Last night my wife came home with a book and started a conversation on a topic which I’d been dreading a little since the time we first found out that we were expecting a baby later in the year. The book was called something along the line of ‘Names for your Baby’.
The thought of giving another human being a name is a task that can be fun but at the same time a little (or a lot) daunting. There are many factors to consider (what could the name be shortened to, who else has that name, what memories does it evoke, is it easy for a child to say, should you name them after someone, etc etc etc) and so many ways to make the decision. What’s more, it’s a task that has some level of responsibility attached to it as a person’s name is something that has an impact upon them for a lifetime.
<sarcasm>Choosing a name (and domain name) for your blog might not be quite as important a decision as naming your firstborn child </sarcasm> but it is something to consider carefully and is therefore something I’d like to flesh out a little in this post.
For the purposes of this post I’m assuming that you are in the process of starting a blog (here’s our 5 step guide to starting a blog) and you have chosen to go with a stand alone blog (see previous post on blog platforms) and will not be relying upon a URL supplied by a blog hosting company AND that your domain name will be the name of your blog (not always the case but usually the case and usually a recommended practice).
Why would you want your own Domain Name?
Having your own domain name is desirable for many bloggers for numerous reasons. For a start if you’re wanting to build credibility and a sense of professionalism around your blog a domain that reflects this can help. Similarly a carefully selected domain name has the ability to enhance the branding of a product, service, business or even person. Domain purchases give the added bonus of email addresses with the same domain (adding to both professionalism and branding) and can enhance your Search Engine Ranking.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Domain Name
Just as there are many factors to consider in choosing the name of a person there are many implications of choosing names for a website. What follows is a list of factors to keep in mind as you make the decision. Keep in mind that there are many theories about what is right and wrong in this area and that despite all the rules that people have there are some very successful sites that ignore them all! Also worth remembering is that personal taste comes into decisions like this – what’s a good name will mean different things to different people. With those disclaimers in mind – let’s take a look at a few areas to consider:
Goals and Objectives – I constantly come back to this point in most of my tips posts on a variety of aspects of blogging – but it’s so important to be thinking of the long term vision that you have for a blog when you’re making decisions like those about domain names.
- What is the topic of the blog? – an obvious starting point – most blog names reflect their topic
- What do you hope to achieve with your blog? – is it about having a hobby, is it about building your profile/expertise, is it about earning an income via ads, is it to support an existing business
- What style will it be? – is it a blog with one or many authors? What length of posts will it have?
- What tone and voice will it be written in? – Will it be conversational, newsy, rant-ish, humorous?
- Who is the intended audience? – Are you wanting to appeal to professionals, young people, cool people, geeks?
You get the picture. Just like naming a business you need to consider overall strategy.
Source of Traffic – I’ve seen many articles on how to choose a domain name written but in very few of them (if any) have I see a discussion on the type of traffic that you will be wanting to build your website/blog around. To me this is a crucial question (that emerges out of your overall strategy) and one that will help you answer some of the important questions that we’ll discuss below. Let me flesh this out a little:
Traffic to a blog generally comes from three main sources:
- Loyal Readers
- Search Engines
- Referral Traffic (from other sites)
I’ve talked a little about each of these types of traffic in this previous post – they each have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages and can be the result of different strategies. One of the many things that can impact the source of your traffic is your domain name. I’ll explain this more below but think it’s worth naming what type of blog and traffic you’re after up front. If you want a blog that is high on SE traffic you might well end up selecting a name that is different to a blog with traffic based upon repeat readers. As I say – I’ll expand on this below.
Keywords and Branding – Many discussions on domain name decisions talk about a choice between choosing a domain name with keywords in them to domain names that are more brandable or generic. It’s worth stating up front that it is possible to achieve both (I guess anything is brandable to some extent) – but that this type of choice often comes into play. In my opinion comes at least partly back to the type of traffic you’re hoping to attract to your blog. Let’s look at each in turn:
- Keyword Based Domains – these domains, as the name suggests, incorporate keywords that your blog is about in them. This is good for a number of reasons. Firstly it communicates something to your readers very quickly with regards to what your blog is about. The other positive is that Search Engines take a good look at the words in your domain name when deciding what your blog is about and how to rank it. As a result if you’re after SE traffic then these types of names can be worth looking at. Examples of blogs with keyword based domains are Cellphone9, the Movie Blog, Sims Gamer and Digital Photography School.
