Welcome back to another week of our Dough Roller series on starting your very own online business. Did you finish your homework from last week? Your assignment was to pick a topic for your blog (or ecommerce site) – how did it go?
Once you know what you’ll be selling, providing, or writing about, it’s time for the next step: actually taking your business online. And that means picking your domain.
What Is A Domain?
Your domain is the crux of your online business. It’s your name, your identity. It’s the very first impression people will get of your company, and is the online equivalent of your business address.
A domain, if you’re not familiar with the term, is the actual www.thenameofyoursite.com. Most often, the domain, or URL as it’s also called, matches the name of your business, making it easy for visitors to find you.
Picking your domain is very important, and a lot of thought needs to go into the decision. Once you decide on your URL, you’re essentially stuck with it. In theory, you change this later on, but it causes a lot of problems. You would need to redirect pages from your old URL to the new one, so that old links won’t just get error pages. You also risk losing visitors to the site if the URL, design, or name suddenly changes and they’re no longer familiar with what they see.
You’re better off putting some serious thought into your domain before moving forward, and picking a URL that you can commit to for the life of your business. There are seven steps I feel you should consider when starting the domain-picking process.
The name of your company – which is often also the name of your business – needs to be something memorable. It needs to stand out, as well as convey something about the site topic to potential visitors. It should represent the “brand” that you will be creating with your company.
There is one exception to this, which occurs if you have the opportunity to create a keyword-rich URL. These include sites such as creditcards.com or cars.com. Those might not necessarily be the name of the business itself, but having a short, simple, and topic-specific URL can be great for driving visitors to the site.
Of course, these names get snatched up pretty quickly. If you wanted to buy a site like that, you’d either need to be the first to jump on it (such as when Congress introduced the Roth IRA – had you immediately jumped on buying rothira.com, you could have snagged it for cheap), or you’d need to prepare to pay a pretty penny. Many of the keyword-rich sites would cost you upwards of tens of thousands of dollars or more to buy now.
For this reason, I would recommend sticking to brand-specific URLs. Not only will it save you a ton of cash, but it also creates business recognition with your readers, which has a value of its own. Which leads us to point two…
2. Be Memorable
You want your domain to stand out. It needs to be easy to remember and maybe even a little clever. I like to think that Dough Roller is catchy and probably sticks with people better than something like “Personal Finance” would.
This is no different than starting a brick-and-mortar business. In either scenario, you want your name to stand out and you want it to be consistent with your niche. You might name a dry cleaner much differently than you would an accounting firm, and that’s how it should be. Each business is trying to convey something different, and the name needs to portray that.
Your domain name is your visitors’ first introduction to the business. It should be memorable.
When it comes to domain names, shorter is better than longer. There’s no standard for “short” or “long” domain names. The shorter you can make it while still being memorable, though, the better off you’ll be.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an incredibly short domain name (think three or four letters, followed by .com), unless you’d like to spend the cash to buy an existing domain from someone else. Finding a shorter URL that matches your brand is the best bet.
The easier your site is to spell, the better. Difficult, uncommon, or tricky words will make it hard for some people to find your site. I would also be particularly cautious about what I call “intentional misspellings.”
Intentional misspellings can be quite catchy, I’ll admit. One example would be a site I mentioned last episode: thekrazycouponlady.com. That’s worked well for them and that’s fine. But in general, simple spellings will bode better for visibility and visitor ease.
5. Top Level Domain
This is the difference between a .com site and one with .net, .org, or any number of options available today. I believe that .com is, by far, the best option.
Of course, Dough Roller is a .net site. The .com version was not available when I founded the site, which is why I chose doughroller.net. There are also plenty of other successful exceptions, like getrichslowly.org (one of the earliest personal finance site, though it’s since been sold). But overall, .com seems to be the best option.
After .com, I would say that .net is probably the next best. Sites with .org also work great, though they tend to suggest some sort of non-profit type of organization (this isn’t required, but is typical).
A lot of other domains have come out in recent years (.photography, for example), but I would stay away from those if you can. As with anything, there are probably exceptions that have used these lesser-known suffixes and done really well. But in general, I would recommend .com, .net, or even .org before you look at anything else.
You may get frustrated searching for domain after domain, and finding that all of your best ideas are already taken. You may even be tempted to throw a hyphen in there, in order to make it work. If you can at all avoid this, please do.
Sure, there are exceptions that have worked out. Last episode, I mentioned a very successful photography site that is hyphenated (digital-photography-school.com). So it’s not a death sentence for your business. However, it will make it more difficult for visitors to find your site, makes your domain less memorable, lengthens the URL, and adds complexity to people trying to remember the site address.
People aren’t really used to seeing hyphens in URLs, at least in the base domain. The simpler you can make your site address, the better off you’ll be. Hyphens don’t help this, so if you can at all avoid them, I would.
7. The Reporter Test
This is the seventh and final tip, but in some ways, I think it’s the most important. It depends on your niche, but I call it the reporter test.
In my case, having a site in the personal finance and investing niche, I would ask myself if a reporter from Bloomberg, the WSJ, or Financial Times would have confidence in linking to my site. People read a lot into a domain name, and your name needs to convey some level of strength in your niche. If other sites wouldn’t feel comfortable linking back to you, based on the domain name, you’ll be missing out on a lot of potential marketing.
A domain may seem funny or clever when you’re browsing sites at 2 am, but might not convey the strength you need in the light of day. Give it some serious thought and maybe even run the name by others you trust before making your purchase.
So, How Do You Actually Purchase A Domain?
Well, first off, you need to know that you won’t actually be buying your domain name. You’ll be renting it. This rental period is typically a year long, though you can prepay for multiple years (often at a discounted rate) all at once.
My suggestion would be to go to Bluehost first to find your domain. Of course, there are plenty of others that you can try, if you’d rather – GoDaddy for example—but I prefer Bluehost. It’s the company I first used when I registered doughroller.net, and I’m still with them 10 years later. I’ll go over this more next week when I talk about hosting, but it’s by and far my favorite.
So, when you go to Bluehost, you’ll see a big, green Get Started Now button. Type in whatever name you’re looking for to see if it’s even available. You’re probably going to go through a LOT of potential sites before you find an open one, unless you’re a very lucky person. If the site you search isn’t available, it will offer you similar alternatives that are available and may work just as well.
Once you find one that you like that isn’t yet taken, you can begin registering it. You’ll enter your name and address, and pay for the amount of time that you’d like to keep the site. In some cases, I’ve prepaid for as many as 10 years at a time. It’s usually $10-15 a year, so the investment really isn’t much.
You can also pay for hosting at this time, but that’s not required. Alternatively, you can just pay for the domain and then figure out the hosting later, especially if you haven’t decided exactly how your site will be set up or if you have a lot of work to do before you launch. You can also register your site through one company and host it through another. Again, I’ll go over all of this next week.
So, that’s it. Picking a domain is definitely a critical part of starting your online business, so be sure to put some serious thought into it. You don’t want to have to change it down the line. While it can be done, it’ll cause issues, it’s a hassle, and it can impact your site traffic – so let’s try to just get it right the first time. These seven considerations will help you pick a domain that best serves your business, and will last as long as you run the company.
Next week, we will be covering site hosting, as well as setting up a site on WordPress. It’s very easy to do, and you don’t need to be technically-inclined, so don’t worry. But you won’t want to miss the next episode. See you next week!