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While many small business owners know they need a website, figuring out terms like “domain extension” and “registrar” are not exactly near the top of their to-do list. Extensions are probably more familiar to you than you realize: also known as top-level domains (TLDs), they’re the ends of websites you visit everyday. They’re the .com, .org, .net at the end of every website URL. Did you know there are actually hundreds of them to choose from? For example, you could have a website for an online community ending in .club, or a personal blog ending in .blog. Many more are added every year, and they vary in price and availability. Some, like those tied to specific countries, require additional information to register.
When it comes to choosing the best extension for you, let’s start with what you CAN’T get restricted or sponsored extensions, like .edu, .gov, .mil, and so on, are only available for approved organizations like universities, government agencies, and branches of the military.
From there, most extensions are available, but some country code-specific extensions (i.e., .co.uk, .ca, or .co.nz) require proof that you or your business operate in those areas. This isn’t true of every country, though; consider the popular URL shortener bit.ly, which uses the Libyan country code for its extension. Plenty of websites “hack” domains using these extensions: the social bookmarking site del.icio.us uses the TLD for the United States for its URL, and NPR uses Puerto Rico’s country code for n.pr.
Start with a domain name registrar
Most extensions are available from big-name registrars: Namecheap, GoDaddy, Google Domains, and so on. Some specialized extensions are ONLY available from certain registrars, so be aware of who owns “access” to your domain before you buy: you’re subject to their rules.
Some registrars have been known to engage in questionable practices, including:
- Domain squatting: where a website unrelated to the content you’d expect (often spam) “squats” on top of the site until the business owner offers to buy it at a higher price.
- Domain tasting: when people register and cancel a site registration within the grace period, hoping that the interest and a sense of urgency will drive up the asking price for the site.
- Domain sniping or drop catching: when a site is registered immediately after it’s expired in order to test how popular it is. Popular sites get “warehoused,” and you have to register through the warehouser—with an added fee, of course.
Out of all the recognizable domain name registrars out there, my least favorite has got to be GoDaddy. I’ve used them in the past and found them incredibly frustrating. I don’t recommend them as your first-choice domain registrar, for a host of reasons. Instead, I’d recommend Namecheap.com, one of the many accredited registrars in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) directory. Not only do they offer access to a number of popular extensions, but their prices (both registration and renewal) are fair and reasonable. Using their site to register or manage one or more domain names is a snap, and their accessible customer service is top-notch.
I use them for all of my domain registrations, and recommend them for all my clients; I’m not a member of their affiliate program.
Choosing your domain name
Okay, so you’ve selected an accredited registrar whose prices, values, and practices align with yours. Now how do you pick a good domain name? Think about the answers to these questions:
- What is the name of your business?
- What industry are you in?
- Are you an authority in that industry, or is it a relatively new niche, open to some shaking up?
- Who is your target market? Where can you find them? (think: countries, states/provinces, regions, and cities)
- Are any of the words in your business name commonly misspelled, abbreviated, or sound like other words?
- How easy is it to say your ideal domain name out loud?
It’s the answer to that last one that confounds a lot of people. Imagine being on phone support with someone that asks for your email address. It’s awkward having to spell out website names that use dashes, or ones with ordinal (“first”) or cardinal (“1”) numbers.
Not sure how to combine the answers to some of these questions to form a business or website name? Try NameMesh.com’s generator; it’ll suggest combinations and variations of your chosen keywords to suggest available domain names. Aim to pick something short, reflective of your brand, appropriate for your industry, and easy to say.
Picking your domain extension
Once you’ve chosen your registrar and website name, choosing your extension should be the easy part: first, see if you can get .com, the most widely used domain extension. If it’s not available, take into account who DOES have the .com version of the domain name, and how similar they are to you and your business. You don’t want to risk being on the receiving end of a cease and desist letter or a lawsuit due to accidental trademark infringement.
Get .com if you can
Let’s look at an easy example: Office.com belongs to Microsoft, the makers of Microsoft Office, the productivity suite including software titles like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and so on. Office.org, on the other hand, belongs to a competitor: the makers of LibreOffice, a non-profit foundation focused on open-source software. It makes sense for LibreOffice to use “.org,” as they’re a non-profit charity based in Germany; people are far less likely to stumble across Office.org when they’re trying to get to Office.com.
Here’s another example: I recently heard about a piece of software called “Shift.” But shift.com is a site that deals with used cars, not software. And shift.org is all about career advancement for current and former military vets. If I didn’t remember the domain name, I might use a search engine and type “shift software,” and thanks to their website’s excellent search engine optimization (SEO) practices, the software I want is in the top result: tryshift.com.
While it makes sense to add a word like “try” onto the beginning of domain name, it’s not very memorable if it’s not part of your company or product’s name. Turns out the makers of Shift are aptly named “Shift Technologies,” but they don’t seem to own any other “shift”-related domains, like shifttech.com or shifttechnologies.com. Instead, the latter domain is being held by a particular registrar for the whopping price tag of $24,888 US! It’s reasons like this why you want to carefully consider your domain name and any/all available extensions: not only do you want to avoid confusion with other businesses, but you also want to make sure your customers can find you in as few clicks as possible.
Use an appropriate niche extension
If your business specializes in something, like coaching, it might be a good idea to pick an extension that suits your business or industry better, like yourname.coach. If you run a shop, getting .shop might not be a bad idea. You might not have a community now, but if you plan on building one in the future, it might be worth it to snap up a .net or .club extension.
At the end of the day, your domain name should fit YOU. A name you like should also make sense for your business and industry or niche. Assuming the name it isn’t already owned by someone else, then go on: snap that domain name up! If you don’t… someone else will.