Choosing a domain name can be daunting. Research the subject (after all, you're the type of marketer who researches, right?) and you'll be hit with a landslide of opinions, most contradictory. There is, however, two points that everyone agrees on:
Pick your domain before you launch your business.
This is especially true if your market niche has lots of competition. Research your domain before you commit to a business plan.
Don't wait too long if you like a domain.
While you're researching, you'll likely come across a couple of domains that attract you. You might be tempted to wait, since you haven't finalized or refined your business plan. Don't. A handful of domains isn't going to cost you much at an affordable registrar like GoDaddy, and once they're gone, they're gone. Chances are you can even resell the rejects at cost, if not a profit. Or "develop" them with unique content and point them to your main site for extra traffic.
Now that we have the easy part of the way, let's wade into murkier waters.
Q. Which TLD (top-level domain) is best?
A. If you're a juggernaut in the business world with a giant ad budget, the answer is dot-com (.com). If you're a smalltime business struggling for search engine positioning, the answer is still dot-com.
People do disagree on the value of a dot-com TLD. Some assert that dot-coms have no particular value in the search engines, which may be true.
However, the fact is, if you haven't yet seared your brand on the collective brow of the planet, dot-com makes you easier to remember. If you eschew dot-coms, then in some deep dark place inside, people will remember you as "that hard-to-remember URL with the ending that isn't dot-com." What's worse, if you pick an otherwise memorable domain ending in dot-net, -us, or (God forbid) -tv, some of your traffic will end up at that competitor who snagged the dot-com version of your domain. Okay, that's settled. Now for the controversial stuff. Which is best: the "keyword" domain, or the "creative-genius, snappy and brandable" domain?
Keyword Name vs. Creative-Genius Brandable Name
A Keyword Name is the boring, workhorse kind of domain. You seem them everywhere. They bristle with hyphens: "best-anchovy-pizza-in-siberia.com." Or "super-labrador-accessories-and-golfballs.biz." On the face of it, they're hard to brand. They're hard to fit on business cards. They're really hard to explain over the phone to Aunt Martha.
On the other hand, a Creative-Genius Brandable Name is the sexy kind of domain. The successes are sparkling: Yahoo!, Google, Amazon.com. You can shout these URLs across the room and the other guy will probably get it right. But note: the dot-com road is littered with hip, snappy business who failed to brand their product successfully, or get listed high in the search engines. Now their URLs all point to the same page: "server not found ?"
The debate rages on, but the first question you must ask yourself is:
How will people find YOU?
It was recently reported that "direct navigation" web traffic has started to outnumber search engine traffic. In other words, more people visit sites by typing in the URL directly than they do by combing search engines for results. So more gurus are recommending 'brandable' domains.
But think about this. As a small business owner, how will people find you? Word of mouth? Billboards on I-95? "Corporate sponsorships" on hockey arenas? Probably not: they'll find you through search engines. They'll type in "cheap purple widgets," and as a smart marketer, you will offer them a website optimized for the keywords "cheap purple widgets."
Still, this doesn't imply you should automatically pick a keyword domain. There are pros and cons to both types.
The brandable domain is great for business cards. In fact, it's nearly compulsory if you're planning on offline marketing. In other words, if you're printing up stationary at Kinkos, you want a brandable domain name.
If you're also a marketing genius, this is a fit challenge for your talents. Finding a memorable, apt domain to brand your business is something no software-driven suggestion tool can do.
Most "hybrid" domains -- ones that are really crosses between keywords and brandable names -- are long gone. But if you create a unique idea for your brand, you can probably snag the dot-com name for yourself. Now all you have to do is burn that brand onto the world's collective forehead. If you do, you'll benefit from type-in traffic. That means that if someone hears about you, they can probably find you just buy typing in your domain.
The brandable name requires solid marketing skill, research and luck. Your name should be so catchy, it's almost viral. It should also convey your actual business - or you'll have to work hard (often meaning, spend money) to associate the two. Your name should be "tested" on coworkers, cousins and dishwasher repairmen to ensure it has no undesirable connotations. Finally, your name should be available as a domain, and not suffer from competitors with similar domains. Sometimes, pulling all this off is difficult.
By keyword names, we're not talking about the glorious generic keywords - the one-keyword kings such as drugs.com or business.com. No, we're talking keyword names you can afford.
This is where you buy the domain name www.cheap-purple-widgets.com in hopes of getting a top search ranking for cheap purple widgets.
Advantages are many. First, more keyword names are available. (They're ugly, and many people feel an aversion to hyphens.) Also, they do help you place higher in the search engines. It's true that search engines only give you a little credit for having a keyword in your domain, but "a little credit" counts.
Second, keyword domains leave no doubt in the searcher's mind about what you're selling. If you decided to call your widget business "Ableeza," a searcher might not get at a glance what it is you're selling, even if your rank is high.
Finally, if you can get people to link to you, those links will be valuable. No matter how Webmaster Joe describes you, the link part will always say, "cheap-purple-widgets." This is a powerful search engine strategy for moving higher.
You won't get type-in traffic for a keyword name. You can't really explain it across a phone. It won't look pretty on a business card, and it's almost impossible to pair up with a cute logo. But if search engine traffic is going to drive your business, the keyword name is worth a long, hard look.
Regardless of which type you choose, don't play guessing games. If you go with a keyword name, use a search tool (like http://conversion.7search.com/scripts/advertisertools/keywordsuggestion.aspx to determine what keyword phrases people are searching on.
If you choose a brandable name instead, test it out on a variety of real people first. Pay attention to their reactions. Reserve your domain early, since brandable domains go fast unless they're very unique.
In the long run, both types of domains can work for you, especially if offline marketing is an option and you have a knack for branding. Overall, though, the keyword domain is probably the easiest path to success for the small-business owner.
About The Author
Blake Kritzberg is a web designer and small business owner. Find more on domain selection, buying and selling at http://www.domain-aid.com.