Online Marketing Lesson 10: The Domain Research Process

OnlineMarketingBanner_2

This lesson will help you create a structured process for the research of your domain names. If you are still using a free hosted platform like Blogger.com or WordPress.com to host your website, this is the right time to make the switch to your own domain name and a paid hosting solution.

Having your own domain name is a must for several reasons. First of all, it will give credibility to your site. Secondly, paying for a hosting plan will you give you much more flexibility regarding the software and features that you will be able to use on your website. Thirdly, if you use a free hosted solution for your sites, they will not be your property. One day something could go wrong and Google (the owner of Blogger.com) could decide to close your account, making you lose all your hard work overnight.

Now let’s get started with the domain name research process. After reading the previous lesson you should know how to identify a good domain name. But where do you start your research, and how should you structure it?

There are four main steps involved in the research of domain names; four steps that if closely followed, can make a big difference on the quality of the domain that you will end up with. We’ll cover each of them individually below.

1. Brainstorm Keywords

The first thing you need to do is to brainstorm keywords that are related, or relevant, to your website. Use pen and paper, and write them all down. To do this, consider what subjects you are going to cover (for primary keywords) and then how you are going to cover those subjects (for secondary keywords).

For example, if you plan to create a website about online marketing, you might consider the following primary keywords: online, marketing, web, Internet, promotion, publicity, and business. This is the what part.

Secondary keywords, or the how part, are only necessary if you wish to cover the subject matter in a very specific way (e.g., as a blog, journal or forum), and if you want to let visitors know about it immediately when they come to your website.

For example, if you plan to create a photo blog about Gothic art, it would be a good idea to outline the “photographic” angle that your site will have on the domain name. Your primary keywords could be Gothic, art and medieval, while your secondary keywords could be photos, pics, images and pictures. Combining them you would have the following potential domain names: GothicPhotos.com, MedievalPics.com, ArtPics.com and so on.

The higher the number of relevant keywords you can write down, the better. If you plan to use a descriptive domain, it would be wise at this stage to perform some keyword research as well. We’ll cover this process in the end of this lesson.

Remember to avoid trademarks on your domains. In the past, webmasters used to buy trademarked domains, or trademarked typos, because they would bring a decent amount of traffic. If you are going to build a legitimate website, though, you should avoid this strategy. There are some cases where you are allowed by law to use the name of a company in your domain name (i.e. when it is clear that your website has no relationship whatsoever with the company that owns the trademark), but why expose yourself to unnecessary and potentially damaging legal troubles down the road?

2. Add Prefixes and Suffixes

Practically all the words that exist in the dictionary have already been registered. It is therefore a fruitless task to go searching for the single keywords that you have written down during your brainstorm session. The solution to this problem is simple: take the most appealing keywords you have come up with, and add a prefix or suffix to them until you find something good.

Let’s go back to our example of creating an online marketing website, where one of the selected keywords was marketing. Start adding prefixes to it to see what works. For example: eMarketing.com, ProMarketing.com, and PoliMarketing.com. Then try adding suffixes: MarketingSpot.com, MarketingVox.com, and MarketingPulse.com.

You can also combine two keywords (primary or secondary ones), and afterward add the prefixes and suffixes to the result. Online was another keyword from our previous example, so perhaps combining it with marketing and then adding the prefixes would work. We would then end up with domains like TopOnlineMarketing.com or ProOnlineMarketing.com. Adding suffixes we would have OnlineMarketingSpot.com or OnlineMarketingHub.com.

However, as you probably noticed, this method makes the domains longer, and consequently less appealing. We highly encourage you to try to find a domain with two words on it (or to purchase a domain with only one word). Just opt for a three word domain if you can’t find a shorter one no matter what, or if you really like the domain and think that it is brandable.

Before going to the next step, write down a list with the domain names that you liked after mixing your keywords with prefixes and suffixes. Remember, finding a good domain name that has not being registered yet is a difficult task, so bump up that list as much as possible. You want to have at least 50 domain names written down in the end, and going up to 100 or even 200 wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

3. Research the Domain Names

By now you should have a huge list of potential domain names at hand, and you will want to start hunting for their availability.

