I don't purport to be an expert in picking domain names, but I do it a lot, and as a business owner I have an ear to effective marketing. Choosing a creative and concise URL always seemed like an obvious endeavor to me, but one common occurrence that comes up when I'm helping a business setup their website is what domain name to pick.
A music teacher I'm helping out right now doesn't have the original domain name she wanted available, and she can't decide between various other options. This decision is important, but it is not the end all be all. Remember that you, as the business owner or entrepreneur, will make the name mean something, and not vice versa.
As a general rule, you should pick a name that is easy to remember, is unambiguous, and possibly relates to your business. However, the latter part can be sacrificed to some extent, to secure a name that is easier to remember.
This is my key distinction for businesses: If you are in the business of meeting people, like actually finding living, breathing customers, in person, in town, in your community, and meeting real needs out there, your keyword laden, SEO saturated domain name can be a hindrance. Sometimes the two go hand-in-hand, but more often they don't. Humans and computers don't speak the same language (at their core). When you meet someone in a coffee shop, it's more cumbersome to say, "yeah, definitely, look me up, my website is 'ultimate dash cool dash keyword.com'," for "ultimate-cool-keyword.com."
A name that is easier to remember is a name that is easier to transmit to another person, and onwards from that person to another. ThisRidiculouslyLongDomainName.com is a challenge to say, and will almost certainly be forgotten by that new prospect you told it to in passing, or a potential investor you bumped into last night. You can argue that this is what business cards are for, but why not have a double front approach to your marketing? Word of mouth is more powerful than littering business cards.
What's In the Name?
ShortAndClear.com is a much better choice in name, even if it doesn't have your business keywords in it. Think about your human customers first, and then search engines second. Honestly, unless your primary business is about doing business online, or selling information, SEO should take a back seat to more effective personal marketing strategies. Don't ignore search engine optimizing, but focus more on your actual business. Get out there and meet people!
Much younger, I realized that entities make the name more than the name makes the entity. What the hell was a "Kodak?" It was a "vigorous" name, as George Eastman put it, that started with a strong letter and ended with the same. That's all. From that name, he branded into a film company that lead its market for years! "Google," in 1998? I don't know, but it sure is easy to spell!
That brings me to my last point. Clever is not bad, AS LONG as it does not become ambiguous! In this, I will also warn against using dashes. I used to own ThoseAreMyPants.com (it ranted about relationships with a dramatic story about some poor sap [possibly me...] who had his heart broken) and it did well with traffic. It was catchy and unambiguous.
Don't Be Ambiguous
You might survive ambiguous, but it will be a challenge the whole way! People will come to you and say, "Hey I tried to go to your site last night, but it goes to this weird page."
"Oh, yeahhhhh," you'll say, shrugging your shoulders, "that one is different, mine is with the '4' spelled out," or "mine has an '8' in place of the 'a'."
Words like "our, for," which can easily be confused with "hour, four," or words that can be pluralized easily like "laugh, laughs, people, peoples," and words with intentional misspellings like "sup3r," should be put under scrutiny. If you can avoid them, avoid them.
The irony is that I own HardKnockLaughs.com, and people who haven't been to the show often remember it as The HardKnocks, or HardKnockLaugh.com. I had to buy both domains and forward one to the other when it became prevalent, and you will be forced to incur the same expense if you make a similar mistake. Worse off, you could see your Internet traffic trickle off to competitors, or parasite Web marketers that are profiting from your namesake and business credibility.
You Can Break That Rule if You're a Best Selling Author
You're not necessarily doomed if you pick an ambiguous name for your domain. Tim Ferriss is the best selling author of two books, including The 4-hour Work Week, and he bought the URL fourhourblog.com which is laden with multiple interpretations! "ForOur, 4hour, 4-hour, ForHour." He gets around that because he has best selling books driving him traffic, and his site has good content.
If you don't have a multi-million-copy-selling book, that was translated into dozens of languages, you should stick with names that are easier to transmit to other humans!
There's a great exchange between Ferriss and Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg, at the end of a webisode they produced in which Ferriss tries to convey his blog URL, and Rose tries to clear up the ambiguity...making it all much more confusing.
(Jump to 11:55 for Ambiguity Blooper)
Consider choosing your domain name from the perspective of the customer. Are they going to remember my name? Will it be confused with other options? Can I easily say it, and plaster it on my marketing material? Choosing your URL should not be stressful at all, but do put some thought into it, and think like a busy consumer!
Some Other Odds and Ends:
- If you can't get the .com, don't bother.
- If the name you really want isn't available (especially if an established competitor has it) don't get a variation, like one with dashes; create an entirely new idea for your name!
- If you think you have a good site idea, shop for the URL and associated social media accounts before devoting too much capital or creativity to it.
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