The right type of Internet address can set you up for the future. The wrong one can cost you your business down the track.
This article explains how to find and select the right name for your business at the lowest price, lists automatic tools which make the name selection easier and explains how to avoid expensive mistakes when you set out to build an online store with eCommerce software solutions such as ShopFactory.
To place your products and services on the Internet you need space online, so-called hosting space. This is where you store your shop so your customers can access it. But before you decide where to host your site, you should know more about Internet addresses.
After all: not all addresses are created equal — and some can turn into a very expensive mistake down the track.
To be successful into the future you must pick the right address type at the very beginning, so everyone can find your website at all times. With this purpose in mind there is only one address type you should consider.
A "top level domain name".
This is the only web site address which can belong to you exclusively. It is your 'domain' and may even contain your name or describe your service, such as ShopFactory.com. No one else can use it. It is like your own street address.
However unlike a street address or any other Internet address type a top level domain name can move with you. Should you become dissatisfied with your hosting provider or should your hosting provider close doors, you can keep your Internet address and simply move it with your website to a new provider.
A word of warning though: You must purchase the name correctly. Many hosting companies have offers such as "Free Top level domain name" or "Top level domain name only $1.50".
Often these companies register the domain name on your behalf - meaning they own it — you don't. Never take up such an offer without verifying that you are the registered owner and that your email address is listed with the domain name registry for contact purposes.
These days a domain name only costs a few dollars a year — so why risk the future of your business on a deal which is not in your best interest?
As part of establishing your business you will be spending much effort promoting your Internet address. Effort spent in vain, if you have to start over with a new name.
Just imagine you have established a well run online website with shopping cart, you are listed highly in search engine results. All of a sudden your domain name is taken away from you because the company which registered it for you has folded and you can not prove it is yours.
The wrong choice could literally destroy your business in such a case. And all for less than $20 a year.
There are two other address types used by hosting companies to lock you into their services. These are always offered free of charge as they involve no extra cost to the hosting company.
Neither of them are a good option if you are serious about e-commerce. Unlike top level domain names they can never be moved. It is a common dilemma for eBay sellers for example, when they want to grow their business beyond eBay.
If your provider does not offer top level domain names, you should either use a different provider, or use a so-called redirection service.
Many sellers of domain names offer such a service, which simply redirects anyone who goes to your domain name to a website of your choice.
This is not ideal though. It causes a small delay in accessing your website and the original address appears in the browser address field once the customer gets to your site.
This dilutes your marketing efforts and in the worst case may disconcert some people enough to stop them buying from you.
Yet it is still better than promoting a name you can not keep in the long term.
Before you start looking for a domain name, you should be aware of a common misconception. Many people falsely believe the business name makes the business. This is not true.
You make the business.
The business name and your Internet address are just ways to identify your business. If you become really successful, the most weird and wonderful names suddenly become well known — such as "Google".
So don't spend too much time agonizing about your domain name or get sucked into paying too much for it. Even though many domain names have already been taken, there is still an endless supply of new ones.
You can also buy many used domain names at affordable prices, provided you check them as explained below. Otherwise they may simply turn out to be an expensive waste of money.
Your Domain name should reflect your business name or what your business is about if possible, to make it easy to remember.
Avoid words which can easily be misspelled and ignore names with numbers and hyphens. Also stay clear of words that sound the same, but have different spellings such as flower and flour, you and u, for, four and 4, for example (find more homophones here).
What if you have to tell someone the domain name over the phone? Or if you decide to advertise on the radio in the future? Or to use a call center?
This may not be an option now, but if you plan to grow your business, this is the time to take these issues into consideration.
If you only hear a name such as valves-4you.com, you can not write it correctly without clarification.
This can even happen with a short name, if it contains numbers or hyphens.
I should know. One of the first names I registered back in 1996 was 3D3.COM, the company which makes the shopping cart software package ShopFactory.
To this date I am still explaining how to spell 3D3.COM on the phone.
Here is how you can test if you name is OK:
Tell a few friends the name you want to use and ask them to write it down. The more guidance they need to get the spelling right, the worse the name is.
The domain name extension you select should preferably be .com or the extension of your country, such as .co.uk, .de or .nl. If absolutely required you can also select .net and .biz.
If customers do not enter the complete address, browsers may send them directly to the .com address automatically. This makes a very strong case for using only .com addresses.
While this cuts down your choices, it will also mean that people will easily identify your domain name as an Internet address in printed form, even if the written address does not start with http://www.
You will find much advice on the Internet telling you to make sure your domain name contains keywords which define your business.
This is because some search engines also use your domain name when deciding in which order they should return search results. So if a potential customer is searching for "valves" in Google, and you are selling valves, your ranking may come up higher than otherwise.
The operational word however is MAY.