- Brandable Domains – these domains might often have some relation to their topic in terms of their feel or sound but are much more about creating something memorable that can become an identity in and of itself. In terms of traffic strategy – these blogs would be suited ideally to developing a blog that is aiming to build a community of loyal readers. Of course these blogs can also do very well in search engines but this is usually for other reasons (keywords in URLs are just one of many factors). Blogs that have these types of domains include Boing Boing, Gizmodo and Dooce. In fact if you look at Technorati’s Top 100 blogs – you’ll see that most of them have brandable names and not Keyword based ones.
Like I have mentioned above, these two options are no mutually exclusive. One example that comes to mind is Engadget which has become a memorable and well branded name that incorporates ‘gadget’ into it.
There are good arguments for and against both types of domain name which we could talk about for some time and it’s quite common to feel torn when making this type of decision between the two options.
Thinking of the Future – another factor to consider that is related to my first point of goals and objectives is to consider what your blog might look like in the future. I’ve seen a number of bloggers start up blogs with domains that fit with the topic of the blog initially but which outgrow the domain down the track. In one instance the problem was that the blog started on a fairly narrow topic (a sub-niche) and on a domain that reflected this but that in time it expanded it’s topic as the industry changed. In the end the topic and name just didn’t fit.
Another ‘future factor’ to consider is how many blogs you’re thinking of starting on your domain. Take a look at About.com for an example of how it’s possible to have one domain with many blogs running off it. They blog (yes they are blogs – run by MovableType) ‘about’ hundreds of topics and have a domain name that suits this perfectly. I myself have fallen into the trap of not thinking ahead in this way with my livingroom.org.au domain where I currently have a blog on. I guess this is an example of how ultimately it doesn’t matter what domain you start blogs on as it’s a blog that does pretty well – however I often wonder how much better if could have done if I’d just thought ahead a little more!
Lastly on the ‘future front’ – don’t pick a name that you suspect might date quickly. Picking a name that is time specific in any way might find you searching for a new domain when it is no longer relevant at some future time.
Name Length – there are a range of opinions on what the ideal length of a domain name is. Technically you can have one with up to 67 characters in it but it is generally accepted that short ones are better for a number of reasons including that they are easier to remember, that they leave less room for making mistakes when typing them in, they are good for word of mouth (online or offline) marketing, that they are more visually pleasing (eg on your business card) etc.
The other argument is that if you are looking for SE traffic that you might like to consider a longer domain name with a number of the keywords that you’re looking for traffic on.
My personal preference these days is for shorter domains if possible, but not just for the sake of being short. Plus short names are very popular and hard to find these days so you might be forced to consider something a little longer anyway.
Dot What? – Along with the debates over domain name length comes many different opinions over what is the best to have at the end of your domain after the ‘dot’. These letters (ie .com, .net, .org etc) are technically called the Top Level Domain (TLD) and are divided into two types. Firstly there are country code TLD’s and secondly there are ‘generic’ TLDs which signify different types of organizations (in theory at least).
As I say there are a variety of approaches to selecting which TLD to go for:
- Legalities – The first consideration is the legalities of your choice as different countries and generic TLDs have different requirements but the
- SEO – This is where many of the arguements over TLD’s come in. I’m not going to get into it in much depth except to say that most people believe .com to be most powerful and that .net and .org are also good. Also if you are starting a blog with a localized focus it is well worth considering a country code on your TLD as it will help you get indexed in local search engines (I get a lot of traffic on my .au domains from Google Australia). If you’re going for a more global audience try for .com or .net.
- Memorability – One of the frustrations I have with ProBlogger.net is simply that people assume that it can be found at ProBlogger.com. Of course when I came to register this domain I tried to get the .com but it was unavailable so I decided that .net would serve my purposes (which it has). The only cost is that .com is so ‘normal’ that many people make the assumption that yourblog’sname.com will always be your address.
