How important is your business domain name? The short answer is “very”. When you come to choose a domain name for your ecommerce business you need to consider three main areas:

  1. It’s the first thing any visitor to your site is going to see. Ideally it should be memorable and eye-catching. It should be something that makes an indelible impression on visitors.
  2. It can have a big impact on your SEO. These days you don’t need to necessarily have an exact match of your domain name to your main target keywords but any related SEO terms should help give you a boost. Getting the right domain name isn’t just about the ranking signal it sends to Google et al, it also helps users identify whether you are relevant to their search within a page of search results or on any third party site with a link to your website. We’ll discuss this more later.
  3. It’s your brand. A well-chosen name can establish your company in the minds of visitors indelibly. Sometimes puns work, or portmanteau words, or neologisms, or wild and whacky names that have nothing to do with your product, service or sector that nevertheless standout. What does the name evoke? Does it conjure up certain values? Think about the resonance of the word and its meaning – does it convey the kind of feelings and emotions that you want to create within your target customer?

How to choose the perfect domain name

Does it have brandability?

Many years ago we did some work for a canal cruise company in Amsterdam. When researching our opportunities for SEO content for the site we discovered that for many of the target keywords the SERPs page threw up a list of URLs like this:

www.amsterdamcruises.nl

www.amsterdamcruises.com

www.amsterdam-cruises.org

etc etc

Nearly every site had a similar name and the content on each site was largely the same too. Their domain names had obviously been chosen because they matched their main search term and sure, their SEO (at the time) was great because they were all on page 1 for their main term. But how were consumers supposed to make a choice between these different sites?

Since then, things have changed significantly with SEO and there has been a lot of discussion recently about whether Google is increasingly placing emphasis on brand terms.

Digital marketing guru Neil Patel claims that the more people typed in his name, the better his traffic in general became. However, Rand Fishkin from Moz suggests that, although Google probably does not include brand within its ranking factors, the association between a strong brand and success on Google may stem from a number of factors such as increased clickthrough on brand terms i.e. more people click because they recognise the name.

What is inarguable is that a strong brand will mean that people remember you more, so they will click on your link more wherever they find it – and clickthrough IS a ranking factor. They are also more likely to be able to be able to type it direct into their browsers. See below.

So how do you create a good brand name for your domain?

Coming up with brand names is an art and a science that warrants at least several thousand words or a whole book on its own. If you want to go deep into brand identity start here. If you want to get started right away, there are some general areas you can look at when choosing a domain name.

Firstly, think about meaning. The name really should emerge from the concept of your business or product. What does your domain name say about you? Make a list of words that you associate with your company – these can include practical terms that describe your products and services, or the unique way you deliver these. Then go on to think about the values you have – are you quick and cost effective or are you reliable and durable? Or are you all about relationships, trust, service?

What other companies do you admire, both within your niche or just generally? Think about the words they use to describe themselves. A note of caution is that you don’t want to be too similar to other companies, especially if they are your competitors but this exercise can give you a broader word palette to use when defining yourself.

Once you’ve got an initial list to work from you can:

  • run this list through a thesaurus to find more alternatives
  • play around with using elements of several words to create your own new word.
  • use existing words that have an implied meaning but that also fit your brand.
  • invent totally new words.

Had anyone heard of a Google, Yahoo or even Funky Pigeon a few decades ago? Now these are household names.

You should also test whether it looks nice and sounds nice. This is not as superficial as it sounds – in fact, there’s a whole area of study called psychoacoustics that looks at the impact of sounds on the listener. Is it easy to say, are the sounds hard or soft, does it sound like any other words that could convey meaning? Similarly, how does that word look on the page – some words don’t actually look that nice, whereas others have a pleasing aesthetic.

Sounds pretentious perhaps but anything that helps you be remembered is worth considering.

Is the domain name you want available?

Availability is a big consideration. Back in the olden days of the Internet you could buy up single word domains for a song. Nowadays, most obvious words are taken or are too expensive.

Once you have your initial list then you need to start checking on a domain name provider like www.123-reg.co.uk or www.names.co.uk.

You should also check on social media to see if account names that match your domain are available.

Think about the domain extension

Just as there is a lot in your name, the letters that follow the dot are also very important. Extensions such as .org and .net imply trust and officialdom. Others like .space or .sales can cheapen the brand.

