How to create an online community for your website

When you're thinking up a business name, it's important to take the corresponding domain name into consideration as well. Your domain name will work with your business, logo and branding to form the basis of your business' image within the community, and will be one of the first impressions your customers get when they come to your business via the web, so it's important to get your name right.

Domain names: the basics

  • Your domain name is your business' address on the web. Unlike a physical address, you can choose the domain name given to your business when you register it, so make sure it reflects your business.
  • Domain names are being bought up all the time, so make sure you check your domain name is available before you register your business name, and register it as soon as possible.
  • If you decide not to use it, you can always sell it - but if someone registers it before you, it will be difficult to persuade them to sell.
  • Your domain name can be up to 67 characters long (including the extension), but remember: the longer it is, the more scope for your customers to make typos or spelling mistakes. If your business name is long, consider making it more memorable by shortening it or making it into an anagram.
  • Your domain name is made up of a word of your choice, followed by an extension. .com and .net are both worldwide, .co.uk, .org.uk or even .biz are more specific to your location or business. If you can register a .com domain, do - it will lend your business credibility and viability.
  • Register additional domains as well to give your customers a better chance of finding your website - country-specific ones such as .co.uk will show your customers your business is based in the UK, while business-specific ones such as .biz or .tv will give an indication of your industry, but probably won't resonate for most of your customers.
  • It's worth noting, though, that some domain extensions, such as .org.uk or .gov.uk, are reserved for certain businesses such as non-profit organisations or government.
  • Think very carefully about how your domain could be taken. Get it wrong, and you could end up red-faced like the owners of custom-made pen company Pen Island, whose domain http://www.penisland.net penisland.net has been the source of much hilarity on blogs and forums.

Optimising your domain for search

  • There has been widespread debate over whether it's more effective to have a generic domain name, such as 'marketing.com' or whether you should go for your own brand name. Most experts agree when people search for something online, they'll already have one or two brand names in mind - so paying for an expensive generic domain name may be pointless.
  • Using your business name as a domain name will strengthen your brand further and will provide customers with a reference point. If you have a strong, recognisable brand, customers will search your brand name - and you risk confusing them by registering your website under marketing.com rather than PinkElephantMarketing.com.
  • Google does give weight to domain names with keywords in them - think marketing-business.com - but don't get carried away: putting too many keywords into your domain will give the impression you are spamming your customers, so it's important to strike a balance.
  • The best domain names use one keyword with another word which adds brand value: think FlightsCity, CarHub, or Moneysupermarket.
  • Try to avoid hyphenation if you can - although there is some evidence search engines will find it easier to distinguish your keywords if you use hyphens, hyphenating your domain name gives your customers more of a chance to make a typing error.
  • Non-hyphenated domains are also easier to remember and more intuitive if you customer doesn't know your domain name: people are far more likely to type in 'Pinkelephantmarketing.com' than 'Pink-elephant-marketing.com'.

How to register your domain

  • There are hundreds of domain name registrars such as 123-Reg, Domain Express or www.easily.co.uk all of which offer different packages.
  • Choose a hosting package if you don't have server space to host your site, or just go for the domain name option if you  already have the infrastructure in place to host your own website.
  • Use Nominet, the official registry for UK domain names, to check whether your domain name is available.
  • Don't forget to register additional extensions to stand a better chance of being discovered by prospective customers.

Checklist

  • Choose a domain name which reflects your business well
  • Try to include a keyword in your domain name
  • Use Nominet to check whether your domain has already been registered
  • Use a domain registrar to register your business
  • Register additional extensions for a wider web presence

FAQ

What if my domain is already taken?
If your domain has already been taken, you have two options: choose a different extension, such as .co.uk if .com is taken - or change the domain. The founders of Bulldog Natural Grooming chose meetthebulldog.com as their domain name, but if you don't feel that would work, you could try approaching the person who owns the domain name and offering to buy it off them. A service such as www.whois.net whois.net will give you contact details for the person who owns it - but be prepared to haggle.

How long will my domain name last after I have registered it?
Once you have registered your domain name, it will last two years, after which you must re-register. Remember to re-register as soon as you can, or someone else may get there before you.

Jargon buster

DNS: 'Domain name system': the internet 'phone book' which translates what you type into your browser into binary IP addresses.

URL: 'Uniform resource locator': essentially another way of saying 'domain name', it's your website's unique 'address' on the internet.

IP address: Your site's Internet Protocol address is the binary equivalent to the domain name. The DNS server converts the words and slashes in your domain name to binary code, which your computer can read.

Resources

  • Whois.com - Look up contact details and background for any domain name
  • Google Keywords Tool - A resource to find out how popular certain search terms are on Google. Useful for coming up with keywords for your domain name.
  • How to choose domain names for SEO - A great guide to making sure your domain name is search engine optimised.

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