Choosing a strong domain name
I cannot stress enough why the URL is important. For a large part, the Universal Resource Locator, or simply URL, is made up from your domain name. It is one of your first online challenges, finding a good domain.
The URL is displayed at the top of a web page above the address bar and it helps the browser to find where the website is located or stored. This is explained into more detail later.
A URL friendly link structure contains information that can add significantly to the succes of your website. Not only can it lift your rankings in search engines, but it can also set the basis for a better user experience.
It can be frustrating when you found a strong domain name, only to find out it is not available anymore. In this article I will try to help avoid this problem, and give tips on what to do, and what not.
The URL Structure
Before giving you my do’s and don’ts on creating a strong domain name, it is usefull to know the URL structure and how it is organized.
The URL is constructed from different components, each having it’s own function. The three main components are the scheme, domain name and the path. Lets look at each component individually and what their functions are.
I made it easier by creating a graphic that visualizes how the URL is structured. If you work a lot with computers, this should look a bit familiar. The components are each stacked on top of each other, to generate the URL and by doing so, a organized line of data is created that websites use.
The URL starts with a scheme. This is a protocal on how data is sent between your browser and the website you are connecting to. Usually this protocal is HTTP(S), which stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (Secure). With HTTPS the data is encrypted, thus more secure then HTTP and shows a little lock icon just left to it. For SEO, the HTTPS is preferred to get a better ranking.
Yes, you want (need) to have the HTTPS. But how? Nowadays, many hosting companies can provide a free secure socket layer (SSL) certificate. When you get this cerfiticate, your URL will have the secure HTTPS in front of your URL. This is really easy to install and your hosting company should have it. If you don’t see it, then ask them.
The second part is the domain name, which consists of a subdomain, second level domain (SLD), and a top level domian (TLD).
Usually, it starts with www, which as you know, stands for world wide web. A lot of sites don’t use this anymore since the browser will pull this data in automatically.
A URL’s without the www is sometimes also called a “naked URL”. This is often done because it looks a bit better on promotion material and the domain is stripped from all data that is deemed obvious.
The www, can be any word. For instance, shop, account or blog. This part is also called the subdomain to the main domain name. So the www.example.com is a subdomain to example.com. It is a way to organize the file structure of the Domain Name Structure (DNS) which takes on on hirarchy structure. For instance:
Subdomains are created, to organize your website depending on different functions of your website. Like a shop function or a staging function of your website where you test out new functionality before you push it to your live website.
Another function would be a login area where only visitors with a login enter this section of the website. They are also sometimes used for setting up a website in a different language.
Second Level Domain (SLD)
Often, this can be the name of the company/organization, but can also be a slogan.
Top Level Domain (TLD)
After the SLD comes the top level domain (TLD). This is the extension of the website. There are many extensions, with the most popular being the .com, which stands for “commercial”. However, anyone can register a domain name with this extension if the domain is still available, regardless what the website is used for.
gTLD & ccTLD
There are a wide range extension types ranging from countries to industries. Extensions are categorized, with the main being gTLD and ccTLD:
- gTLD, Generic top level domians. gTLD are the most popular top level domains. These include .com, .org, .biz, .net, etc.
- ccTLD, Country code top level domains. These are country related such as .be, .us, co.uk etc.
Just by looking at this extension, you can often see quite a lot of information. Such as its specialization/industry. Goverments often use .gov, education use .edu and webshop often .shop.
Looking at the TLD, you can often you can see where the website is located. For instance, if you are planning to focus your site on a specfic region, it is wise to choose one with that extension, such as .nl or .de or .com.nz, so your website shows up higher in the local search engine results.
Another reason why these are used, is because it eliminated the need for long URL’s that are difficult to remember. Because the desired extention may not be available, one is forced to become “creative” with it’s URL to create one which is still available. This often results in increasing it to beyond user-friendly proportions.
With a specific extention, chances are the domain is still avaible, thus eliminating the need for these long URL’s.
The combination of the SLD and TLD is unique and can only be registered once. Thus chances are, the one you want is taken! This is the most challenging part of good URL: finding a combination of a SLD and TLD that is strong, suits your business ánd is still available.
