You’ve probably heard the cliché “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. But businesses and branding can get a little more complicated than that. Not all names are created equal, and when it comes to websites… yikes. Where do we start?
The answer is the domain. In this post we’ll be going over the different parts of a domain name:
- The anatomy and what they can mean for your website,
- How to choose the right one
- Why it’s sometimes a good idea to have multiple domain names.
The Anatomy Of A Domain Name
First, let’s take a look at what a website name — its domain name — is made of. Most domain names look something like this:
You can see that the periods in the domain name divide it into three parts, which get ranked in backwards order. The top-level domain comes last, the second-level domain comes before the top-level domain, and the third-level domain comes before the second-level domain, as shown above.
Top-Level Domain (TLD)
The top-level domain is the last part of any domain name, and is usually the most recognizable. There are a set number of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to choose from, which include: .com, .info, .net, .edu, .org, and country codes (.ca, .uk, .fr, .jp, and so on).
Some gTLDs have specific requirements that you have to meet in order to use them, and others affect how search engines interpret the domain. For example, Google will automatically give a website with a .ca TLD priority in searches made in Canada, but will demote it in searches made in the United States (under certain circumstances). Websites with .edu domains must be United States-affiliated institutions of higher education, and will rank well in searches for American universities.
It used to be that generic Top Level Domains were the only ones you could choose from. In 2000, the TLDs .aero, .biz, .coop, .museum, .name, and .pro were added. In 2011, the TLD .xxx was introduced for websites with adult content.
As of 2013, ICANN has been allowing the registration and launch of a much wider range of top-level domains. These can be owned by anyone who pays the fee and has their TLD proposal approved. Those companies can then in turn reserve the TLD for their own use, or sell second-level domains on it for webmasters to use. As a result you can now have websites that end in .bike, .clothing, .guru, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles, and much more. (Branded TLDs are also being registered by their respective companies, such as .apple, .samsung, etc.)
Which TLD Should I Choose?
When deciding on a TLD for your website, there are three things to consider:
- Where your visitors are located
- What they’re looking for
- How new your website is
.com, .net, .org, and (some of) the TLD country codes are the most commonly used gTLDs, and the ones people are the most used to seeing. They have an advantage because they’re easiest for people to remember, and in the case of country codes, are more likely to show your website in search results for a particular location.
If your company is a small family run pizza shop in the heart of downtown Victoria, odds are that you aren’t going to be mailing shipments to the United States, and the customers you want are going to be in Canada when they search for you. In that instance, choosing a .ca TLD will promote your website to those customers in search engine results (particularly over results for, say, pizza shops in Seattle). If on the other hand, you serve a wide variety of customers around the world, a .com TLD will allow you to reach them more equally. Keep in mind that because .com is such a popular (and open) TLD, you’ll also face much more competition for site rankings and second-level domains.
It is important to note that in 2012, Matt Cutts of Google confirmed that the new TLDs don’t currently get any search rank preference over .com and other gTLDs, and aren’t likely to in the future. All new TLDs are treated as gTLDs even if they sound region-specific (eg. website.berlin), though that may change in the future; for now you would have to manually set geotargeting. New TLDs have no history because you’re starting fresh, which can be a good thing, as long as you get a site up immediately and promote it properly within the first few months. If you have an existing site that ranks decently and acquires a new keyword-rich gTLD, it can be beneficial to move the site to the new gTLD so long as best SEO practices are followed (301 redirects, links updated to new URL, promoting new domain properly etc.)
Second-Level Domain (SLD)
The second-level domain comes before the top-level domain, and it’s the part of the domain that you (usually) get to be creative with.
A second-level domain can be anything you want, so long as it follows these rules:
- It only consists of standard Latin letters, numbers, and/or hyphens.
- It doesn’t match any second-level domains that already exist on the chosen top-level domain.
- It’s allowed as a valid second-level domain by the owner of the chosen top-level domain.
A very generic, competitive keyword domain name, such as chocolate.com, will still be very difficult to rank for. In other words, not everyone searching for “chocolate” will see your website as the #1 result. It takes lots of work for any website to reach the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for competitive, highly searched for keyword phrases. Sites with quality content, organized in a quality fashion, with quality branding, gain the highest rankings because they are quality sites.
How To Choose An SLD
- Your domain name should be catchy, simple, and easy to remember. Remember that people will need to type in your domain name. You should therefore consider potential misspellings and keep it short to avoid typos or mistakes.