A memorable name is more important than an artificial name designed to contain some keywords which may or may not help you in ranking highly in search engine results.
When it comes to search engine optimization other factors will be far more important (see The Zen of search engine optimization). Pick the name which makes the most sense. If you have a business name, try to use it.
The approach detailed there can also be used to find a keyword for your domain name.
Once you have decided on a name and see if it is available, you will invariably find that it has already been taken.
There are simply too many websites already on the Internet and too many domain name hoarders who simply buy names to sell them to the highest bidder or to make money from advertising.
Let's stick with the example of selling valves.
Valves.com is gone.
Bestvalves.com is gone.
But Yourbestvalves.com is available (at least it was available when this article was written). It costs less than $15 a year and it ticks all the boxes. It isn't too long, contains neither numbers nor hyphens and anyone who can spell should get this right after hearing it once.
So try to remain flexible and keep in mind that you make the business, not your domain name. Then you will find that getting a new domain name isn't all that hard.
Combining your choice with other words is always a good option. Try these options: Boss, Master, King, City, Kingdom, Galaxy, Place, Planet, Spot, Gear, Engine and so on. Or add words such as My, The, Your, for a multi-combination such as in MyValveKindom.com, TheValveBoss.com YourValveGalaxy.
Unlike passwords domain names and email addresses are not affected by the use of upper or lower case letters, as above.
This allows you to make names recognizable, even without the use of hyphens. Your customers will get to your website if they capitalize every single letter, or only some.
Emails will reach you just as well.
Don't be surprised though if everything you come up with is already taken. When you try to think of a name, one or two names usually come up which seem to be the only option.
All of a sudden you start focusing on these options, as if the future of your business depended on them. However others have had exactly the same idea and have already registered all the variations you come up with.
As a result you become despondent. Don't be. Try brainstorming with some friends. You will be surprised how many new options suddenly come up.
If this doesn't work either, have a look at preregistered names at domain name selling sites such as afternic.com, sedo.com or buydomains.com.
This will show you an enormous amount of mostly overpriced names for sale, which may inspire you to think of new variations for your name. Variations which might be available as new domain names and therefore cheaper.
Just search for the keyword or business name you are interested in.
During this research I found Eurovalve.cn available for US$1200. Now that's a bit steep, considering that eurovalve.biz or eurovalves.net were available for $12.50, as was eurovalveking.com when writing this story.
There are some automated online domain name search tools which can also help you generate name variations, once you have decided on the direction you want to take.
At www.domainfellow.com you can search the availability of up to 30 names at a time, which is a great time saver. The site also offers automatically generated name variations, as do www.nameboy.com and www.domainsbot.com.
While most of the names I found were useless, nameboy came up with valvetrio.com, which has a nice ring to it. It does demonstrate an other issue though which you should keep in mind.
Some people — especially if English is not their first language — may pronounce this name as Val-Ve-Trio, making it a cool three syllable word. If you sell valves the risk would be quite small. But what if you picked the cool pronunciation for a site selling fashion products?
Checking your name ideas with friends prior to registering them can help unearth problems such as this one as well.
There are however two factors which may make purchasing a "used" or pre-registered name a good idea.
If you take these factors into account, buying an affordable domain name may be worthwhile for the right name.
This is another buyer beware trap though.
The fact that a name is available for purchase doesn't mean Google knows about it or regularly visits it. It could take just as much time, before Google indexes your site after you have added your content to it.
Before buying a name make sure Google knows about it by googling the domain name you want to purchase. Eurovalve.cn for example was at the time of writing this completely unknown to Google — despite its high asking price.
So don't take an immediate Google listing for granted, just because you purchase an existing name. In this case there would have been no benefit whatsoever.
Especially since there are better ways to get your name listed quickly. Just imaging how much marketing you could have done for the $1200.
The age of the domain name will also not help you in such a case. Older websites usually have many websites linking to them, which is the more likely cause for better results in search engines.
Many names for sale however have no other websites whatsoever linking to them. In other cases the links are from sites which are not relevant to what you are planning to sell, so Google may ignore them anyway.
The result: you will have to put in the same marketing work as for a brand-new name. Except that you have just spent a large part of your budget, which would have been more wisely spent promoting your very own brand new $12.50 top level domain name.
Should you decide that you absolutely have to have a specific name on sale, at the very least do the following:
Also keep in mind that - if your website will have content quite different from the old website - search engines will drop the links, as they no longer match your site content.
Once you have registered or purchased a domain name, you should make sure it gets listed in the main search engines, so your potential customers can find it.
There are several free or low cost methods to cut down the time it takes to get listed to just a few days, according to a number of websites.
Alternatively you can pay to have a story published for you on sites such as PRweb.com.
While you can also directly list your domain name with google.com for example, this is widely regarded as not being very efficient in reducing listing times, unless you use paid options such as at yahoo.com.