Also, this must be a brandable combination. The domain name needs to sounds like a brand. Getting the domain name right, increases your website succes, trust me!
In most cases, it is a first come, first serve system. So if you are the first to come up with a domain name, you can get it and everyone behind you has to find something else, or you can sell it to them!
For an SEO point of view the domain extension has a slight impact on SEO, as research from MOZ shows.
The last part of the URL is the path. This path shows the location where the requested file is stored on the server. The server acts just like the computer you have at home. It uses folders to store files in. For example, it you have on your computer C/windows/media/alarm, this means the file “alarm” is stored in the media folder in Windows on the C drive. Therefore, the path acts as a identifier. It works the same with the path in URL’s.
Your domain name acts like the first impression of your website. Often, visitors see the domain name before they see the website itself. It’s all about the first impressions, thus an appealing URL can trigger visitors to your website.
Here are a few things you can do to increase succes:
Keep it short
Keep it as short as possible, make it easy to type and make it pronounceable. This will increase chances of people memorizing your URL. It will also eliminate the chances of people making typing mistakes when they type your URL, which is frustrating.
Last but not least, it will be easier to share the URL on social media. Longer URL’s could sometimes look spammy making visitors resistant from clicking on the page.
In additioin, keep it pronounceable. If you have to spell out the domain to someone over the phone, your lost!
Avoid using numbers
Avoid using numbers as this can become confusing when verbally trying to communicate a URL. It can be unclear if the number is written out as words or numeric.
Also when a domain name you want is already taken, dont try to substitute words with numbers or give the word some other creative twist. This this will more then likely do more harm than good because of the confusion this will create.
Don’t use “slang” such that there can me no misunderstanding how the domain is spelled. For example if you have a dating site name Pick You Up At 8, use: www.pickyouupateight.com and not www.pickyouupat8.com or www.pickuupateight.com. If you do decide to take this route, make sure you forward traffic coming these URL’s to your main URL.
Use your location
Use a location. If your gym is located in Amsterdam, try to get something that looks like “gymamsterdam.com”. This will help search engines determine location, so they can show it to people that are searching locally.
Include keywords that people enter into search engies when looking for your product or service. If you are running in a gym, try to use the word gym into your URL, because obviously the word “gym” is what you want to be found on. For instance www.example.com/keyword. Although search engines put less emphasis on keywords, they still are an important part of your online marketing strategy.
A URL is static information and shouldn’t be changed after the page has been pubished. Older URL’s perform much better, because search engines don’t need to figure out where the content has been placed every time.
Also, when articles are shared across social media platforms, there won’t be any broken links. Keeping the URL static eliminates the possibility of redirects to pages that do not exist (404 pages). For example, when other websites use your URL on their website, changing your URL will result in a link leading to a website that doens’t exist anymore. Keeping the URL the same will prevent this from happening.
Don’t include dates in the URL
Removing the date from the URL stimulates the contents relevancy and if it is recent. Including dates in the URL will automatically date the post and since people will normally prefer recent posts over old ones assuming they contain the best information, they are more likely to ignore the ones that seem old, looking at the URL.
Including the date in the URL of your laptop review page will give this page only a very short lifespan because laptops are out of date very fast and visitors can see before clicking on the page if the content is recent simply by looking at the URL.
Old pages can have high quality information, but will get ignored simply because they seem to be old looking at the URL.
Excluding the date from the URL also eliminates the need to republish a new URL when the post is updated and redirecting the old ones to this new URL when an update is done.
Make it as intuitive as you can
It should be intuitive and right off the bat, a potential visitor should be able to see what the website is about.
You can also try…
There are also websites that can help finding a name for your website. They are very easy to use and can sometimes give some good alternatives for a domain name.
Look at LeanDomianName, and try it. It’s very intiative so it all speaks for itself. When a domain is already taken, they give alternatives that come close to the domain you wanted. You can also come up with new words. This is what Google and Bing did.
As you can see, there is a lot that comes into play when it comes to URL’s. Hopefully after reading this, you can see why URL is important for your website and why you should always try to optimize this data!