- You want your domain name to make sense and to reflect what it is that you do. Since you haven’t had the money or time to make people understand what yabaloo.com means, you will need to create a name that makes sense right off the bat without spending money on branding. An example would be bluewidgets.com – your customer automatically expects to find blue widgets.
- Avoid hyphens if possible. Both hyphens and numbers make it hard to give your domain name verbally and falls down on being easy to remember or type.
- Don’t use un-memorable words or sounds. You don’t want to be the company with the terrific website that no one can ever remember to tell their friends about because they can’t remember the domain name.
- Short names are easy to type and easy to remember. They also allow for more characters in the URL in the SERPs. It is also a better fit on business cards and other offline media networking tools.
A unique moniker is a great way to build additional value for your domain name. A “brand” is more than just a combination of words, which is why names like mortgageforyourhome.com or shoesandboots.com aren’t as compelling as branded names like bankrate.com or lendingtree.com.
It should also be noted that capitalization in a domain name is not strictly relevant. That is, bankrate.com and BankRate.com are the same website. If your domain name is wesellshoesandbootsforyourfeet.com, that is difficult to read, especially if it’s in an advertisement on a bus or newspaper. What can be done to make it a bit more legible and easier on the eyes, is print it as WeSellShoesAndBootsForYourFeet.com. Still long, but at least it is more readable.
Subdomains are also known as third-level domains… and fourth-level domains, fifth-level domains, and so on. The most common subdomain is www (for “World Wide Web”), which used to be a common hostname that web developers would use for a server meant to present a website to the public. The www subdomain is not necessary and many websites don’t use it at all.
Subdomains can be managed separately, which can be a joy (you can use DNS – Domain Name Server – to decouple a subdomain if you want to migrate that part of your site) or a pain (it may be more of a hassle to juggle DNS setting instead of just using file commands to make or move directories). To be clear, in a URL such as subdomain.example.com/subdirectory the subdomain is “subdomain” and the subdirectory is “subdirectory” (also sometimes called a folder).
Should I Use A Subdomain?
- While www is the commonly accepted standard, it isn’t necessary
- Whatever you pick, stick with it and be consistent across the website
- Subdomains get separate SEO ranking from each other and are handled separately in Google Analytics statistics; blog.radarhill.com and www.radarhill.com will be treated as separate websites
- It can be helpful for subsites such as dedicated FAQs, portals, blogs, etc.
Should I Have More Than One Domain?
Yes – if you have a company that might grow to an international audience. For example, if you are a Canadian company with the website maple.ca and you are expanding to the United States, you will want a .com domain. Likewise, if you are an American company with the website sugarsyrup.com and want to expand to Canada, you should get the .ca version of that domain. It doesn’t necessarily mean getting an entirely new website, rather that when you type in sugarsyrup.ca, you will be brought to sugarsyrup.com – but Google will reward your Canadian domain and Canadians are more likely to trust a .ca domain.
Yes – if your domain is something that could be easily misspelt or misremembered. For example, Flickr.com needs to also have flicker.com. If a teenager tells their parents to go to flickr.com to see a photo, what domain name are they more likely to type – Flickr.com or Flicker.com? Flicker.com simply redirects automatically to Flickr.com. Similarly, Facebook owns facebok.com, for those accidental misspellings of the ubiquitous website. Typing in Facebok.com will bring you straight to Facebook.com. Even if you’re not a massive corporation, you could be confusing people or losing customers if they can’t easily find you.
Yes – if you want to block out potential competition/domain squatters. For example, if you have the domain CakesByJane.com and are successfully selling cakes and want to expand eventually to selling cookies as well, you could buy the domain name CookiesByJane.com in anticipation of the future expansion. Otherwise, if someone else has the name registered then you won’t be able to use the name, and if they are willing to sell it they can charge a lot because they know you really want the name. In 2007 Yahoo, who owns Flickr.com, offered the owner of Flicker.com $600,000 to buy the domain, but that offer was then refused. In 2010 when Yahoo finally acquired Flicker.com, they probably paid a lot more than that, but they needed Flicker.com as so many people were accidentally going there.
Getting a New Domain
Your domain name is important. It allows people to have an idea of what your business is about before entering your website. It should be memorable and easy to type. Just because you type a domain name into Google, does not necessarily mean that it will be at the top of the search results. If people are simply going to Google and typing your domain name without the TLD (.com, .ca etc.) any number of competitors results could show up first. Give prospective clients a nice easy domain to remember so they can go there directly.
If this article has illuminated you on the importance of a domain name and you would like to get a new one, don’t hesitate to contact us. Let us know what you want and we would be happy to take care of it for you.