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Whatever you plan to do with your corner of the internet, choosing the right domain name from the outset is one of the most important steps to getting online.
Whether you’re setting up a new business website or email address or starting a personal project, your domain name is a big part of your brand, and you’ll build your online identity around it. With a new .UK domain name being registered every five seconds, demand is high. The sooner you register your domain, the more chance you stand of getting your first choice.
This page tells you everything you need to know about how to choose a domain name that will best suit your website.
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Which domain is right for me?
Tip 1 - Make sure your domain name reflects what you do
Your website or email address is all about making a great first impression, and that starts with your domain name. Your domain name needs to ‘do what it says on the tin’, as the saying goes, and it needs to be unique to you.
For example, if your website is going to act as your personal CV or portfolio, your own name would make an appropriate domain name, because the website is all about you. If you’re starting a blog, your domain could be themed around what you’re blogging about – lifeinlondon.uk, for example.
If you’re choosing a domain for your business, it’s important to ensure that it closely matches your business name. This is because people will often guess a domain name based on the name of your business.
Not only that, but having different domain and business names could be confusing; in a list of search results and in emails, it may not be obvious which business is yours if your domain name doesn’t match your business name.
A notable example of a business that doesn’t match its brand name to its domain is B&Q, which uses DIY.com to reflect its position as the go-to place for DIY supplies. Importantly, however, they have also secured bandq.com and bandq.co.uk, which both redirect to DIY.com, so if anyone guesses the domain name they will still reach the right place.
Tip 2 - Make it memorable
When you’re choosing your new domain name, it’s worth bearing in mind that search engines like Google aren’t the only way for people to find your website.
You might mention your website to someone so that they can look it up later, for example, and it might be printed on your business cards or leaflets. Either way, they’ll have to type the website address into their browser for themselves, and they might also want to tell their friends about it.
That means your domain name needs to be easy to remember, easy to say and easy to type. In other words, the shorter and simpler, the better.
To keep your domain name simple, it’s best to avoid:
- Numbers – these cause confusion because, when spoken, it’s not clear whether a number should be spelled out or in numerical form
- Long words, or words that are difficult to spell
- More than two or three words
The exception to the rule on hyphens is that if you have your heart set on a particular domain name but it isn’t available, you might find that a hyphenated version is available.
For example, sweetshop.co.uk might be taken, but sweet-shop.co.uk might be available. However, “sweet hyphen shop dot co dot uk” is more cumbersome to say than the non-hyphen version, so try to avoid them if you can.
Quick memorability checklist
- Easy to say? – does it trip off the tongue?
- Easy to read? – is it easy to pronounce your domain name? If it’s several words joined together, is it clear where one word ends and the other begins?
- Easy to spell? – would you need to spell out the letters if someone was noting down your domain name, or is it obvious? Are there any commonly misspelled or mistyped words, or words that are otherwise difficult for people to spell?
- Does it make sense? – would you need to explain the name, or is it clear why you’ve chosen it?
Tip 3 - Making up words
With shorter domains in short supply, some companies are choosing to invent new words that serve as their business name as well as giving them a succinct and memorable domain name.
In fact, domain name availability has become a key consideration in naming a new business. Shpock.com is a recent example, as is Moonpig.
As Dragons’ Den star Nick Jenkins, founder of Moonpig, explains in this article.
What I was looking for was a name that had to be as few syllables as possible, it had to be unique on Google, it had to be phonetic, easily represented by a graphic logo […] and it had to be available as a domain name. I spent four days searching for a word that was unique on Google […and that was available as a domain name] that I could use for this and I couldn’t find anything. I was throwing all sorts of things into it.
As Moonpig shows, as well as giving you a better chance of your first choice domain name being available, making up words helps you stand out from the crowd and build your own unique identity.
The only potential issue with it is that, as we mentioned above, it’s important to ensure it’s intuitive to spell and pronounce. Moonpig has the advantage of being a joining of two simple words, but Shpock is a bit harder to spell.
