As a hobby domainer, I thought I might highlight some of the key considerations that one should take into account when choosing a domain. The objective of this article is to hopefully help you make a better decision when you buy your domain and give you some insight into why some domains are worth so much more than others. Here are the six factors that affect the value of a domain:
Length – Shorter is better. A short domain is easier to remember and type. And in the case of really short domains(3-4 letters), they are also more flexible through their uses as acronyms. Because of the many uses, there is actually a rather liquid reseller market for short domains. For example, at the time of writing this article, any three letter .com can fetch you at least 4 thousand dollars, even if it’s XJQ.com.
Pronounceable -A pronounceable domain is more brandable and also easier to remember. In addition, having a domain that’s pronounceable can simplify communication with customers when referring them to your website. This is especially true if you are using an acronym, because a pronounceable domain eliminates the need to spell out the individual letters for people to understand. For example, JESK.com(pronounceable) will be significantly more valuable on the reseller market than SJKE.com(non-pronounceble); even though both domains are composed of the same letters and has no relevant keywords within the domain.
Keywords -Search engines love relevant keywords. When a search engine evaluates the relevance of a search phrase to a website, it not only looks at the keywords found on the website’s browser title, article header, and content, but also words found in the URL. Hence, having keywords in your domain that’s relevant to your business will help your website rank higher on search phrases that you care about. The impact of domain keywords on SEO can be quite significant. This is shouldn’t come as a huge surprise when we consider the fact that your domain will appear on every webpage and is not something that is changed very often. For this reason,a search engine will interpret a keyword found in the domain to likely be very relevant to the content on the website.
Characters – Stick with letters. Stay away from dashes or mixture of letters and number, unless you’re using it to represent a well-known acronym like 3D (three dimension). Even if you think it’s cool and brandable to spell “Great” as “Gr8” or “Zero” as Zer0″, refrain from doing so. It doesn’t only make it harder to type but can create a lot of confusion and inconvenient in an offline setting. Imagine telling your customers and associates that your website is GreatCakes.com and then having to specify that Great is spelt with an 8 and that there’s a dash in between the two words. While this is a slightly exaggerated example, but it shows how unusually characters can add confusion and inconvenience to the communication process. It is for this reason that a premium keyword domain can easily lose 10 times it’s value in the reseller market for simply having a dash in between words.
Meaning/Imagery – Imagery builds personality. Does your domain have any implied meaning like facebook.com or does it give off a certain imagery? This is important because your audience will make assumptions about what you your business is about and the personality of your brand by the sound of the name. Consider social tech giants such as Google, Twitter, Zynga, Ning, Yammers and Yelp; and ask yourself what type of impression or ring do these names give you. Is it bubbly? Outgoing? Fun? Up-to-date? Social? They’re all unique non-keyword names, but if you were to ask me, they all share that same ring that give them a fun and easy going vibe.
Extension – When it comes to extension, .com is king, with .net being a far second. The .com Generic top-level domains (gTLD) has become so commonly associated with the web that the 1990s tech boom is commonly referred to as the dot com bubble. It’s become the default setting in consumers’ mind. In fact for less tech savvy folks, they might not even know that other extensions exist. As a matter of fact, up until a few years ago, my father would still type in a keyword.com into the browser as a starting point when looking for information. This is what domainers call type-in traffic, which pretty much only exist for the .com extension.
With this said, there are situations that make using other extensions very appropriate. gTLDs are sometimes associated with a certain type of website and can therefore give your audience an immediate impression of what the website is about. Take for instance the extension .org which is commonly associated with non-profit organizations. A website that’s using a .org extension we’re all probably familiar with is, www.Wikipedia.org, a non-profit organization that provides free web-based content. While using alternative gTLDs can make a lot of sense when used appropriately; misusing extensions can seem unprofessional and says to your audience that you’re a low budget operation that couldn’t afford the .com extension.
Additionally, you may also want to consider using a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) if your business operates locally in a country where the use of ccLTD is prevalent. A few ccTLDs that have widely caught on are .de (Germany), .co.uk (United Kingdom) and .ca (Canada). Since many ccTLDs have restrictions that only allow residents to register them, it lets visitors know with increased certainty which region your business operates. Furthermore, with the move towards web 3.0, search engines now use ccTLDs to better personalize searches for users; this means that using a ccTLD domain such as .ca will give your website higher relevance when a Canadian is doing a search. It is for this reason and the saturation of .coms that I believe the market for popular ccTLDs will be an area of growth within the domain market in the near future.
Note: Some less popular ccTLD are treated as gTLD by search engines because majority of websites that used them are not relevant to that region. The list of domains that are treated as gTLD by Google can be found here.
While it might not possible to find a domain with all these characteristics, it is up to you to evaluate your options and find the right balance of tradeoffs to make. Once you have compile a list of your options, you may quickly realize you are faced with some tough decisions. Should you get a domain with relevant keywords or a shorter more brandable domain that has no relevant keywords? Do you want to go with a ccTLD because you operate primarily locally? Or does it make sense to dish out a few thousand dollars to get the perfect domain when there are other available alternatives that are almost just as good. Your decision will ultimately be based on the type of website you want to build, your goals, and your budget. Nevertheless researching all your alternatives and evaluating the characteristics that each of them possess is certainly something I would recommend. After all, it is a decision that will impact the branding and marketing strategy of your website from the very beginning to far into the future.