How to Pick a Domain Name (and other impossible tasks)

How to Pick a Domain Name (and other impossible tasks)

How to Pick a Domain Name (and other impossible tasks)

If I know you – and I do, dear big-idea-thinker – you have a dream about where your new business will take you. So much planning goes into the business plan (right?!?), the product and the riches that will undoubtably ensue.

You likely spent time at the kitchen table, thinking up a great name for your business. Something that no one has thought of before.

But wait…before you lock in your logo and all of your business cards with this new name (not to mention the t-shirts and coffee mugs)…stop and do a search for the matching domain name!

In the beginning…

In the beginning, there were only .com domain names (actually, the domain arpa was the first internet top-level domain, according to Wikipedia, but we’re not going back quite that far in this little history). The ‘.com’ part is called the top level domain (or TLD). You then choose the word that goes in front of the TLD to form your domain name (i.e. mybusiness.com). In the wild west of when domain names were first being settled, it was relatively easy to get your business initials as your domain name. Or if you had a short name, you could use your actual name (I’m looking at you, coke.com).

As businesses came online, .com names were snapped up and savvy businesses started looking for alternatives to .com.

In 2009, only 21 generic TLDs were available. There were also country-code TLDs (for example, the now popular ‘.ca’). Many of the TLDs spoke to the purpose of the organization that owned the domain – .edu (education), .gov (government), etc.

The organization that monitors TLDs decided to create additional TLDs and, in 2012, received 1,930 applications (wowzers!), proposing new TLDs. Not all were created, but we now have a vast array of TLDs from which to choose in comparison to the piddly few that were available in 2009.

New TLDs

The broad spectrum of TLDs available to you, dear domain-name-owner-wannabe, can be overwhelming. You are no longer limited to the ones that you see on a day-to-day basis, such as .com, .org, .ca, .net. You can now have .agency, .beer, .clinic…well, the list is quite extensive, so you can look them up on Wikipedia’s List of Internet Top Level Domains page.

Interesting times

We are now living in interesting times. Just like the explosion of .ca names in the early to mid-2010’s, businesses will now start showing up with something other than .com after their name. This new playing field creates the opportunity to choose a more description domain name or to claim one that is shorter than what would be available if you had to use .com.

So how do you pick?

Good question.

My advice to clients is to always own their business name, if it is available, in both the .com and .ca versions, which are the most commonly used in Canada. Your customers will likely guess ‘yourbusinessname.com’ or ‘yourbusinessname.ca’ first, so they are the low-hanging fruit. By the way, I also recommend to clients that they own the name of any key business people in their organization as a domain name (more on this later). Those domain names are not always available.

A second option is to use a keyword phrase that describes your business. This can be especially effective if it is a catchy phrase. For example, deliciouscookiesforall.com is long, but memorable.

When choosing the name, keep in mind:

  • that keywords in domain names are GREAT;
  • you are going to have to use that puppy as an email address;
  • that email address will likely have to fit on a business card;
  • sometimes when you mix words together, they form unfortunate other words, so ALWAYS check. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Bored Panda’s ’30 Unintentionally Inappropriate Domain Names‘)

Domain names are relatively inexpensive to purchase, but have a big impact on your business. It is fine to own several and point them all at the same website. If you clicked on coke.com above, you might have noticed that it actually took you to coca-cola.com. The first domain name (which was very guessable) is redirected to the main website.

 A cautionary tale

Once upon a time, a new client came to me with a problem. An employee had left their company in a huff and decided to buy a domain name that matched this client’s business name and set up a seedy little website. Yikes.

‘What can we do?’, they asked me.

Um…not much, unless you want to launch legal action. Yep. Legal action (assuming that your polite request to have the website taken down was not heeded).

This new client had registered several domain names, but not their exact business name, and now their customers were searching for them online and finding this other website.

In the end, they waited it out. The disgruntled employee did not renew the domain name and the client snapped it up as soon as it became available. Problem solved. True story, even though I started with ‘once upon a time’.

The take-away is to protect your business name, as well as any name that connects to the reputation of your business, by buying those domain names where possible.

Domain name strategies

Beyond protecting your business name and reputation, there are other strategies that can be used when purchasing domain names. You might want to register related names to stop someone else from registering and using it. You could choose to register common mis-spellings of your name. The key is to recognize where your risks and opportunities lie. Minimize risks and maximize opportunities.

Get help.

If you need help brainstorming ideas or just knowing what is available, get in touch and we’ll talk. One of the services that I provide clients is domain name research. I will find out what’s available compared to your desired domain name and probably come up with a few ideas that you haven’t thought of yet.

 

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Oh Google, you DO care!

Oh Google, you DO care!

Oh Google, you DO care!

Google logo A lot of the work that has been flowing through CarricDesign lately revolves around improving ranking results in ‘search engines’ (by which clients usually mean ‘Google’).

So when an article comes across my desk about an algorithm update, I sit up and took notice. The article du jour is from Website Magazine and talks about Google’s so-called ‘Farm Update’.

Google is finally ready to penalize content farms. (Official Google blog post – they call the sites ‘low-quality’)

For those who are building websites using web standards practices, good (…unique…useful…) content and all the good stuff that comes with thinking about SEO, things are looking up. No longer will you have to compete against spammy content farms who reproduce content or generate fluffy stuff that doesn’t really help anyone, just to rank well for keywords and produce link juice for other sites.

Google (and all other search engines) change their algorithm all the time. A tweak of this, a pinch of that – helping to serve up the ‘best results’ possible. Think about it like this: search engines make money by being the search engine of choice for as many users as possible. Their claim to marketshare correlates to what they can charge for advertising. In order to be the search engine of choice, they have to consistently serve up the results that people are looking for (i.e. what they REALLY want versus what their search query is…you might be surprised how different those two things can be!). The better the search engine is at getting the user where they want to go, the more likely the user will return…and the search engine claims more marketshare.