There are tools that will tell you whether a domain is registered or not, but others go further and will actually suggest related or similar worded domains. Others will even mix and match keywords automatically for you!

For now, though, you can start using a simple tool called Instant Domain Search. It is very easy to use, and it has the benefit of reporting the availability of domains in real time, right as you type them.

Make sure to organize the output of your research. By using paper or an electronic spreadsheet, divide the domains that you will research into three groups:

Group 1: list all the available domain names that you have found
Group 2: list all the registered domains that are very good and, therefore, could be worth your money
Group 3: list all the registered domains that are not worth paying for

While researching the availability of domain names, you should be careful with domain pinchers. Some domain search tools sell their search data to third parties, who might then register domain names deemed valuable based on the amount of times they (or their combinations) were searched.

Picture this: you search for a particular domain and find it is available. It is a good domain, but you don’t have the money available on the spot, so you decide to wait. A couple of days later you finally decide to buy it, but when you enter the domain into the search box of a registrar you find, to your surprise, that someone registered it before you!

In order to avoid domain pinchers, you should only use trusted search tools (Instant Domain Search is one of them), and be ready to purchase a domain right after finding that it is available, especially if you found a really good one.

If a domain that you wanted gets pinched, it’s a good idea to wait five days and check again. Usually pinchers are just “tasting” the domain, and if it doesn’t receive good traffic, they might cancel the registration within the first five days (that is the time limit to get their money back). Needless to say that you should not visit the domain during this period (else the pincher will assume the domain is good because it is getting traffic).

4. Consider Purchasing a Registered Domain

In this final step you will need to decide if your best option is to go with an available domain name, or to invest some money into one already registered. There are many factors to take into consideration here. First of all, evaluate the quality of the available domain names that you have found (Group 1), compared to the registered ones (Group 2). If the quality of the free domain names (refer back to previous lesson to see the 7 characteristics of good domain names) is on the same level as the registered ones, you could probably go ahead with an available one and save yourself some money.

You should also consider the objective and scope of the website that you are building. For example, if you are creating a blog purely as a hobby, or if you want to create a website just to test out some ideas, you might be better off going with a free domain name.

If, on the other hand, you have the objective of making the website popular and generating revenues with it, you should consider the option of purchasing a high¬ quality, registered domain.

Most people are reluctant to invest money in the domain name, but it is important to remember that this initial decision can have a profound impact on the future success of your website (as we saw in the previous lesson).

Get it wrong early on, and the website will never reach its full potential. If you are working to a financial budget, ensure that money put aside for the purchase of the domain name is a priority.

Closing the Deal on a Registered Domain

How much should you expect to pay for a good domain name? The answer to this depends on the niche in question, and on the time that you will dedicate to shopping around. If your niche is not a crowded one (e.g., comic books or natural health) and if you have a lot of time to search around, you could end up finding a good deal for as low as $100.

If your niche is a popular one (e.g., technology or finance) and if you don’t have a lot of time to search around, expect to pay anywhere from $200 up to $1,000.

There are obviously higher priced domains around the web, but unless you have a big budget and a solid business plan for your website, going over $1,000 would be overkill.
There are basically two ways to find and purchase a registered domain name: going to domain marketplaces, and going directly to the domain owner.

On the next lesson we will list several domain marketplaces that you can use to search for registered domains. For the time being, though, you should just consider going directly to the owner of the domain.

Use the list that you created with registered domain names that could be worth investing in (Group 2), and visit each of those domains by typing them on the address bar of your browser. You want to take a look at the website that is currently hosted there.

If upon visiting the site you find that it is very active and popular, forget about trying to purchase it, because the owner is likely to ask a very high price.

Remember that you are looking for domains that are not being used at all, or that host abandoned websites. Once you find one domain that fits this profile, try to locate the contact information of the owner on the website (usually those details can be found on the footer).

