used by non-profit organizations; however, now anyone can purchase one. Shifts such as these “change the game.” In addition, you should be aware that some of these extensions have special rules associated with them. There are hundreds of different ones available. Conduct research about the extension you are looking at to find out if it has special rules.
From an SEO perspective there are a few different opinions. In general, .com, .net and .org extensions seem to be nearly equal. In the past, extensions like “.info” were much more difficult to rank. However, that seems to also be shifting with the new extensions on the market.
When conducting a Google search, you will typically be hard pressed to find anything but .com, .net and .org. However, that doesn’t mean that the new gTLDs can’t be ranked. More likely, it is that they have not been widely embraced and that’s why they don’t appear high in the search results.
In the future we expect to see more of the new gTLDs in the search engines, but at this point it’s not 100% clear how they are handled.
Our advice? Purchase a .com whenever possible unless you have an otherwise compelling reason.
Choosing A Domain Name
This is really the center of your online reputation. Some people may not think much of their domain name, when they really should. Your URL will be printed on every brochure, business card and other piece of marketing material that goes out to potential customers. Every visitor to your website will see it and anyone emailing you will have to type it. Keep all those factors in mind when making your decision.
The three questions to ask yourself when choosing a domain include:
1. Is it brief?
2. Is it memorable?
3. Is it branded?
1. Is it brief?
The shorter the domain, the easier it is to type for anyone that is visiting your website or emailing you. When you have an extremely long or difficult to spell domain, it increases the chances of people mistyping it and not being able to contact you. Additionally, you will have to type it when filling out forms, etc., so keeping it short is vital.
2. Is it memorable?
Having a catchy URL can be a huge help when branding your company. When people can easily remember your website they can easily refer your business to friends and associates. In addition, the person they are referring your website to can remember it as well.
3. Is it branded?
It is important that people can look at your URL and know that it belongs to your company. You may not want to use your entire company name in the URL, but having at least part of it will help people associate the website with your business.
If your top choices are not available as .com websites you may need to look at other extensions or just be creative. Try thinking about different words that match your industry that could be added before or after your brand name. You can also use hyphens if there are multiple words, although we recommend not having more than one or two hyphens.
Write down a list of ideas. Then, you can check to see what is available.
A Few Questions to Consider
- Does your domain have keywords?
It’s good to have keywords in your domain. However, we recommend avoiding an “exact match domain.” You can actually receive a penalty from search engines for over-optimization. For example, choosing a domain such as “chicagoplumbing.com” might not rank as strong in the search engines as “aaronsplumbing.com” because you will have a mix of brand and keywords in the URL.
- Does your URL have an acronym with another association?
Read the URL. Google it. What appears? It might shock you! You definitely do not want people to confuse your business with a negative acronym or something that is suggestive! Say the acronym out loud. How does it sound. Be careful here! You don’t want to embarrass yourself or your business.
- Does your URL spell out something negative?
Read your URL out loud. Consider the different ways it could be interpreted. For example, if you have a business called “Kids Exchange,” you don’t want to use “kidsexchange.com.” See what we’re saying? Be cautious in choosing your URL.
- Have you considered privacy issues?
Choosing your whois information will be another choice you’ll have to decide. “Whois” is a database of every website in existence. The database is public and contains personal information including your name, address, phone number and email. If you have a physical office, the address may not be a big issue for you. However, you’ll want to have a separate email address because these emails tend to attract spam. If you would rather have all your information be private you can choose “private registration” when you purchase your domain; the prices range from free to $20+ per year.
Choosing a Registrar
The last thing you’ll need to decide is which registrar you want to use. There are tons to choose from. Most of the reputable ones offer the same product so it really comes down to price. We recommend making sure the company is a large, legitimate company.
Here are some of the top ones in the industry:
GoDaddy – Nearly everyone has heard of GoDaddy. They are a large company that has pretty good overall service. There are tons of coupon codes out there too, if you do some digging. They charge for privacy and will attempt to sell you everything under the sun before you can check out. If you want, skip through all that and just purchase the domain (and if needed, privacy).
NameCheap – They have grown to be a big contender in the domain/hosting space. Their prices are a little lower and they offer free privacy for the first year, then about $3/yr after that. They are easy to use and have good overall service.
Network Solutions – They have become the go to choice for enterprise businesses (for a reason we have yet to discover). We do not recommend them simply because they are the most expensive service around (about 3 times more than the other choices) and their customer service, in our opinion, is nonexistent.
1and1.com – They have grown massively over the last few years to become one of the top registrars. Their customer service is excellent and they usually have a special where you can acquire a domain for $1 for the first year. They also offer free privacy for life.
NameSilo – This company is a little newer to the registrar space. Their website is not as flashy as some of their competitors but it is fast and it works great. They offer similar features to the other companies on the list at a slightly less price point and they offer free privacy.
Once you have chosen the registrar you want to use then you can start searching for the domain you want. Simply go to their website and type in the domain you want, click search and see if it’s available. If it’s not, the website will most likely recommend alternative options. Just keep going through your list until you find a URL that you like. You’ll find one!
Do I Need All the “Extras”?
When you purchase a domain name, most companies will attempt to sell you additional services. For the most part, you don’t need them, except for hosting and privacy.
Ultimately, it’s up to you, but most of the features sell on fear tactics. A majority of the features can be purchased at a later time, if you decide to buy it (except for privacy, in which case your information is already exposed).
Note: “SEO” packages offered by these sites typically hurt your rankings more than helping them, so we recommend staying away!
You’ve met the following objectives: discovering the parts of a URL, understanding the best top-level domain to use for your business, and choosing the best domain name and registrar for your business.
This is the first step to starting your online presence. Choosing something great is important; however, if you feel you cannot figure out the perfect domain, just choose something “good enough” to get started. You can always move your site later if necessary. Just don’t get overwhelmed by the options and give up. Take some time to figure out the best option, and go for it!
Once you choose your URL, it should take less than 5 minutes for you to become the owner. Choose your URL, take action, and you’re ready for the next step!