So you’ve chosen your topic. You have a great concept with ideas for original and insightful material brimming from every orifice. Your fingers are itching to get typing and you’re about to start your site.
STOP! Hold back, you need to read this page first!
There is another key choice for you to make before you go any further. You need to name your site!
There are two key considerations at this stage:
- The site name
- The site domain name
The two are clearly related but may not necessarily be the same. In this article we will discuss what makes a good name and the different naming strategies you will want to adopt. We will also look at what makes a good domain name and why you may wish to adopt a particular approach when making this important decision.
To make this simple, I will break this down into two strategies. You can either go for a key word approach, or a brand. I have been involved in professional and personal projects that have adopted both successfully, so it is hard to pick a clear winner.
Arguably a winning keyword campaign can be an easier route to a sustainable site, but the counter argument suggests that once you have invested in your brand you will have a site with far greater longevity.
What do these terms mean?
A keyword driven site will be targeting a specific search term in Google. If you want people to come to your site because they have searched for “flared trousers” in Google then you might want to call your site, you guessed it, “Flared Trousers” . You will then ensure your site has the term throughout the content, in your page names and of course your domain name too.
There is one tiny problem with this strategy. All the popular keywords were bought up years ago! And in recent times Google have begun to give less weight to keyword rich domains that they did in the past. They are still worth considering as a well recognisable name that describes your site is only going to be a good thing.
Brand Naming Strategy
My biggest brand site now gets thousands of people searching specifically for my site every day. They want to find my site, so even if a competitor could out rank me, the users are still looking for my site. A competitor will have their work cut out for them if they try to capitalise on your established name, because the more they drop your name around the more recognition it gets. And this only helps your site as at this stage you are the top ranking site.
The key advantage to this approach:
- Easier to select your desired domain name
- If your brand name is unique, you will be at the top of at least one search for ever more
So rather than setting up your flared trouser business around the already registered flaredtrousers.co.uk – why not come up with something off the wall? Felicity’s Funky Flares! Whatever, it doesn’t really matter. The term will have no searches at the moment of conception (you might want to check that!) but from here on in you make those keywords your own.
Keyword Naming Strategy
This involves basing your site round a particular keyword The trick here is to think up a new way of searching for popular items that has not already been done to death on the Internet. Sound impossible? You’d be suprised! How many times in the past have you tried looking for something and been dissapointed because your search term has yielded nothing useful? Well next time that happens make sure it sets of a little alarm in your head. This may be an opportunity for you. If you have already selected a niche then the next step is some keyword research.
Choosing a Domain Name
- Ask the current owner what traffic it gets, a few hundred hits a day is nothing to get excited about! But if it gets a few thousand a day then this should add some value. Of course it depends on the quality of traffic, but this is a good start.
- Does the site rank highly for any particular terms? This might give you an indicator as to why people are visiting the site. If the site ranks well for “I want to buy flared trousers” then you know you can sell your visitors flared trousers!
- How many external sites link to this domain? The more high quality links there are already in place the more attention you’ll get from Google.
- How old is the site? It is generally accepted that Google will weight search results in favour of more established sites.
- Is there a site already built on that address? If there is already a successful business operating on the site then get all the information you can about turnover, profit, etc. Find out about maintaining and hosting the existing software. Typically a business is worth a multiple of annual profit – perhaps 2 or 3 times – but there is no fixed rule here, it will be up to you to make an offer and for the owner to accept it!
All of these things will add some value, and if the domain has none of these things, I would personally argue the domain is worth no more than the standard registration fee.
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweetWilliam Shakespere
It is my experience that a good domain name can be chosen and registered simply with some imagination and lateral thinking. Sites like 43things, Del.icio.us and YouTube were not held back by their choice of domain name. Some other examples of good use of imagination include names such as INeedaWii.co.uk or historybooks.to-buy.co.uk which both set out the identity of the site instantly. These and many others have only been registered in recent years. It just takes some thought.
