When you're launching a startup, the right domain name can help you get your message in front of your market, the media, and potential investors.
There's a lot riding on that one URL.
Your domain name can build your brand and convey the right image, or it can give potential clients and investors pause. That's why, although you may be tempted to start snapping up domain names as soon as you develop your concept, you should optimize your domain name selection and registration process by following a few best practices.
Choose a domain name that represents your startup's brand
In an ideal startup scenario, your domain name is the same as your company or product name, it's available for you to buy and register, and you're done. But you may find that your first-choice domain name is already taken, is too similar to another business, copies existing social media account handles, or doesn't pass the “radio test” described below. If that's the case, you'll need to get creative.
Keep your startup's domain name simple
A well thought out domain name makes it easy for people to find your site, so it needs to be easy to remember, easy to share, and easy to navigate to by typing or by voice command. This means your domain name should also...
People are busy and easily distracted, so don't impose a super-long domain name on them and expect them to remember it. A good guideline is to keep your domain name to three words or less. For example, DogStartup is much easier to recall than YourInnovativeDogStartup. It's also much easier to type into a search bar.
If a domain name you're considering consists of more than one word, make sure they don't look like something else when you remove the spaces for the URL. Your brand and your credibility are on the line, so don't skip this seemingly small step. Get several detail-oriented people to look over your domain name ideas, written as URLs, to check for any faux pas.
Unless your company name includes numerals, leave numbers and character abbreviations out of your domain name, because they create confusion. For example, potential customers may not remember if the URL they saw was DogStartup4U, DogStartup4You, or DogStartupForYou.
Steer clear of hyphens, too. They're a pain to type in, especially on mobile devices. They can also hurt your brand's image by calling to mind old-school spammy sites with domain names like dog-startup-for-you.com that used to rank high in search results but delivered low-quality content.
Pass the 'radio test'
When your domain name is brief and clear, it's much more likely to pass what experts call the radio test: Say it out loud, and someone who hears you should be able to type it into a search bar accurately. Test this with each domain name you're considering, ideally with people who aren't already familiar with your business or your brand name.
Register as many relevant TLDs as possible
Once you've chosen your domain name, it's time to think about your top-level domain. In general, your TLD should be .com, because it inspires more trust in internet users than other TLDs, and part of branding is building trust. On the other hand, if one of the newer TLDs like .beer or .ninja, helps to enhance your brand, consider grabbing it, too. Our hypothetical DogStartup might benefit from .dog, while an agency startup might go with .agency or .media.
After you settle on a top-level domain, round up variations on your domain name with different TLDs and alternative spellings that users might type in. Purchase and register as many of these variants as you can. Then you can redirect them to your primary domain name to save your startup the hassle and expense of dealing with cybersquatters and to capture traffic that might otherwise get lost. For example, HostGators.com redirects to HostGator.com.
At the end of this process, you should have a primary domain name that is either the same as or supports your brand name. It will be short, easy to remember and type in, and free of any accidental word mashups. In case someone misremembers the TLD or misspells your domain name, those URLs will redirect to your site so your customers can find you and squatters can't get a foothold on your digital turf. This combination of domain name clarity and ease of use can help to establish your startup's brand as smart, reliable, and ready for business.
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