Your domain name is your online identity and a vital part of your company's online and offline success so it is not something to be taken lightly.
In this article I would like to explain some of the pitfalls to avoid and give you all some recommended best practices to follow when registering domains.
Choose a Popular Domain Name Extension (Wherever Possible)
There are hundreds of domain name extensions to choose from. This can be confusing to those who are new to the internet and unsure about which domain extension to use.
Many beginners turn to more obscure domain extensions because they cannot find a good domain that uses a .com or .net. In some situations, it makes sense to do this.
For example, if I was unable to register KevinMuldoon.com, it may be better from a branding point of view to register KevinMuldoon.site than it would to register KevinMuldoonBlog.com. You need to be aware, however, that using a less popular domain extension has some downsides. Some internet users view newer domain extensions as unsafe and your website could be less memorable because you adopted an obscure domain extension.
My advice is to us a popular domain extension wherever possible. COM remains the most popular domain extension across most of the world, however you should also consider your region's local domain extension. In the UK, for example, .co.uk is used by many top online websites and online stores instead of .com.
If you cannot find a good domain name with a popular domain extension, use a domain name suggestion tool to see what other options are available to you.
Do Not Register Long Domain Names
Wherever possible, you should avoid registering long domain names that are longer than fifteen characters. Longer domain names are more difficult to remember for visitors. It is much easier to promote a shorter domain name online and offline.
Long domain names are also typically associated with spam websites so a long domain name may indicate to search engines that your website is not trustworthy.
Avoid Using a Single Hyphen if You Can
Never use a hyphen twice in a domain name. Domains such as phones-for-sale.com and phone–shop.com (i.e. phone hyphen hyphen shop dot com) are regularly used by spammers and are extremely difficult for visitors to remember. I would avoid using two hyphens in a domain name at all costs.
Using a single hyphen in a domain can be beneficial if the first word in your domain is the same as the first letter in the second word. This helps separate both words in your domain. Consider a website for a shop called Steve's Shoes. The domain steves-shoes.com is preferable to stevesshoes.com and should generate less mistypes.
Ideally, if you are going to use a hyphen as a separator, you should register the domain with and without the hyphen so that you can redirect visitors from one location to another (i.e. you would purchase stevesshoes.com and steves-shoes.com).
From an SEO point of view, there are disagreements on whether hyphens should be used or not. MOZ recommends against using hyphens altogether and say it can act as a spam indicator. In a discussion on this issue on Quora, the general consensus was that there are no drawbacks to using a hyphen in a domain name, but from a branding point of view it can be damaging.
In my opinion, it is better to avoid using a hyphen in a domain if you can.
A hyphen is beneficial if the letters between two words in the domain are the same as it acts as a separator. However, I would always attempt to register the non-hyphenated version of the domain as well and I would always search for alternative domains that do not use a hyphen before choosing a domain that did contain a hyphen.
Use Numbers Sensibly
There is no agreed upon hard and fast rule on the use of numbers in a domain. Some say it's ok to use them, others advise against using them.
My advice is to use some common sense when you are looking at a suitable domain name as numbers are ok if it is done right.
For example, numbers can be used effectively in short brandable domains. The design marketplace 99Designs is a good example of this.
I would, however, avoid using a number in a domain name simply because no other alternative is available. Therefore, if kevinmuldoon.com was not available, I would not register kevinmuldoon100.com or anything along those lines.
Likewise, I would advise against replacing words with numbers. I have seen a lot of website owners replace the word for with the number 4 and replace the letter E with the number 3. Any domain name that has used numbers in this way looks spammy and unprofessional and it will generate a lot of mistypes (which means you are losing traffic).
Do Your Research
I encourage you to take all of the above recommendations on board when you are searching for a domain name. I also encourage you to take your time to ensure you find the right domain name for your project.
The right domain name is, of course, different for every project.
For example, if you sell invoice templates online, a domain name such as invoicetemplates.com would be perfect. For an entertainment website, a shorter more brandable domain name would be preferable.
Be sure to look at the domains your competition is using so that you do not use a domain name that is too similar. It sometimes pays to be unique and turn right when everyone else is turning left.
Short brandable domains are always great, but they are becoming increasingly difficult to come by so you may be forced to look at alternative domains that are less preferable.
If you are having difficulty finding the right domain, you may want to consider buying a domain that has been registered by someone else. Buying a registered domain is something that many people do not want to do, but when you consider how important a domain is to a company's online and offline identity, it makes you wonder why they aren't willing to spend a little money to get the domain they want.
Searching for a domain name is a time-consuming and frustrating affair that can drive people crazy. It is, however, a necessary evil. I therefore recommend doing as much research on it as possible so that you find the right domain for your project.
It Doesn't Matter What You Use for Test Domains
If you require a domain name for testing purposes or for a private website that is hidden from search engines, the quality of the domain name does not matter.
It does not matter how long the domain is, whether hyphens or numbers are used, and whether the domain is brandable. All it matters is whether it is memorable to those who are using the website.
Choose a Reliable Domain Registrar
There are many domain registrars available online where you can register a domain name.
Many beginners register their first domain with their hosting company, but this is something that I strongly advise against as you need to have full control over your domain name.
It matters where you register your domain names. Choose a registrar that is reliable, easy to use, well supported, and secure.
Whilst it is good to take advantage of discounts on domain names, do not let pricing be the factor that influences your decision on where you register your domain names as security is much more important.
If you are unsure about any aspect of registering a domain, please drop by Rise Forums and create a thread about the issue and we will do our best to help you :)