Online Marketing Lesson 9: The Importance of the Domain

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In today’s increasingly information and technology-centric society, domain names have become the new property; the real estate of the web.

As the Internet continues to grow at a stunning pace, more and more companies and individuals are competing to get themselves an online presence, and that always starts with buying the right domain name. Whether you want to create a business website, a blog or an online application, having a good domain name is essential for its future success.

Most people need to come across a website several times before making the decision to bookmark it. On the first visit, they will come to that site via a link on another website or on a search engine. The domain name, however, will play an important role on the subsequent visits. If it is short, easy to remember and easy to spell, a visitor will not have a problem going back to that site in the future. If the domain is very long, hard to remember and hard to spell, however, there are good chances that the visitor will end up somewhere else, and will probably never return.

If your domain is long, difficult to spell or contains dashes and numbers, there is a possibility that the user will completely forget about it. After two or three days he won’t even remember that your site exists. A short and catchy domain, on the other hand, will stick in the mind of the visitor. Even if he will not be able to type it directly in his browser, Google will be there to help him find your website again.

The 7 Characteristics of Good Domain Names

By now you should already be convinced about the importance of domain names. Just as a good location is vital for a bricks and mortar business, a good domain name will be the cornerstone of your website’s success.

But how do you go about identifying a good domain name?

Below you will find a list highlighting the 7 characteristics that make up good domain names.

1. The Shorter the Better

Good domain names are usually short. It is no coincidence that all three ¬letter and all four¬ letter .com domains are already taken and that the five letter ones are selling out fast. There is no definite number of characters required for a good domain name, just remember that the shorter the domain, the better. As a rule of thumb, try to aim for fewer than 10 characters, and never exceed 20.

As for the number of words used within a domain name, one¬ word domains are gold, two-word domains are good, three-word domains are OK, and anything above that is simply a bad idea.

Example: Quotes.com is a superb domain, and probably worth millions of dollars. ProQuotes.com is a good two-word domain worth thousands of dollars. ProQuotesNow.com is an average domain and could still be used for a website. YourProQuotesNow.com is almost worthless.

2. Easy to Remember

Many Internet users do not use bookmarks; they memorize the domains of their favorite websites and type them directly in the browser address bar whenever they want to visit them. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if your domain name is a complex one, you will likely lose those visitors simply because remembering the domain is too difficult.

As we mentioned before, even the users who do use bookmarks and RSS feeds will need to come across your website several times before making the decision to bookmark or subscribe to it. Having a domain that is easy to remember is therefore essential to make sure that your visitors will be able to return to your site easily.

Example: Brcwctr.com is a short domain name, with only 7 characters. The domain is just a random combination of letters, however, and thus very difficult to be remembered. Would you be able to visit that site tomorrow without coming to check its domain on this lesson? Just try it!

3. Easy to Spell

The last thing any webmaster wants are visitors misspelling his domain, and ending up somewhere else. Not only you might lose traffic, but you might be losing it to a competitor. Always avoid unusual foreign words, words that have complex pronunciation, strange combinations of letters, or anything else that might cause someone to misspell your address.

Think about the demographic characteristics of your potential visitors and target readers. This should help you identify what words would be suitable for using on your domain, and what words should be avoided.

Example: CappuccinoBar.com might be problematic for English speaking visitors. Cappuccino is an Italian word, and not everyone is aware where the doubles are placed.

4. A .com Extension

It is common for organizations to prefer .org domains, and for companies that wish to target specific geographical regions to register a local top level domain (e.g., .it, .co .uk, .cn, etc.). Apart from these cases, however, a .com domain is always the best way to go. This domain extension is the most popular one around the world and is already stuck in people’s minds as the first attempt when trying to find a website.

Visitors coming to your site via search engines or organic links will pay attention mostly to the website name, and not to the domain. The next time they want to visit your site, it is likely that they will just type the name they remember followed by .com. If your website isn’t there when they hit enter, they will just go somewhere else.

