Starting an Online Business All-in-One For Dummies
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In the offline world, the mantra of success for business is “Location, location, location!” It’s not much different for your online business. Rather than use a numerical address on a building, though, you now use a virtual address or domain name. Usually, your online address includes your company’s name or initials or some other derivation. Whereas your traditional business address was once listed in the Yellow Pages, your online address is now listed with search engines.

As you might guess, securing the best possible domain name is an important piece of your overall online strategy. The name you select can provide an indication of what your company does, give a hint of your brand personality, and potentially influence how easily customers can find you.

Let’s start with the basics. A URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, represents the unique address for each page on a website or document posted online. Your website might be made up of several web pages, each with a unique URL.

Before you start creating web pages, your first order of business is to determine your domain name, or the part of the URL that specifically identifies the name of your website. We break down a typical URL in this figure.

A URL, deconstructed. A URL, deconstructed.

You no longer have to enter the entire URL (as shown) to get to a website. You can omit both the http:// and www. when entering the site URL in your browser.

Although your website usually has only one domain name, it has more than one URL. The URL for the home page, or entrance page, of your site often looks the same as your domain name. Every page of your site, however, has a unique URL, such as

  • The home page
  • Also, the home page (the same as omitting the index.html portion of the URL)
  • The web page that contains information about the services you offer

As an online business, it’s beneficial to get a valid SSL Certificate. This ensures your website is secure and that data is properly encrypted when a visitor’s web browser is communicating with your site. In this case, the URL will contain https, which translates to Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure. In addition, there is also a small icon of a lock that shows up next to the URL in the web browser’s address bar. Visitors can click the security icon to see details about your website, like the example shown here.

URL with HTTPS A secure URL with HTTPS allows you to see information about a website.

Approach your domain name carefully

You can take one of several opposing approaches when you select your domain name:
  • You have an existing business or have already named your start-up. If that’s the case, you usually should match (as closely as possible) your company’s name to the domain name. Using your existing business name is simple, straightforward, and often quite effective. It’s possible that your exact name is not available, in which case you have to use some form of the name or add descriptors to the name.
  • You want to gain traffic by matching popular search phrases. This was once considered an effective domain naming strategy because it served as a shortcut for directing organic (or free) search traffic to your website. Referred to as an Exact Match Domain (EMD), this is a domain name that’s a duplicate of an exact phrase that lots of people use to search for a product or a service. For example, if you sell running gear for women, you might use the domain name because you know a lot of people type in “best running shoes for women” when searching for that product. With your domain name matching this exact phrase, your site will show up higher in search engine results because it is the best match for that search query. Due to the popularity of EMD, it’s often difficult to find a domain that’s not already in use. Other popular phrases for EMD are available for sale, but they’re typically very expensive. But if you find an available EMD that works for your business, it can be helpful in gaining traffic.

However, Google consistently updates its search engine algorithms (how search results are determined). It has since determined that some EMDs are “spammy” and don’t always have the best quality content, despite the domain name (in other words, Google realized some people were trying to scam the system to get more traffic, even if the actual sites weren’t completely relevant to the search phrase). You can still try the EMD strategy to gain some boost in traffic, but if Google determines the content on your page isn’t top quality or truly an exact match of the search phrase, this domain naming strategy might not pay off at all (and could instead hurt your rankings).

  • The success of your online company benefits from the domain name itself. Maybe you’re starting an Internet company that sells e-books (electronic, downloadable information) telling readers how to start a business. In that case, your legal company name might be irrelevant. A more important consideration is to find a domain that clearly indicates your type of business or the customers you’re targeting. In this scenario, your company name might be John Smith dba JS Enterprises. A more effective domain name for your business, however, might be because it tells visitors exactly what you do. This approach is different from EMDs in that you may use one or more keywords, or specific search terms, in your domain name, but you do not try to exactly replicate a phrase someone might use in search, such as “helpful business tips for startups.”

Optimize your domain name for better results

How much does your URL matter when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO)? This topic is always hotly debated by SEO experts. Most agree that your URL once had a big impact on a website’s search engine ranking position. But Google is constantly adjusting the algorithms it uses to rank websites in search — and that means the weight it gives to a URL in search results has changed, and may likely change again!

A factor that always seems important is having HTTPS in the URL to verify that the site is secure. The value of using keywords in the URL and the length of the URL may vary in the future. We recommend that you take SEO strategy into account when picking a primary domain name and the URL naming structure for your subpages (pages other than the home page) but don’t get too wrapped up in determining the perfect searchable URL. Instead, also consider what makes sense in a URL to your customers. No matter what approach you take to choosing your online business name, consider the following list of common denominators in determining the best possible domain for you. A good domain name should generally have these characteristics:

  • Easy to spell: As anyone who depends on a computer’s spell checker can testify, the average person doesn’t do well in a spelling bee. That’s why we’re firm believers in avoiding hard-to-spell words in your domain name. Although seems harmless enough, it’s fairly easy to flub. Why not try or The easier your domain name is to spell, the more likely customers are to find you without a hassle. (And, when they do find you, the more likely they’ll be in the mood to buy some of your bodacious eats!)
  • Simple to remember: Your domain name doesn’t have to be catchy or trendy to work. Simplicity goes a long way in our crowded, overhyped world.
  • Relatively short: A shorter name is easier for customers to remember than a longer one, and shorter URLs often have some benefit in search engine rankings. Consider the (fictitious) law firm Brewer, Mackey, Youngstein, Yale, and Associates. Its URL might be

Wow! That name takes a while to type, not to mention that you have to spell everybody’s name correctly. Instead, consider the name See the difference?

  • Contains important keywords: This characteristic is generally important for two reasons:
    • Using descriptive words in the domain clearly says what you do and is helpful to your customers.
    • Using relevant words that frequently show up in search engines is potentially beneficial to your site’s rankings, but don’t try to stuff too many keywords in there. One or two is plenty!

The law firm used in the preceding example can easily use keywords, or words that might be easily associated with the type of business, to create one of these domain combinations:

  • Intuitive to customers: You want a domain name to provide, ideally, a sense of who you are and an indication of the type of products or services you’re selling. You don’t need a literal translation, such as—depending on your business, that approach could be detrimental to sales. What if you’re selling to a highly targeted or specialized market (such as teenagers or radical sports fans)? A straightforward domain name is labeled as boring and undermines the image of your company, whereas an edgy or more creative name can win customers. For example, a bookseller specializing in romance novels might use a domain name such as or The point is that your customer base, whoever it consists of, should be responsive to your domain name.

In the examples we use, you notice that the domain names usually end with .com, but that domain extension isn’t your only option. Today, you can choose from a long list of specialized domain extensions that reflect your type of business (an LLC, for example), type of organization (such as a non-profit), or even your specific industry (like technology or auto dealerships). This is an alternative way to get a name that is already taken, but it may not significantly help with search engine rankings.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Aaron Nicholson is an interactive media designer/developer who has developed online properties for Fox, Warner Brothers, and Disney.

Joel Elad covers online store sales for Entrepreneur Magazine and contributes to

Damien Stolarz has written books on technology topics from video blogging to car hacks.

Shannon Belew is a nationally recognized digital marketing strategist, speaker and consultant for B2B brands, and leads an engagement marketing team for a global infrastructure software company.

Joel Elad is the head of Real Method Consulting, where he provides consulting and advice for e-commerce companies and entrepreneurs.

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