If there is no contact information on the website, you will need to perform a whois on that domain. Simply go to www.who.is and type the domain on the search form. In the results page, look for the email of the registrant or of the administrative person.

Once you have the email of the owner, you will just need to write to him asking whether or not he would be interested in selling his domain. Usually it is a good idea to include in that email an initial offer, to make sure that the seller will keep a realistic idea about the deal. A starting point is to offer 50% of the maximum price that you would be willing to pay for the domain, leaving you with some room for negotiation.

Finding someone willing to sell a good domain name is not easy, so don’t send only a couple of emails out and think that you are set. Expect to send out dozens of emails before getting some positive responses back.

If you manage to agree on a price with the seller, it will be just a matter of closing the deal and handling the domain transfer. If you are worried about potential problems during the transaction, you can use an online service called Escrow. They will basically hold your payment until the domain is in your control, and only then they will release the money to the seller.

Basic Keyword Research

If you want to make your domain descriptive, it is advisable to perform a certain amount of keyword research before settling on your final keywords. In this section we will cover the keyword research process briefly.

There are several tools available that can be used to evaluate what search queries people might be running on search engines. Let’s suppose your site is going to be a gallery of humorous images. A descriptive and very desirable domain for such a website would be funnyimages.com. Sounds good, but what about funnypictures.com?

From the user’s point of view, both domains are too similar to distinguish, and it shouldn’t make much of a difference. However, if you pick the second domain mentioned, you might receive much higher search traffic, because the term “funny pictures” is almost 10 times more searched than “funny images.”

By understanding what search queries people are using, and how frequently they are using them, you will be in a better position not only to choose a good domain name, but also to decide what angle you should take when designing your website, putting together its content, and promoting toward a target audience.

Below you will find examples of various free and paid web tools that you can use to perform your keyword research.

Free Tools

1. Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Google offers a keyword tool to its AdWords advertisers, and they also have an external version of the tool available for any user. Apart from the monthly search volume, you will also be able to see the number of advertisers that compete for each keyword (which is an indicator of its popularity and profitability). Given that Google is the most popular search engine on the web, the data on this tool should also be very accurate.

Paid Tools

2. WordTracker. WordTracker costs $449 per year, or $69 per month. The advantage WordTracker has over other similar tools is that it comes with extra features, including a keyword thesaurus, and lateral search terms. This tool can therefore be used when you are not completely sure about what keywords you will be targeting.

3. Keyword Discovery. The company has partnerships with around 180 search engines, from which it gathers the search data. It also has some differentiators, including misspellings research, and the possibility to filter research results by country or region. Finally, this tool has a large database of keywords for shopping related websites, like eBay and Amazon. A monthly subscription for this tool costs $49.

4. Keyword Country. This tool works with a software that must be installed on your computer. It’s main appeal is the ability to find profitable keywords. While perform the research, in fact, you will be able to see the number of advertisers for each keyword and also the estimated cost per click (EPC) that websites targeting that keyword and using CPC advertising would get. It costs $49 monthly.

At this point you might be asking yourself: “Should I use one of the free tools or subscribe to a paid service?” For the moment, the free tools are more than enough. We mentioned the paid ones just to make sure that you would be aware of all your options.
We will be covering keyword research more extensively on a future lesson too, so stay tuned.

Action Points

  1. Brainstorm primary and secondary keywords that are related to your website or upcoming online project
  2. Use our Domain Name Suggestion Tool to add hundreds of prefixes and suffixes to your keywords, and create a list of domains that you think would be suitable for your website
  3. Use either the Bulk Domain Search tool or the Instant Domain Search website to verify if the domains you selected are available or not, and separate the output of this research into the 3 groups described on the lesson
  4. Evaluate whether you should register an available domain name or invest money into a registered one
  5. If you decide to go with a registered domain name, create a list of potential sellers, discover their contact information, and email them to start the negotiation phase

Buy Your Domain by Clicking the Banner Below:

Namecheap_Domain

Navigation Links

Previous Lesson: The Importance of the Domain

Next Lesson: Web Hosting Basics