A strong web presence is more than a must-have: it's a must-leverage. Since a customer's experience with virtually every company he or she does business with now centers on web interaction, your company's Internet presence isn't just an extension of your "real" presence -- it is your presence.

The foundation upon which all of this is built is your domain name. That's why some of the shortest and most memorable names can be sold and resold for vast sums -- sometimes millions of dollars.

As a new company you don't have that kind of capital to invest in a domain name. But if you invest a little time, you can stake out your spot on the web without shelling out a ton of money, and with a name that works perfectly for your company. Here's how.

1. Start with the obvious -- include your brand name

Margaret Wolfson, founder and creative director of River + Wolf, a top brand naming agency based in New York City, says that while there is no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing a domain name there are some best practices to adopt, and some pitfalls to avoid.

First, because your website is a critical part of your brand identity it should reflect your business name. “Never give up a good domain name if an exact-match dot-com (.com) is either too costly or already in use,” she says.

If your company name is already taken, try adding a suffix or prefix. Wolfson notes this can complement your brand image and make your URL even more memorable. “Oscar insurance added ‘hi’ in front of their name (www.hioscar.com) when the exact match dot-com wasn’t available," Wolfson says. "This complements the friendly, easy, and personal nature of the company.”

Rather than modify their company name, more companies are choosing “not-com” domain names that allow them to spell it out in full. Real business examples include: upshot.agency, fathom.clothing, soul.camp and many more.

“These kinds of names use extensions to identify different things, ranging from the professional (.investments) to industry-specific (.coffee) to extensions that are fun or playful (.guru),” says Wolfson. These alternative endings open up a new avenue for broadcasting your full(er) company name, and stand out from the dot-com crowd. They can also help you clarify your company's focus if your brand name is simple (see below) but potentially generic. For example, if you run a coffeeshop named Dave’s, choosing the domain www.daves.coffee makes your website name more informative.

And going this route won’t negatively affect your search ranking, reports Google. In fact, recent studies  published by Globe Runner, an SEO consulting firm, indicate that a not-com domain can  improve SEO while lowering your digital advertising expense. 

2. Put yourself in your customer's shoes

Simpler is usually better. Avoid hyphens, acronyms, and unnatural spellings that lend themselves to typos. Try to keep the domain name short and memorable. Picture a customer telling a friend about your business. Is your domain name easy enough for them to recall and pass on?

Focus on securing a URL that is easy to remember (and spell) and reflective of your brand. Obviously, this can become a challenge in the dot-com space. “While it might make sense for your business to invest in a three or four character domain name, that's just not feasible for a lot of businesses, as they typically will cost well over $100,000,” notes Bill Hartzer, an SEO expert and senior vice president of agency services at Advice Interactive, a digital marketing company. The opportunities made possible by using a not-com extension can come in handy in securing the simplest, most memorable - and available - domain.

3. Spell out your purpose

Think about ways to make your domain name descriptive, even if your company name is not. If you already have a loyal client base that might not be a concern, but Hartzer says that for most business owners there is merit in making it easy for people to infer what you do from your domain name alone.

“When we see a domain name such as www.coffee.club, we know that it's related to coffee and it's most likely a club of some sort. A site like www.jacksonville.attorneyis most likely an attorney doing business in the city of Jacksonville,” he explains.

4. Size up the competition

In addition to considering your brand and your customers, Jennifer Wolfe, founder & CEO of Dot Brand 360, a digital strategy agency, suggests thinking about how to differentiate yourself from your competitors. There are more than a billion websites in the world, so standing out isn’t always easy.

Research your competitors’ domain names and think about what makes your brand unique. How do your customers describe you? Is there a word that you might build into your domain name to set you apart?

5. If you're stuck, try keyword research

If your company name is taken, too expensive, or if you are simply interested in exploring other domain name choices, try doing some keyword research to get the creative juices flowing.

“There are online tools such as Google's Keyword Planner and SEMRush.com that will tell you how many people search per month for certain keywords,” says Hartzer. Search the keywords that are most relevant to your business to see related keywords and how popular they are.

“Choosing a domain name with a keyword that has more searches per month may give you an advantage when it comes to optimizing your website and ranking well in the search results at your favorite search engine,” he says.

Although keyword research can be helpful, don’t get too obsessed with including a keyword in your name. What’s more important is choosing a name that reflects your brand and will resonate with customers. Thanks to the explosion of not-com domain choices, it is easier than ever to find creative, affordable, and descriptive domain names that will help your business flourish without breaking the bank.


To explore the expanding world of domains, visit Name.kitchen for a menu of new "not-com" options and a search bar to help design your perfect website name.


Published on: Jul 19, 2016