This is the first of 10 blog posts in a series discussing some important things my colleagues and I have learned while launching and growing FlashDrivePros LLC. It's my hope that other would-be entrepreneurs who happen to be short on cash as we were in the beginning can learn and benefit from our experience.
Several years ago I was in a discussion with a handful of students trying to get their startup off the ground. When I brought up the importance of choosing the right domain name, the leader of the group scoffed: “Domain names are so passé! Let’s move on.” I’m still not sure if I was more shocked by the arrogance or the ignorance of her statement. In any case, her comment couldn't have been further from the truth! Choosing the right domain name isn’t passé but actually more important than ever.
Benefits of Choosing the Right Domain Name
For most startups, the number one benefit of a well-thought-out domain is the role in plays in getting you a top position in Google Search. There are several factors concerning domain names that Google’s algorithm takes into account when determining where a website should rank. We will discuss several of these factors below. In addition to the positive effect on search engine optimization, a good domain name also reinforces the credibility of your startup, helps the right people find you, and tells people what you’re all about before they even visit your website. So without further ado, here are six important elements of great domain names for startups.
Descriptive but Not Restrictive
Let’s say I want to start a garage-based service company that repairs electronics and that I want to focus on iPhone 5 repair. A very descriptive domain name might be something like www.iphone5repair.com. In fact, this would probably be a great domain name if all I wanted to do was get a lot of business repairing iPhone 5s. When someone Googles “iPhone 5 Repair” as long as the rest of my SEO were in order, I would have a great chance of showing up on the first page of Google. The downside of this domain name is that it’s pretty restrictive. Once the iPhone 6 arrived, for example, or I decided I wanted to start working on Android phones too, my domain name just got a lot less descriptive. The key here is to choose a domain name that is descriptive enough to say something about what you do, but doesn't limit what else you might want to do in the future. Something like www.smartphonerepair.com might be a better option if I thought my company might ever do more than repair iPhone 5s.
Unique but Memorable…and Descriptive
Continuing with the example above, let’s say I decide to go with www.smartphonerepair.com. To my dismay, when I go to register my new domain name, I discover that it’s already been taken and is being held ransom by some media company that wants to sell it for a ridiculous amount of money. But then I think “Aha! I’ll just add an “s” to the domain name and go with www.smartphonerepairs.com instead!” This is definitely an option, but it might not be the best way to go. The domain name is very similar to another existing domain name (Not unique) and will probably get confused with the other one pretty frequently. (Not memorable) Something like www.repairmysmartphone.com might be a better bet if there isn’t a similar domain name already registered. One last thing: perhaps you’re wondering about domain names like google.com and yahoo.com. Domain names like these are definitely both unique and memorable. However, they aren’t descriptive at all. While opinions on this differ, my experience has shown that unless you’re a startup that has plenty of cash for marketing and intend your company to become a household name, sticking with a more descriptive domain name will prove a much faster and easier way to get a top spot in Google Search.
Short but Accurate, and No Hyphens!
Google tends to give more authority (and thus better ranking) to shorter domain names, which makes sense when you think about it. The domain www.usedcars.com is probably going to be more relevant to searchers than something like www.buy-used-cars-and-trucks.info. Part of the reason for this is a domain like usedcars.com is a lot less likely to be available, more expensive to acquire, and therefore more likely to link to a useful, relevant website than the other domain name. For the same reason, www.usedcars.com is better than www.used-cars.com. On the other hand, a domain name like www.car.com, while short, isn’t very descriptive or accurate for a company that just sells used cars.
In the absence of other available domain names, you might be tempted to go with something like www.usedcarz.com (note the “z” on the end). Two problems with this are 1) the word carz isn’t going to do much to help you in Google search for the search term "cars" and 2) lots of people are going to forget that your company spells carz with a “z” and instead is going to type in usedcars.com. Note: If your domain name contains commonly misspelled words, www.believe.com for example, you might consider registering the domain name www.beleive.com as well and then pointing it to your original domain with something called a 301 permanent redirect. This way you catch everyone who misspells your domain name.
From .me to .tv to .travel, there are literally hundreds of different top level domains available, and new ones are being added all the time. When choosing a domain name for your company, it’s best to stick with .com and/or .org. Again. Google sees these domains as more authoritative than the less common TLDs.
Aged but Not Used
If you simply can’t find a good domain name that hasn't already been taken, you might consider buying an existing domain name. Many SEOs say that Google prefers older domains than ones that have recently been registered anyway. Just be sure the owners of the domain haven’t violated any Google policies or you might find yourself with a penalized domain name that could require some extra time and effort (or maybe explanation to Google) to get ranking well.
In the next post I'll talk about how to build a business website with powerful ecommerce and CRM tools built in for a lot cheaper that you might expect.