How to Choose a good Website Domain Name

Screenshot of vodka.com - bought for $3M

When you decide to put your business on the web, one of the first things you need to think about is the domain name.  You’ll be stuck with it for a (hopefully) long time, so don’t make a hasty decision. The best domain names are meaningful and memorable (or at least easy to remember).  Here’s some advice on how to choose one.   

 

Your domain name is the main part of your website’s address, eg. www.mywebsite.com.au.  It’s often referred to as a URL, although strictly speaking a URL includes the extra pieces like http://.  The piece at the end of the domain name is called a TLD – Top Level Domain – and usually denotes the country. Hence .au is the TLD for Australia. There is also a .asia for the Asia-Pacific region.  .com is considered an “open” TLD, for worldwide use.

 

.com.au vs .com

In Australia you can choose whether to register a .com.au name, or perhaps .com.  Or both.  There are other variants such as .net and .net.au, although these are less common.  .asn.au and  .org.au  are only to be used by non-commercial organisations (eg. political parties or sporting clubs).

 

Be aware of the rules around .com.au domain names – they must closely resemble your registered Australian company or business name or have some obvious tie to your line of business.  There are no such restrictions around .com.  Partly because of this, I think a .com.au domain engenders more trust.  A lot of Australians like to “buy local” which is another reason to show off your .au.  If your business is primarily conducted in Australia, a .com.au domain name would always be my first choice.  If you run an international business, or plan to expand that way, you may prefer to use .com.

 

A good idea is to register both the .com.au and .com variants.  You can arrange to have one “parked” (ie. not hosted) and redirected to the other.  Then if someone types in mywebsite.com they will be automatically taken to mywebsite.com.au.

 

Acquire your Domain Name at the same time as your Business Name

Because a good, easy-to-remember domain name is so important, you should try to secure one at the same time you register a new business name.  This can be tricky, as you need a registered business name before you can acquire a .com.au domain name, so I suggest you plan carefully, then move fast.

 

Plan carefully: When you’re researching your business name, you’ll be checking availability against the ASIC business names register.  At the same time, go and check domain name availability. Or vice-versa.  A good place to start is www.domaincentral.com.au where you can type in a list of several name ideas and select checkboxes for the variants you want.  [Also see the Tips section below for other tools to help you find a unique name.]

 

Depending on your chosen business name, an exact matching domain name might be the best choice.  Haven’t you ever tried just typing a company name and adding .com.au to the end to see if it works?  Lots of people do.

 

Move fast: Once you’ve found the name you like and double-checked its availability as both a business name and domain name, grab them as quickly as possible.  Register for your ABN (or ARBN) and business name (check abr.gov.au or try register-abn.com.au for express service) then register your domain name as soon as you receive the number.

 

What if you’ve been in business for a while and now want a domain name?

If you have a well-established business and can’t get a domain name to match, you have a few options:

  1. Think laterally. Do your customers abbreviate your company name when they refer to you? Or can you find a phrase that matches your line of business rather than your business name?
  2. Poll your customers or friends to see what they would guess your domain name might be.
  3. Maybe you can buy the domain name from its existing registered owner, especially if they don’t have an active website.  Check who owns it via http://www.ausregistry.com.au/whois and contact them to see if they’re willing to sell, although you can expect to pay more than a standard registration fee.

The vodka.com website. Its domain name was bought for $3M
The vodka.com domain name was bought for $3M USD in 2006

Tips for Choosing a Domain Name

There are online tools that can help you devise a good domain name.  One of the most versatile is http://nametumbler.com/  although it doesn’t check for com.au availability.   When choosing the best domain name for your business keep the following in mind:

 

  1. It’s a Branding game.  These days it’s best to get a domain name that includes your brand or company name.  (The domain name used to be considered an important part of SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – but is much less so with recent search engine algorithms, so don’t feel you need to pay a fortune for widgets.com in order to rank highly for “widgets”.)
  2. Not too long, not too short.  Domain names can be up to 67 characters in length, but I wouldn’t recommend you go that far. Your business might be called “We Sell The Best Widgets in Australia”, but wesellthebestwidgetsinaustralia.com.au is too long for time-poor  typists (and subject to spelling errors!). Abbreviating it to WSTBWA.com.au doesn’t mean much and is hard to remember.  Wesellwidgets.com.au or bestwidgets.com.au would be better choices.
  3. Avoid hypenation if possible.  we-sell-widgets.com.au will work, but people have learnt to expect domain names without hypens, so wesellwidgets.com.au is better.
  4. Be careful when stringing words together.  You might write the name as BestWidgetsExchange, but the internet displays the domain name all in lower case so you end up with bestwidgetsexchange.com.au – oops!
  5. Avoid using a name that’s too close to an existing one.  If someone already has wesellwidgets.com, you’d be better off choosing a completely different bestwidgets.com.au over the Australian variant wesellwidgets.com.au, otherwise people might happen upon the overseas .com company and do business there instead.
  6. Don’t hold back your business with a restrictive domain name.  Perhaps you only sell widgets in Melbourne at the moment.  If you used bestwidgetsmelbourne.com.au and then expand to Sydney and other cities, the name can work against you.
  7. Maintain consistency.  Say you’re starting a business and couldn’t acquire your preferred bestwidgets.com.au, but you did get thebestwidgets.com.au.  From that point on, refer to yourself as The Best Widgets.  That’s right, make your business name match your website name (even if your registered business name doesn’t have “The” at the start of it).  Consistency is important as you begin to market your business and get your name – and domain name – out there.

Where to obtain a Domain Name

There are plenty of sites providing domain name registration.  Find a reputable one in Australia by checking the auDA list at http://www.auda.org.au/registrars/accredited-registrars/

 

Domain names generally cost under $50 and you will need to renew your registration every 1-2 years (.au domains are usually 2-yearly).  Fail to renew and your domain name will be inactivated – which means goodbye website!

 

What’s next?

  1. Once you’ve registered your domain name, you’ll need somewhere to host the website.  Many places that offer domain name registration also offer hosting, but you can host your site anywhere, regardless of where you got the domain name.  Before you sign up for hosting, check with your Web Designer who can advise you on what level of hosting facilities you’ll need depending on the requirements of your site.  Some cheap web hosting services have restrictions on what you can do (for example, how many databases you can run), so you might find you can host a WordPress blog, but not have a Photo Gallery as well.
  2.  You can transfer your domain name to the “name servers” associated with your new hosting service.  This is pretty simple and there should be instructions supplied by the site from where you obtained the domain name.
  3. Then it’s time to build your new website.  You’ve got a good domain name so make sure you back it up with a good, professionally-designed site and quality content.  Contact us when you’re ready…

 

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Author: RobynRHD

I’m a small business web design specialist with interests in social media and other online marketing methods. As my blog intro states: “Steering small businesses in the right direction with what I hope is practical, realistic advice and useful tips, amidst the constantly changing noise and hype. I’d like to help you sort out what you really need and how to go about it.”
I’m a proud Aussie, living in Sydney, and an avid fan of Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.