If you can, always go for .com or .co.uk. These are solid and easy to remember.

According to IWantMyName The most popular domain extension is still .com, with .uk coming in at 5th globally.

Ideally, to protect your brand you should buy up all the domain extensions you can, even those that are misspelled. This is especially important if you do not have a trademark on your brand.

Is your domain name already trademarked?

Speaking of which, it’s very important that you check whether the domain name you are choosing does not violate existing trademarks.

Don’t think you can get away with something like “Apple Music Promotion” – the lawyers will very soon come knocking.

You can research existing trademarks in the UK here at the Intellectual Property Office and find out how to apply for a trademark of your own here.

What happens if the domain you want is not available?

If you can’t get the .co.uk or .com version of your name then what do you do? As mentioned above you may not want to go for a .tv or .net or .pizza – because it cheapens the brand, it’s less easy to remember, or because you might still be coming into conflict with a trademarked brand.

Firstly, are there close alternatives? You could think of word combinations, for example, those that include your product or service offering, although there are limitations to that as we’ve discussed elsewhere in this article.

You can also create portmanteau words (like Spotify), fantasy words (like BooHoo) or neologisms/made up words – like Yoox or Ocado. Puns (like MissGuided) need to be used with caution as they can date easily and won’t necessarily translate to international markets.

If you’re still keen to pursue the .co.uk or .com version of your name and there’s no existing business using it, you can find out who owns it by going to www.whois.com or visiting the domain to see if there’s details on how to make an offer for the domain.

Prices can vary considerably – and they will almost certainly have several more noughts than the prices on a “high st” domain name provider – but if you’re committed and you’ve got the budget, then it’s always possible to buy the domain you want from the owner.

Should you include your product or service type in the domain?

Arguably your domain name should be relevant to what you do so you may want to consider including the products you offer within the URL. So for example, www.BigStarShopping.com, www.BigStarCoffee.co.uk or www.BigStarTelescopes.com. Including these kind of phrases within your URL can still assist with your SEO, although this is apparently less of a consideration as a ranking factor.

However, there are plenty of examples like Apple, Amazon etc that are instantly recognisable despite not saying (for example) Apple Consumer Electronics, Amazon Online Shopping in their domain.

That’s going to come down to whether you have similar ambitions for household familiarity with a branding and marketing budget to match. If you don’t, then choosing a domain name that contains at least some nod toward your service or sector should be a consideration – especially if you’re within a relatively small niche.

This is also true if you’re serving a limited local market – for example, if you’re a plumber covering Totnes then TotnesPlumbers.co.uk would be a good bet. By extension, you can include county (DevonPlumbers.co.uk) or region (SouthWestPlumbers.co.uk) key phrases. However, bear in mind the point about future proofing below.

Make it memorable and easy to use

Keep it short. Remember that people will have to hear it, remember it, and then try and spell it in a search engine. So, you want to avoid confusion. In the top 100 websites in the world, the longest domain name has 17 characters.

Avoid using hyphens and numbers, as these can also be difficult to remember and even more difficult to explain to new customers.

You also need to think about the future. Remember that your domain could be the most important feature about your brand for years or decades to come. Changing it down the line involves an enormous amount of work and will have a huge SEO impact.

Future proofing isn’t just about SEO – you need to think about your ambitions for the future and whether your URL name will remain fit for purpose. For example, if I choose a domain name www.DerrycksItalianFood.com what will happen in 3 years’ time if I also decide I want to do Mexican Food or start offering Italian holidays?

Make it international

One final thing to consider is whether you have thought about the international impact of your domain. If you have a global reach, you may need dedicated country sites at some stage so consider which country domain extensions you may need.

Second, choose a domain name that is easy to pronounce – in any language. This will help recognisability and eliminate confusion if your company is working globally. If you’re trading globally then you should consider that words like “shopping”, “coffee” or “telescope” from the examples above will not translate into local languages.

Finally, does your domain name translate properly? Think about any cultural sensitivities that the word may cause – does it translate to something rude or offensive?

A final note of caution…

Get lots of people to look at your domain before you commit. Read it out loud. And look very, very carefully at it – there are several unintentionally amusing domain names that should have been checked before they went live. Let’s spare a thought for the owners of www.itscrap.com, www.penisland.net and www.speedofart.com.