Example: Darren Rowse created his popular blog on Problogger.net, but despite having a strong brand, some visitors were still ending up at Problogger.com. After a couple of years, Darren decided to buy the .com version for $5,000 and redirect it to his site, so that no more visitors would leak away.

5. Descriptive

Many visitors will come to your site through search engines or via direct links on other websites. That is, they will come IF the domain they see is appealing enough.

By making your domain name descriptive, you will be giving potential visitors an idea of what your site is about even before they enter it. Secondly, by utilizing keywords in the domain name, you might also improve your search engine rankings, and consequently your incoming traffic.

Example: Can you guess what TelevisionGuides.com is about before visiting it? The chances are you can, and that is because the domain is very descriptive.

To put it another way, let’s suppose that you are searching for a particular movie review. You make a quick search on Google, and the first result that shows up is from MikesLair.com. The second result is from MoviesCentral.com. Which one would you rather click?

6. Brandable

Brandable domains may or may not be descriptive, but they are equally efficient. The goal is to make your visitors remember the domain, and unconsciously associate it with your website and its content.

A brandable domain will have a nice pronunciation, an interesting combination of letters, or simply an appealing visual effect. Those domains have the power to stick in people’s mind even after one single visit to a website.

Example: Kotaku.com is one of the most popular gaming blogs on the Internet. While the domain is not descriptive at all, the brand is so strong that gamers around the world recognize it immediately.

7. No Hyphens or Numbers

Domain names that contain hyphens or numbers are cheaper to purchase for a good reason: they suffer the same problems non .com domains have, or those with complex spelling.

Consider Tech¬-World.com. The words that people would remember after visiting such website are “tech” and “world.” Many visitors will just forget the hyphen along the way, and will try to access the site by typing TechWorld.com. They will either end up on another website or in no-man’s land, neither of which is good.

Numbers, on the other hand, tend to confuse people with their spelling. Suppose you registered Tech5.com. Some visitors would confuse it with TechFive.com, provided they managed to remember the number in the first place!

Example: CoolestGadgets.com is an extremely popular gadget blog, with over 70,000 RSS subscribers. With such a huge readership, you will inevitably have people typing the domain directly into the address bar of their browsers. Needless to say, however, that some of them were forgetting to add the hyphen and ending up on CoolestGadgets.com. To fix the problem, the owner was forced to buy the no-dashed version of the domain, too.

Final Remark

Don’t get discouraged if the domain you are using or planning to register doesn’t have all of these characteristics. The seven points above are factors to consider when evaluating domain names, not the rules carved in stone.

There are plenty of examples of popular websites with domain names that lack in one or two of the points covered on the list. The important thing is to make sure your domain name has most of these characteristics, and that it will suit your website for years to come.

Empirical Evidence

Facts speak louder than words, so let’s take a look at a small research that we conducted a while ago.

We basically gathered the top 250 most popular websites in the world (according to Alexa), and counted how many characters and words their domains had. We also checked if they had a .com or another extension (e.g., .net, .org, .info and so on), and whether or not they contained hyphens and numbers.

The results were pretty interesting. First of all, the average number of characters on the domain names was 7.15. The graph below presents the number of characters on the y-axis, and all the 250 domains on the x-axis. The red line is the average (the statistical mean).

M2L9_ImportanceOfDomain-1

The other findings were:

  • Over 177 out of 250 domains had 8 characters or fewer. That is more than 70% of them
  • The average number of words was 1.6
  • The most common domain name (statistical mode) had 7 characters and 2 words
  • 86.2% of the domains had a .com extension
  • Only 11 out of the 250 domains (4.4%) contained a number
  • Only 3 out of the 250 domains (1.2%) contained a dash

As you can see, the overall results are in line with the 7 characteristics that we outlined above.

In next lesson, we will cover the research process that you should use to find good domain names that are still available or registered ones that could be worth your money.

Action Points

  1. If you already have some domain names, evaluate their quality by checking how many of the 7 characteristics of good domains that we covered on this lesson they have.
  2. If you still need to buy domains for your online project, write down a list with 10 or 20 possible names, and evaluate their quality by checking how many of the 7 characteristics of good domains that we covered in this lesson they have.

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