What’s In A Domain Name?

4th July, 2018 by

Registering a website address is a simple process and one which can be completed in a matter of minutes. And yet, choosing which address you want soon becomes a stressful undertaking, particularly if there isn’t a specific brand or business to peg it to. Clearly, a company called Belfast Bagels would look for belfastbagels.co.uk. Or should it? Would it be better to choose .ie, to target Irish consumers? Or maybe .com, for international audiences?

Choosing a subdomain

Your choice of top level domain is important even if you have a specific domain name in mind. Yet, the significance of the letters after a website address’s final punctuation mark is often overlooked, in part due to a historical precedent. In the 1980s, when the internet was in its formative years and the World Wide Web hadn’t yet been invented, .com was the only top level domain available. Which is why, in 1985, the first website address ever registered was symbolics.com – charmingly, this URL is now used to display other .com sites as they’re launched in real time.

Ten years after Symbolics launched their website, pressure on the .com top level domain had become unsustainable. A non-profit organisation called ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) was launched in 1998 to regulate the purchase and release of new domain names. One of its first actions was to propose hundreds of new generic top level domains (or gTLDs). Today there are over a thousand gTLDs; some of these describe an industry, such as .supply and .plumbing. There are country code TLDs (known as ccTLDs) to indicate a country of origin, or identify a location within a nation. The .scot and .london ccTLDs are classic examples of this. There are comedy suffixes like .wtf and .sucks, as well as serious ones such as .science and .memorial.

These factors have significantly affected the process of registering a new website domain:

#1. There is a wealth of choice out there, and over a thousand generic or country code TLDs are currently in existence.

#2. By using a niche TLD, even common words like Astra can be registered without needing to add numbers or an industry specifier (Astracarhire) to the domain name.

#3. The diversity of TLDs is reflected in affordable pricing. While .com sites command a premium, supply has weakened prices for more unusual or niche domains.

#4. You can use a TLD to spell a name. The www.belfastbage.ls domain uses Lesotho’s ccTLD. Shorter domain names are easier to remember and less likely to be mistyped.

In fairness, each of the points above could also be viewed as a negative:

#1. The sheer choice of gTLDs on the market might seem overwhelming. In recognition of this issue, UK2.NET only markets the most successful and popular domain names, leaving fringe choices such as .wow and .bot to our competitors.

#2. With 46% of the world’s websites ending in .com, consumers are often wary of (or confused by) unusual domains. If a competitor has reserved the .com TLD equivalent of your business name, your customers could easily end up visiting their site by mistake.

#3. If you want to follow convention and register a .com address, you may end up paying a premium. Nonetheless, UK2.NET is currently offering .com domains for just £6.99 a year plus VAT.

#4. Search engines like Google and Bing downgrade overseas domain names in domestic searches, which is why you rarely see European or Asian sites in search results. Using a foreign ccTLD to spell out a name or brand could harm SEO here in the UK.

After selecting your preferred TLD, there’s still plenty to think about. For instance, the .uk ccTLD indicates domestic origins, and prefixing it with a second level domain like .co is a popular option. Many British firms have web addresses ending in co.uk, identifying them as a domestic company. However, in June 2019, anyone will be able to purchase a .uk address, even if another firm already has a co.uk site by the same name. Despite an inevitable degree of short-term confusion, this is intended to reduce the use of second level domains. India has gradually transitioned from co.in to the shorter .in. And until next June, anyone owning a co.uk address is exclusively permitted to register the .uk TLD as well.

Your domain name could influence the choice of domain suffix, too. Because web addresses comprise a string of lower case characters and punctuation symbols without spaces, it’s often hard to read them. And while www.uk2.net is nice and clear, www.londonnighttrains.tickets will be hard for many people to read. Try to avoid the final letter of the domain being the first letter of the domain suffix, and stay away from any TLDs with the same letter appearing twice, which often occurs in ccTLDs.

If the above has left you confused, here are UK2.NET’s tips for choosing the perfect domain name – and the right TLD to accompany it:

  1. Research the market. What are competitor firms doing, and how do they perform in search results? Analytics packages such as Moz and Google Analytics are ideal for evaluating rival sites and their traffic volumes.
  2. Keystroke order makes some domains hard to enter correctly. Try typing your preferred domain into a web browser or word processing document a few times. If you find it hard to read (or keep mistyping it), your customers probably will, too.
  3. Consider verbal simplicity. Expand on the last point by saying your preferred name to friends, and reciting it down the phone to relatives. Is it easy for them to understand? Do they struggle to distinguish certain character combinations?
  4. Try to condense a website address into the smallest number of characters. Lengthier words might benefit from being abbreviated to a letter, and you don’t need every part of a long brand name included in the homepage’s URL.
  5. Consider registering any additional domains that your customers might end up on. Many British businesses have registered the .com versions of their co.uk websites, with a redirect to the latter awaiting anyone who visits the former by mistake.
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