My sympathies are for the small business owner who is trying to run their business (which they are hopefully good at), keep up with the book-keeping (get an accountant!) and create content for their website. The temptation to copy from another site – say, a manufacturer’s site – is high. But this algorithm update will ferret out that behaviour and penalize for it. There is now more incentive to create useful, thoughtful content for your website.

It will be important to look at your website’s analytics and know where pages are at in the search engine results page and watch what happens. If you see dramatic downward trends for pages that you feel contain the meat and potatoes of your business, evaluate the content with your ‘low quality’ radar on – sooner, rather than later.

Other useful strategies for small businesses: engage with your customers on Facebook and/or Twitter; ask trusted employees to post to your Facebook page about products they like in your store; re-evaluate current content – now is the perfect time to freshen things up; consider other forms of content, like videos; start a blog.

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It Really Is The Little Things That Count

Nobody starts off to build a code-heavy, bloated website, so why is it that so many end up there?

One reason is the ‘what-if’ factor.

Here’s what happens:

Little things grow into big things In the initial meetings, everyone agrees that this new website should be lean and user-friendly. The website, so the story goes, will be geared towards loading quickly (great for those on dial-up connections and mobile browsers…and everyone else too, really, although those speedsters don’t often think about their monthly bandwidth caps), and keep the user in mind at all times.

Ah – how refreshing!  Making a website for a user.

The design stage is fine – everyone agrees on the easy-to-use navigation that helps users find their information quickly.  Who could say no to that? By arranging your navigation in some sort of hierarchy that makes sense to your users, you can help them find what they want quickly.  Will they look at everything on your site? Maybe not, but they’ll leave your site having had a good experience (versus being frustrated out of their tree) and are more likely to come back again or recommend your site to others (yay!).

“But wait!” someone (who was in on all the other conversations) says.  “What if the user doesn’t know to look at the top right hand corner for the home button? Let’s add ‘home’ to our main navigation so that folks will know where to find it.” And so it begins.

Without any testing or feedback from actual users, those involved in the project start to have little panic attacks that their users won’t be able to find their way back to the home page (despite the logo-linking, the upper-right-hand-corner link and the secondary navigation link at the bottom of each page). Well, if they won’t look for ‘home’ on the website, who can trust the user to look for ‘contact us’ (which is the purpose of every business site – NOT!)? So ‘contact us’ gets added to the pile. While trying to solve all of the possible ‘what ifs’, the website creators fail to notice that most of their users would find all the links just fine and they wouldn’t have to wade through all the squaddle (just made that word up) that comes from having so many choices presented.

As the development progresses, little things get added here and there that don’t add true value to the user (“Let’s move this picture to the right.” “Let’s make everything open in a new page.”). It could be argued that we create bloat byte – by – byte rather than all in one grand chunk. It becomes more difficult to argue against every little change, so the developer gives up and gives the customer what they want even though it isn’t what was agreed upon at the beginning, nor does it do the website any favours.

So – watch out for the creeping bloat by evaluating everything that you do when building the website – whether it is adding a feature or a text link and ask yourself ‘Does this make the website better?’ and ‘Does this give the user a better experience?’.  Vigilance will keep your site lean in the code and make for a smoother user experience.

Why We Are All Saying ‘Google’ When We Mean ‘search’

For most users (so the data says) there is only one search engine – Google. Regardless of the rumours that we’ve heard that others are out there, we are Google users. (On a side note: I’m surprised that more people aren’t flocking to Bing, if for no other reason than that it is fun to say – bing bing bing.)

“What data am I talking about?”  you ask.

Here it is – fresh off the press:

Search click searchinsiderThis just came into my inbox this morning from Search Insider (MediaPost Publications). Using propietary software, this company (iCrossing) tracks the actual search clicks referred to their clients.

Looking at all the data, it shows that (at least in their clients’ cases), referrals from Google monster-swamped all other search engines, although Bing gained over the past year.

All this is simply to acknowledge that, when building a site, if you want it to get found, you need to please the search engine gods…and his name is Google.

Fortunately, Google is very forthcoming with information about how to keep from getting blacklisted (yes – they will actually remove your site from any search indexing and ban your URL and related URLs).

Basically – do the things that make your site useful for the user (lots of good, relevant content, good site architechture, use headings and sub-headings, use alt text and meta tags properly, and…for crying out loud…give your page a title!) and don’t do the things that do not benefit the user (invisible text, hidden text, irrelevant links, link farming, keyword stuffing and other bad, bad stuff).

Never done…

I have this floor cleaner called ‘Once N’ Done‘ (I highly recommend it) that allows me to mop my floor without having to rinse it. Yep – you just put some in the bucket with the water, slosh it over the floor and you’re done!

Unfortunately, many people approach their websites with the same kind of ‘Once N’ Done’ attitude.  In reality, a website is an ongoing project that can always be tweaked for something – better ‘call-to-action’s, better SEO, better backend – lots of ‘betters’.

The reality is that, regardless of how hard we go at the up front development process, it is really difficult to think of every use and every approach the first time out of the gate. It takes time and observation to see how people are using the website to know where to focus effort and how to best encourage the user to go from being a browser to a buyer.

For a business website, it is important not to get caught up in all the things that could be done and stay focused on funneling users towards making the owner money. This is especially important when on sites that are not e-commerce-based.  Instead they are ‘selling’ the business and asking the prospect (or user) to engage with them.

After launching a website, be sure to schedule time to review the stats over a period of time so that you can tweak and build upon the success of your website.

In summary then: Once N’ Done – great for floors, not so great for website management.