- Be memorable – will the name stick in someones head so that they can return to your site. That means it needs to be short, spelt normally, or made from a familiar set of terms that are known together.
- Look attractive – when you look at Google search results, notice how sometimes you will scan over the site URLs. People make snap judgements about the legitimacy of a site based on the URL. If it looks to consist of random numbers and letter is will not go down well.
- Appear relevant – following on from above, the name must identify the contents of your site and make it appear that yours will answer the questions they are investigating. You need the Googler to click through to you else you have lost before you’ve even started.
Does the Top Level Domain matter?
The top level domain (TLD) is the .com, .co.uk, .biz, .mobi etc that you see at the end of every domain. A common question you will hear around the Internet is whether the choice will influence how well you rank. The truth is, outside of a select few Google employees, no one knows for sure.
However many webmasters will not hesitate in telling you that .com domains are favoured by Google. Afterall, there is a .com address at the top of most search result lists, right? Well, yes, that much is true. But this is just because there are more highly developed .com addresses than any other!
.com addresses are:
- More frequently used
- Used by big business with big search marketing budgets
- The first to be registered and therefore used by older established sites
When you think about what Google is trying to achieve, the delivery of highly relevant search results, it makes no sense for them to censor genuine, quality sites that are hosted with alternative TLDs. And indeed you will see many sites rank for competitive search terms with less well known domain addresses.
There is however an important reason for using .com or your country specific TLD when registering your domain. User familiarity. People will generally put more trust into a familiar looking ending. There is a widely held perception that sites hosted with less familiar endings are some how less trustworthy. This makes as much sense as trusting a person you meet in the street just because they are well groomed and smartly dressed. And I think most savvy net users will decide whether a site is trustworthy or more advanced criteria, but this doesn’t change the fact that many people will hold this view and you can’t afford to turn away readers before they have even arrived.
If your site is geo targeted to a specific country, then a local domain extension will help it to rank well in the local versions of popular search engines. However, if you think your site has a global audience, the .com domain will be a better choice in the long run. Some people will advocate buying up all the different versions of your chosen name. This isn’t a bad idea if you have the funds and you are committed to your project. There is nothing worse than someone else than grabbing a domain that you chose not to register and then profiting from the brand you have built up. And yes, it has happened to me!
The new wave of TLD domains
Since I originally wrote this page there has been an interesting development in the world of domain names. It wasn’t long ago that you were strictly limited to a handful of idiosyncratic TLDs but recently a whole range of extensions have been made available. You can now purchase anything from .london to .guru.
This obviously opens up a whole range of new choices to anyone looking to buy a new domain, here are a couple of considerations:
- Google claims that these new domains will be treated like any other in the search rankings, so you don’t need to worry about showing about a negative impact. This makes sense, why should the name you chose reflect upon how good a site is. There are plenty of awful sites on a .com and many new sites are using new domains.
- Some of these domains are actually much more expensive than traditional extensions. This is enough to put me off. As a hobby blogger it is imperative that I keep my costs down and I don’t really want to be throwing money away holding a domain that is bringing in minimal income to begin with.
- It is too early to say what impact these new domains will have with users. Some have speculated that new domains are unfamiliar and off putting, they are less likely to attract clicks compared to the well known .com extension. Others are saying that the new domains are distinctive and allow you to convery exactly what your site is about.
Ultimately I would definitely look at these new domains and if I came up with a great idea I would be happy to go for it. However, to date .com addresses are still the preferred option for many webmasters with the number of registrations dwarfing all the alternatives combined.
Make the Decision
Pick a name that appeals to you and then move on. I write this because if you are anything like me and the many other posters on many forums that I read, you will be agonising over whether you made the right choice as if the entire success and failure of the project comes down to this single decision. Yes – it does require some though to ensure you select a good name for your site. But if it is not the perfect name: don’t panic! There are many other, quite frankly more important, factors that will make or break your site.