So, if you’re thinking of inventing a word for your domain name, make sure you subject it to our quick memorability checklist.
Tip 4 - Is it futureproof?
Although it is possible to move your website onto another domain in the future (see our Frequently Asked Questions, below), it’s better to pick a domain name that will stand the test of time.
Moving to a different domain name presents SEO issues, as well as potentially damaging the brand you’ve worked hard to build up.
Most obviously, you should avoid domain names with dates in. If you run a local fun run, for example, pick a URL such as yorkfunrun.uk rather than yorkfunrun2017.uk. This way, you can reuse the website each year rather than starting from scratch each time, and you’ll benefit from the strength the domain name has gained from people sharing and linking to it over the years.
If your website is for your business, you’ll need to think about where you see your business going in the future and make sure your domain name doesn’t limit your offering.
For instance, you might start out as a nail bar, with a domain name to reflect this, but what happens when, a few years down the line, you want to expand your services to include hairdressing?
Tip 5 - Use an appropriate domain name extension
The domain name itself isn’t your only consideration when you’re choosing a domain; you’ll also need to decide what extension to use.
The bit that comes after the full stop in your domain name is called a ‘Top-Level Domain’, and there’s a seemingly bewildering array to choose from. The domain you choose may have an impact on how your website is perceived; for example, .org.uk looks trustworthy because it’s used by official charities and non-profit organisations, while .biz or .net come across as less professional and have been associated with low-quality spam sites.
If you’re a UK-based business with UK customers, it’s best to choose a domain ending in .uk, as this is a trustworthy domain that shows visitors where you’re from. Google UK also gives more prominence to UK domains, so your website could potentially rank higher than a similar one with a .com domain, resulting in more traffic to your website and therefore more business.
If you’re in Wales, another option is a .wales or .cymru domain, which shows you’re Welsh and proud.
You have four options for .uk domains. The traditional one is .co.uk, which has the authority of being a firmly established Top-Level Domain. For charities and non-profits, .org.uk fits the bill perfectly.
More recently, the shorter .uk has provided a snappier, more up-to-date alternative to .co.uk, while .me.uk is ideal for building your own personal brand online, such as through a blog or portfolio site.
Tip 6 - Get some opinions on your shortlist
When you’ve shortlisted your favourites from the available domain names you’ve looked at, conduct a poll among your friends (or even your customers) and see which they like best.
They may notice something you haven’t, such as an unfortunate grouping of letters that forms a new word that you might not have intended.
It’s also worth asking a few people to have a go at spelling your domain and reading it out loud, as this will highlight whether your domain is simple enough for others to type and pronounce.
Tip 7 - Conduct some research
Having settled on your favourite domain name, it’s worth spending a bit of time researching it to make sure it isn’t legally protected.
If it’s very similar to that of a competitor – particularly a big competitor – they may well have protected their domain name and its variants with trademark or copyright. For example, you might be a small local cider producer, but if your domain name contains the word “apple”, it’s definitely worth checking you won’t run into problems with the Apple of iPhone fame.
It’s also important to check out what’s on similar domains. If someone trying to find your website ends up landing on a page with a similar domain name – perhaps that of a competitor, or even some kind of unsavoury content – you could end up either losing customers to a competitor, or managing a reputation problem.
Tip 8 - Get hold of the variants
As well as purchasing your chosen domain, try to buy variants of it.
If you have the .co.uk version, for example, get the .uk and .org.uk versions as well. This protects your domain name and stops others from capitalising on your success. For instance, it means that nobody else will be able to set up a competing website on a similar domain, attracting customers who may actually have been looking for your business.
You could also buy possible misspellings or typos of your domain name. For instance, if your domain was mischief.uk, you might want to acquire mischeif.uk as well.
To make the most of your purchases, make sure all your domain name variations are permanently redirected to your main domain so that anyone who tries to visit them ends up on your actual website. This can be done through your domain registrar.