The technical aspects of setting up your website begins here, and it can all go so wrong from the very beginning!

Here are a few things you need to understand about your domain name:choosing your domain name

  • It becomes the base URL (web address) of your front page.
  • It is THE most important single criteria in your search engine ranking.
  • Whoever controls your domain account, controls your website.
  • This needs to be in line with your branding.
  • You don’t “buy” a domain name, you sort of “rent” it annually.
  • Most search engines penalize domains registered for just a single year.

Domain Registrar

Who will you register your domain name through?  This matters for more reasons than cost alone (currently $13 – $15/yr for dot com domains).  Some registrars have more restrictive agreements than others.   Some make it almost impossible to renew without unneeded, costly add-ons.  And, some do cost more than others.  Be especially careful of those offering low first-year fees, followed up by much higher subsequent fees.

Like hosting companies, it isn’t unusual for a “good” registrar to change hands and quickly become “not-so-good”!  Therefore, when researching feedback on registrars, set your search options to show only the more recent results.

I’m hesitant to add personal opinions or information that could quickly become outdated here, but I will note that awhile ago, I moved my domains from GoDaddy to Hover.  (And no, I do not receive any remuneration for those links).

Domain Control

It may seem like a great convenience to have your web professional, friend, relative or even spouse take care of fussy details like registering a domain name.  Whoa!  That could lead to catastrophe!

I’ve had many clients call me after their messy break-up with such a web professional, friend, etc.  And since the leverage is with the person who controls the domain account, I wasn’t always able to help them.  In many cases, whoever controls the domain name, controls the business!  Legal issues can take months, if not years to be decided.  By that time, your business could be destroyed.

The registrar account should be in your name only and with your contact info only.  Be sure and keep this information up to date.  Use a 15 character password with upper and lower case, numbers and symbols that you keep securely stored.

It does little good to have a good password on your registrar account if your email password is easy to crack, since anyone could merely take over your email then request a password reset on your registrar account!

Failure to follow this advice may mean that you’ve handed your business over to someone else, it just hasn’t happened yet.

Branding Your Web Domain

We’ll have an article on branding, maybe an entire section.  But for now, consider how your domain name will fit with the image of your business that you want people to have.

If you’re marketing to corporation types, “fuzzy-websites.com” may not be a good fit!  (I just checked and that name IS available!)

Ideally, your domain name will match your branding image perfectly.  In practice, compromises may be called for.

What about having your name or company name as your domain name?  That’s a great idea, and almost a “must do”, if it’s at all possible, even if it means having to use a non-standard, top-level domain.  For instance, you might consider a .biz, .co, .pro, etc. if the .com name is already taken.

Website Name’s SEO Effect

But domains based on the company name often cause SEO issues.  As noted at the top, your domain name is very important to your search rankings.  Not super-critical or vital, but very important.  It isn’t a tool I’d want to give up willingly.

Let’s say your company name and domain name are the same – How can you maximize your search engine ranking chances?

We’ll take two examples:

Larry Beck, Photographer. & Larry Beck, Attorney At Law.  We’ll use larrybeckcom as the current domain.  Here’s some choices I might recommend:

  • becklaw.com
  • beck-law.com
  • beck-photo.com
  • beckphoto.com
  • beckphoto.pro

While the “beck” part represents the name, it does little for SEO, since nobody is going to search for “beck law” unless they’ve already decided that’s who they want to deal with.  If I’m in Kalamazoo, chances are I search for:

  • kalamazoo lawyers
  • kalamazoo attorneys
  • kalamazoo legal advice
  • kalamazoo photographers
  • kalamazoo photography

The closer your domain name lines up with one of your top search key phrases, the better the chances of getting a boost from the domain name.

  • kalamazoo-law.com
  • kalamazoo-legal.com
  • kalamazoo-photo.com

(My apologizes to lawyers and photographers named “Beck” or who live in Kalamazoo, for using their domain names as examples.)

Due to branding and owner pride issues, it’s understandable that most small business owners will want to keep the company name as the domain name.  But that SEO boost is tempting!  What to do?

Get a 2nd or 3rd domain name and a website for each.  Optimize each website for a unique set of related keyword phrases and have each site link to a “landing page” on your company website that is geared toward people interested in those keyword phrases.

Registration Length

When you get to our “Hosting” article, you’ll find I’m generally not a fan of paying in advance for services that could go bad and aren’t refundable.  But it’s different with domain names.  You can always transfer a domain name to another registrar without losing what you’ve paid.  (At least that’s been my experience with a half-dozen different registrars)

Search engines will penalize you if you only register your domain name for one year.  Two years is what I generally recommend for new businesses and for stable businesses that will definitely be around longer, register for longer periods.

Domain Name Summary

So now you’ve become the sole owner and sole manager of your domain name or names; you’ve ensured that these domains line up with your branding and they enhance your SEO efforts.

We need to look at where to host your new domain, but first we have to look at how we’re going to build your website, since that could dictate or at least constrain our hosting choices.

Stay tuned!