Don’t make this mistake when choosing a domain for your website

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Outsmarting the Domain Poachers and Selecting a Search Engine-Friendly URL

Dear aspiring entrepreneur,

I want to save you some facepalm bruises and precious startup capital right now. If you have a great business or blog idea, and you’re just starting your branding journey on a shoestring budget, this post is for you. I would like to help you avoid the pain of this rookie mistake I’ve made not once, but twice, before I even had a clue what was going on.

Here are some facts that I wish I had known about domain selection several years ago:

  • When you register a business, the name you chose, as well as your location, become public record.

  • When you search for a URL’s availability on GoDaddy or Google, those searches also become publicly available information.

  • Right now, there are thousands of humans and robots combing these public records and snatching up the corresponding domain URL’s before you can get around to buying them at a reasonable price.

  • Domain selection can have a huge effect on your website’s search performance.


Let’s talk about how you can avoid having to pay exorbitant prices for your ideal domain.

I hope that you have done your research and determined that your business name is not already trademarked. If you haven't, well, do that.

But even if the name of your business isn’t already someone else’s intellectual property, you still might want to consider changing it if the simplest .com version of your domain is unavailable. 

Before you register your business, and before you search Google or GoDaddy for domains, you need to pull out an old-fashioned writing utensil and paper and write down possible URL’s for your website. Then, rank them in order of preference.

Just so we have covered the bases, let’s review some really basic advice you’ll find anywhere if you do searches on the topic of domain selection.


Here’s a basic rubric for choosing a good domain name:

  • Shoot for the shortest domain with the easiest spelling and pronunciation possible. 

  • Unique branding trumps generic almost every time, but don’t pass up the chance to lock down something with sweeping appeal like “ashevillebuilder” or “milwaukeeaccounting” as an alternate URL if you realize they are available! Keep in mind that you can buy multiple domains and decide later where to point them all.

  • You can make up a new word to define your brand, but don’t spell familiar words in irregular ways. Example: Bing, Gizmodo, and Muut have done great with their made-up names. Flickr, on the other hand, used to lose a significant amount of traffic to flicker.com (until they recently managed to purchase it). The point is, if people can’t remember or spell your URL, you will lose leads.

  • Even though the list of fun new domain extensions grows every year, .com is still usually superior to them all unless your organization is a nonprofit, in which case .org is preferable. There are a few examples of businesses that rock an unusual extension—like our beloved squarestud.io—but most ventures are going to get the most benefit from a .com.

  • Consider whether including some location information in your URL is worth adding to the number of characters, especially if your clientele will be local and/or your short, simple URL of choice is already taken. For instance, here in Asheville, a lot of businesses add “avl” to the end of their domain names because it’s short, recognizable, and already associated with the wildly popular “brand” of our beautiful city itself. Many organizations that serve a wider region in our state will attach “nc” or “wnc” to their URLs.

  • Check out our other post about the case for branding with your name, just to feel out whether that advice applies to you.

  • Avoid using hyphens or other irregular characters.


Strategizing about your domain name

Let’s say you know that you want to name your Asheville-based brewery “Bellagio.” You’ve searched the trademark records and determined that the name is not already taken, so you’re ready to brainstorm possible URLs. 

Your scratch list might look something like this:


Extensions

1 - .com
2 - .biz

Cool Alternate: bellag.io

Domains

1 - bellagiobrewing
2 - bellagiobrewingavl
3 - bellagiobrewery
4 - bellagiobrewingnc
5 - bellagiobrewerync


Once you feel good about your ranked list, make sure you’ve got an available balance on a credit or debit card, and you’re ready to look for a domain.

Do not start searching for your domain online until you are ready to purchase it.

Should I say it again? Do not start searching for your domain online until you are ready to purchase it, right now, today. 

I also advise that you use an account that you have no plans of closing.

Here’s why: Most domain hosting sites will auto-renew your annual fee. If you allow ownership of your domain to lapse, you can count on the domain sharks to be circling eagerly, waiting to snatch your URL and then turn around and charge you thousands of dollars for the privilege of getting it back.

If you haven’t yet decided on a website-building platform, head over to GoDaddy.com and type your first choice in the search bar. If it is available, buy it right away.

There are other cheap domain hosts out there, but we always recommend GoDaddy because they have excellent customer service, and the DNS transfer process is always relatively straightforward for our clients.

Another option: If you are building a website on Squarespace–which I wholeheartedly recommend for the vast majority of small businesses, nonprofits, and creative professionals, and not just because I am a professional Squarespace designer–then you will need to purchase your annual website plan before you can cash in on your free year of domain hosting.

Once you upgrade your Squarespace trial, you can head over to your main account dashboard and click “Settings,” then “Domains.” Then, just select “Get a Domain” and type in your first choice. If that is unavailable, keep moving through your list. When you land on the best available option, snag it. Don’t wait.

Then, after all that is done, you can think about registering your business, trademarking your name, hiring designers, and so on.

I hope that this information saves you some heartache, hassle, and money.

With love and pixel glitter, 
Cooper