Hyphens? – Another eternal debate with domain names is over the value of hyphenated names. For example a hyphenated version of this blog might be Pro-Blogger.net. There are a two main reasons that some people prefer hyphenated names:
- Availability – one of the main reasons for going with hyphens is that ‘all the good names are taken’ (or at least it can seem this way). Adding hyphens to names definitely gives more options.
- SEO – hyphens are said to identify keywords to search engines more clearly (once again there is some debate over this).
Of course for every positive there is a negative and the arguments against keywords include:
- Memorability – adding hyphens can make it tricky for readers to remember your name
- Difficult to Communicate – have you ever tried to tell someone a domain name with a hyphen between each word? It can be quite an annoying process
- Increased Margin for Error – the more characters in your domain the more chance of a mistaken keystroke
- Cheap and Nasty Factor – there is a perception among many web-masters that domains with lots of keywords and hyphens are spammy. I personally don’t mind a domain with one (maybe two) hyphens in them but domains-that-have-lots-of-them-frustrate-me-and-turn-me-off.
Numbers? – Another option to consider when choosing a domain on a topic that is quite crowded is to include a number at the beginning or end of it. Once again this increases your chances of finding a domain with your keyword in it but could ‘cheapen’ the sound of your domain (a matter of personal opinion of course).
‘Easy’ Names – Most ‘experts’ in this area argue that a domain name should be easy to spell, pronounce, remember and type. Web users are notoriously lazy and if your site is not easy to find then they might just quickly give up trying to find it. As a result the easier you can make your domain to remember and access the more chance you have of traffic to it from repeat readers.
Keeping it Legal – it is highly recommendable to think seriously about the legal implications of the words you use in your domain name. Avoid trademarked names especially. I know of a couple of instances where bloggers were forced into making changes months into new blogs because of legal threats. Whether these laws vary from country to country I’m unsure – but it’s worth considering if you’re picking a domain that might clash in this way.
The ‘Blog’ Word – One temptations for many bloggers is to use the word ‘blog’ in the name and URL of their blog. This has the advantage of opening up new options for domain names but can also have some costs. For starters it could see the possibilities for expanding your site down the track limited. If one day you don’t want to run your site in a blog format you might feel a bit trapped. The other reason is that if you are wanting to use AdSense as an income stream for your blog down the track, it has a problem of serving ads about blogging when the word ‘blog’ appears too prominently on a site. This is ok when your blog is about blogging – but isn’t too conducive to high ad relevancy if you’re writing on a different topic.
Secure Multiple Domains – One piece of advice that many experienced web-masters recommend is making sure that you secure other similar domain names to the one you eventually choose. For example, if you choose a .com domain name it might be worth getting the .net and .org ones if you can, or perhaps even getting plurals or other logical similar ones. This is not essential but might help you protect your niche in some circumstances.
Opinions of Others – Before you buy that domain you’ve been eyeing off – it might be worthwhile running it by one or two other trusted friends (who won’t run off and buy it themselves). It’s amazing how focused you can become on finding the right name and how that can cloud your judgement. It’s also interesting to see how a name might sound to a person of a different culture to your own. Words mean different things in different part of the world and it could help you avoid an embarrassing mistake or just a dorky blog name.
Previously used Domain Names – It’s worth checking to see if a domain has been previously registered. Spammers often buy up domain names and then abandon them later once they’ve used them up. This can leave these domains banned by Google which gets you off to a pretty poor start.
Of course the above points are not hard and fast rules. As I’ve mentioned many times before – some of the worse domain names on sites have ended up being quite successful. I have blogs trapped on domains that were not thought through very well (largely because I didn’t know any better and thats the way things evolved) – some of them do poorly and others do very well.
There’s more to a blog’s success or failure than it’s name or URL – all I’m arguing is that a wise choice in this can better your chances in the long term.
Some tools you might like to use in selecting a domain name include:
Feel free to add your own tips, suggestions and experiences in comments.
Update: For more up to date instruction on registering domains, setting up hosting and setting up WordPress you might also find my free guide to starting a blog a worthwhile read.