Search engines play an increasingly crucial role in modern life. We rely on them to answer questions, find products or service providers and tell us what to do. The brief entries on search results pages are a window into a wider world, even though they typically comprise a website address and title above a 300-character summary of the contents.
Lots in a name
A website address conveys the site’s personality and stature in microcosm. As our eyes skim over the first ten results on page one of a Google or Bing search (where 95% of searches end), a website domain is one of only three ways to gauge that site’s professionalism and expertise. As such, choosing the right domain represents a major challenge.
Any website domain can be divided into two parts – the domain name, and the top level domain following it. We consider these in turn below:
The domain name
A website domain has to perform a tricky series of balancing acts. It should carry some reference to either an industry or a geographic region, yet it also needs to be easy to pronounce and spell. It has to be as short as possible for greater recall (and easier typing into a browser bar), even though many of the shorter domain names are already in use. It needs to convey a sense of professionalism and quality, without descending into cliché. And it must be distinct from rival domains while outperforming them in search results.
Clearly, choosing a website domain is a hugely challenging process with a number of competing considerations. However, some factors should always be avoided:
- Consecutive letters, potentially making it difficult to read the name.
- A combination of letters that might spell an inappropriate word or phrase.
- A title that could be construed as juvenile or unprofessional.
- A name bearing similarities to other well-known brands or businesses.
The top level domain
Known as a TLD, the top level domain is the final part of a website address. Although there are over a thousand different TLDs on the market, they all fall into one of two categories:
- Country code TLDs, which distinguish a website as being based in a particular nation. Our own TLD is .uk, usually (though not always) preceded by a second level domain like co. or ac. (for companies and academic institutions respectively).
- Generic TLDs. Originally, there were only seven of these, but today, you can choose between a thousand gTLDs, from the industry-specific (.store) to the frankly bizarre (.wtf). New gTLDs are being launched all the time by industry regulator ICANN.
As the first gTLD used to register websites, and the abbreviation for a company, .com has always been the most popular top level domain. Unfortunately, Americans treat it as their country code TLD – most stateside companies have chosen .com websites instead of .us. It may prove difficult to obtain a .com site for a new enterprise as a result of this demand.
The co.uk ccTLD represents a popular alternative, though you’ll need to buy the .uk domain before next June. Until then, .uk domains are exclusively available to people with matching co.uk domains. After June 2019, a rival company could launch a site at .uk and steal custom from your unrelated co.uk enterprise.
Finally, choose top level domains carefully. Consumers are naturally wary about visiting sites located at strange addresses, so an .ooo or .ninja suffix might deter potential visitors. Although search engines don’t discriminate against niche TLDs, they will downgrade overseas ccTLDs in domestic results. Spelling out a word or phrase with a ccTLD at the end (like bumbleb.ee) will damage your ranking in Google and Bing searches in this country.