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Finding the Right Domain Name for Your Business

Selecting or changing a business domain name (sometimes called a URL for uniform resource locator) is a critical marketing decision. The problem is more than just a simple search for availability at Network Solutions, Register.com, BuyDomains.com, or another registration site.

A good domain name is

  • Easy to say in person. It’s unwieldy to say digit before a number in a URL, or the word dash or hyphen; besides, people have a difficult time finding the dash (—) character on the keyboard. Although hyphens are allowed in domain names, try to avoid them.

  • Easy to understand over the radio or on the phone. Words that include the ess and eff sounds are often confused when listening, as are certain consonant pairs like b/p, c/z, or d/t. If you're selling in other countries, confusion between English consonants is different, such as b/v in Spanish or r/l in Japanese.

  • Easy to spell. Using homonyms might be a clever way to get around a competitor who already owns a name you’d like to have; however, you’re just as apt to drive traffic to your competitor as you are to gain some for yourself.

    Also, try to avoid foreign words, words that are deliberately misspelled just because they are available (for example, valu rather than value), and words that are frequently misspelled.

  • Easy to type. The longer the URL, the more likely a typo. Your domain name can be as long as 59 characters, but unskilled typists average an error every 7 keystrokes!

  • Easy to read in print and online ads. You can insert capital letters or use a different color for compound domain names to make them easier to read in print. Be sure your domain name can also be read easily in black and white and in a logotype (a word-only logo in a custom font) if you design one.

  • Easy to read in the address toolbar. You can’t use colors or capitalization to distinguish parts of a compound name or acronym in address bars or search engine boxes. Depending on the browser fonts set by the user, the letters m, n, and r next to each other (mrnrnm) are very hard to read, as are the characters l/i (lilllil) and the similar digit/letter combination of 1/l.

  • Easy to remember. Words or phrases are easier to remember than a stream of letters in an acronym, unless your target audience already knows the acronym from extensive branding (for example, AARP). Your domain name may be, but doesn't need to be, your business name, unless you enjoy a preexisting brand identity.

Stick with original, top-level domains (TLDs — the primary categories into which Internet addresses are divided): .com for businesses, .org for nonprofits, and .net for network providers. Except in specific marketing arenas (for example, .tv for television programs), avoid top-level domains such as .info, .biz, odd country TLDs unrelated to your business location, and generic TLDs (such as .pro for professional) just to get the name you want.

It’s too confusing for users. The one exception is .mobi, which you might want to (but don’t have to) purchase for your mobile website.

In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved a controversial plan to start expanding in 2012 from the current 11 generic suffixes to an almost unlimited number with such endings as .eco, .god, .sport, .ibm, .google, xerox, .jam or any other custom name for which qualified registrars are willing to pay at least $185,000.

If you have an easily misspelled proper noun in your domain name, you might want to register common misspellings of your name with the same TLD and redirect them to your primary site.

If your first choice of domain name isn’t available, try the suggestion tool available on many registration sites. Use those suggestions to brainstorm more names. Get reactions from friends, customers, clients, and strangers about your options.

If you're really desperate to get a particular name, go to the WhoIs database or other registrar sites to see who owns the domain name and bid to buy it. You can also reserve a name in case the current owner decides not to renew.

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