How to choose a domain name

Whatever you plan to do with your corner of the internet, choosing the right domain name from the outset is one of the most important steps to getting online.

Whether you are setting up a new business website, an email address or starting a personal project, your domain name is a big part of your brand and you will build your online identity around it. With a new .UK domain name being registered every five seconds, demand is high. The sooner you register your domain, the more chance you stand of getting your first choice.

Tip 1 - Make sure your domain name reflects what you do.

Your website or email address is all about making a great first impression, and that starts with your domain name. Your domain name needs to ‘do what it says on the tin’, as the saying goes, and it needs to be unique to you.

For example, if your website is going to act as your personal CV or portfolio, your own name would be an appropriate domain name, because the website is all about you. If you are starting a blog, your domain could be themed around what you are blogging about – lifeinlondon.uk, for example.

If you are choosing a domain for your business, it is important to ensure it closely matches your business name. This is because people will often guess a domain name based on the name of your business.

Not only that, but having different domain and business names could be confusing. I In a list of search results and in emails, it may not be obvious which business is yours if your domain name does not match your business name.

A notable example of a business that does not match its brand name to its domain is B&Q, which uses DIY.com to reflect its position as the go-to place for DIY supplies. Importantly, however, they have also secured bandq.com and bandq.co.uk, which both redirect to DIY.com, so if anyone guesses the domain name, they will still reach the right place.

Tip 2 - Make it memorable.

When you are choosing your new domain name, it is worth bearing in mind that search engines like Google are not the only way for people to find your website.

You might mention your website to someone so that they can look it up later, for example, and it might be printed on your business cards or leaflets. Either way, they will have to type the website address into their browser for themselves, and they might also want to tell their friends about it.

That means your domain name needs to be easy to remember, easy to say and easy to type. In other words, the shorter and simpler, the better.

To keep your domain name simple, it is best to avoid:

  • Numbers – these cause confusion because, when spoken, it is not clear whether a number should be written or in numerical form.
  • Long words, or words that are difficult to spell.
  • More than two or three words
  • Hyphens

The exception to the rule on hyphens is that if you have your heart set on a particular domain name but it is not available, you might find that a hyphenated version is available.

For example, sweetshop.co.uk might be taken, but sweet-shop.co.uk might be available. However, “sweet hyphen shop dot co dot uk” is more cumbersome to say than the non-hyphen version, so try to avoid them if you can.

Tip 3 - Use an appropriate domain name extension.

The domain name itself is not your only consideration when you are choosing a domain; you will also need to decide what extension to use.

The bit that comes after the full stop in your domain name is called a ‘Top-Level Domain’, and there is a seemingly bewildering array to choose from. The domain you choose may have an impact on how your website is perceived. For example,. org.uk looks trustworthy because it is used by official charities and non-profit organisations, while .biz or .net come across as less professional and can be associated with low-quality spam sites.

If you are a UK-based business with UK customers, it is best to choose a domain ending in .uk, as this is a trustworthy domain that shows visitors where you are from. Google UK also gives more prominence to UK domains, so your website could potentially rank higher than a similar one with a .com domain, resulting in more traffic to your website and therefore potentially more business.

If you’re in Wales, another option is a .wales or .cymru domain, which shows you’re Welsh and proud.

You have four options for .uk domains. The traditional one is .co.uk, which has the authority of being a firmly established Top-Level Domain. For charities and non-profits, .org.uk fits the bill perfectly.

More recently, the shorter .uk has provided a snappier, more up-to-date alternative to .co.uk, while .me.uk is ideal for building your own personal brand online, such as through a blog or portfolio site.

Tip 4 - Get hold of the variants.

As well as purchasing your chosen domain, try to buy variants of it.

If you have the .co.uk version, for example, get the .uk and .org.uk versions as well. This protects your domain name and stops others from capitalising on your success. For instance, it means that nobody else will be able to set up a competing website on a similar domain, attracting customers who may have been looking for your business.

You could also buy possible misspellings or typos of your domain name. For instance, if your domain was mischief.uk, you might want to acquire mischeif.uk as well.

To make the most of your purchases, make sure all your domain name variations are permanently redirected to your main domain so that anyone who tries to visit them ends up on your actual website. This can be done through your domain registrar.

Tip 5 - Watch out for copyright & trademark infringements.

You must do your homework beforehand to ensure you are not stepping on someone else’s toes.

This goes beyond avoiding names that are already out there. If your name is “similar enough” to confuse the average consumer, you could be on the hook. The legal penalties are sometimes harsh, so you want to avoid being sued!

Entrepreneur, Legal Zoom, and Nolo have resources on avoiding trademark infringement. You can also check out Domain Name Rights to learn more about what is important in this respect.

Be ready to go through several ideas. Since you do not want to end up in court, you should prepare for several rounds of brainstorming. It is entirely possible that you will dream up a great idea just to find that it has already been taken. Do not despair, keep going until you think up a better name!