A guide to domain names
A good Internet domain name is vital for every business that is serious about getting customers and serious about its image. This free guide is intended to help you to choose and acquire the best possible domain name(s) for your business.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is an Internet address, which can be used for two quite different purposes:
- for an individual's or an organisation's website;
- as an identifier for email to the individual or organisation.
There are a large number of different suffixes (ie domain name endings) which can be divided into two categories - "country codes" and "top level" domain names. Examples of top level domain names would be .com or .net or .org. Examples of country codes would be .co.uk or .co.jp. Within these country codes you can have different suffixes so that the UK has .co.uk, .gov.uk, .org.uk and several others.
Whatever the name it is almost always registered through your ISP (Internet Service Provider) who registers top level domain names with an international body and .uk names with the UK authority Nominet, based in Oxford.
Generic terms are those such as smile.co.uk, egg.co.uk, taste.co.uk or house.co.uk which no one has a trademark-type claim over. These names can be especially attractive in that they are easy to remember and they get a certain amount of "on spec" visits (or type-in traffic).
Why does it matter what domain name you choose?
A memorable domain name will generate visits to your website, and reduce the number of emails intended for you but misaddressed and hence lost to you. In business, missed traffic means lost income. Put another way, a good domain name will earn you more money.
Apart from generating traffic, a good domain name is a way of saying positive things about your organisation. If your company wants to be the best in its field you will not convey that by using a second-best suffix, like .ltd.uk. If your company is a company like Waitrose, operating almost exclusively in the UK, then using the domain name waitrose.com with the dotcom suffix conveys a pretension to being an international company that can only harm the business (unless, of course, it really is international). In fact, recent research by Nominet has shown that 4/5 British consumers prefer to do their shopping on UK-based sites.
Perhaps the most powerful example of the importance of a good domain name came from a survey done by Easily.co.uk in late 2004. This showed that 76% of consumers prefer to search for businesses on the internet. This really underlines the importance of the Internet as an information resource and as a powerful tool through which to generate more customers and as a a result more revenue.
An example of a great domain name is: bbc.co.uk. It is short, it is very recognisably linked to the broadcasting organisation that existed before the internet, and it has the ending (.co.uk) which shows that it is serious about business in the UK.
What sort of domain names have been successful?
Almost all the successful names have been short, memorable and have the appropriate suffix. Here are some examples:
- three.co.uk (for a new third generation phone service in the uk)
- tnt.co.uk (the uk operation of the TNT freight organisation)
- amazon.com (for an international operation that was to many book buyers "amazing" and amazon-like in its strength)
These names are successful because they are memorable, short and relate to the organisation.
What should you avoid in choosing a name?
- Avoid hard spellings if possible - you want to make your customers' lives easier not harder;
- avoid long names - even if they are easy to spell they take longer to type in and there is a greater risk of a typing error;
- avoid names which have lots of words in them because the question of whether there are hyphens, dots (or even underscores __) causes confusion and loses customers;
- avoid extra initials - ajacobsonandsons.co.uk is tricky to remember and a user would lose business as a result.
- Rule number one - choose the right suffix (organisation type/country code);
- rule number two - choose the best name available within that "name-space" Shortness and memorability are critical;
- rule number three - acquire the obvious alternatives, misspellings and generics which your customers may use. For example google.com owns google.co.uk but they have failed to register oogle.com which is sometimes typed in in error.
What process would be best for choosing the best domain name?
Brainstorming with senior people is better than leaving a junior to decide without consultation. Many companies go through a process where they list out the possibilities. The next stage is to rule out unsuitable ones and then see which on the list of desirables is available to register or to buy from an existing holder.
Once I've decided on a few names that would do well for the business, what should I do?
Find out which, if any, are available to register. If none are, you can find out who the owners for names ending .uk by typing in the name into the website at www.nic.uk. For .com names there are various sites but you can easily check at www.netsol.com You could then see if the name is in use by typing it into your browser. If it is registered it might well be for sale and it's worth at least asking the owner for a price/quote to buy the name.
Once we've got our great domain name, what tips can you give that will help us to promote it more effectively?
Use colour and typestyle to make the most important bit stand out. For example: www.bbc.co.uk
Put it on everything! Don't allow any print or promotional stuff to be produced without your domain name on it. Consider changing the company name to the website address. This has some surprising results. Iceland.co.uk have found that their home delivery service is much boosted by the website address being the name of their shops. It also means that in press interviews the interviewer has no alternative when quoting the name of your company but to state also your address for your website and email!
Think carefully about what domain names would work for you and will be effective for marketing. Then choose the appropriate suffix, make a list of short and memorable names and go out and try to acquire one or more of these. Don't be immediately put off if a name is registered - see if the current owner will sell the name. Good luck!