There are many considerations you’ll need to make in getting your business online, but it all starts with your domain. The right domain will stick in your customers’ minds, and it will immediately connect them with your business. It might be your business name, or it might be something else, but this is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make.

What’s a Domain?

For business owners and entrepreneurs still coming to grips with the online world, it’s important to first understand what a domain name actually is. It’s not complicated. Your domain name is nothing more than the name of your company’s website in a browser. The simplest example is www.YourBusiness.com, but it could be anything at all. There are two components here:

The actual name of your domain (YourBusiness or BobsBurgers)
The extension (.com, .biz, .net, etc.)
Both of these are important to your ultimate success, so let’s take a look at them in greater depth.

Your Domain Name

The name of your domain is what your customers will type into a browser to find your business online (followed by the extension, of course). Therefore, it should meet some specific criteria. Your domain name should be:

Short enough that it can be easily remembered by the average consumer. The shorter your domain name is, the easier it will be for your customers to remember it. Always opt for brevity over length here. The longer your domain name is, the more chance there is that a customer will mistype or forget it.

Identical to or closely related to your business name. For instance, if your business’ name is Anne’s Alterations and Costume Creation, you could opt for AnnesAlterations.com or something similar. If your company’s name is too long to make a good domain name, opt for shorter but related. Hit the high points that will most likely stick in your customers’ memory.

Your domain name should convey your brand effectively. That means it needs to integrate with your other branding efforts easily (the AnnesAlterations.com example above is a good illustration of this). You can use geographic terms to enhance this as well – AtlantaCarRepair.com, for instance.

Avoid hyphens and underscores in your domain name. Dashes, underscores and numbers in your domain name can be problematic. If you tell someone your domain name is Hyper5.com, they might type in HyperFive.com instead (which would obviously take them to the wrong place, unless you buy the other domain and redirect it to your site). The key to remember here is to make your domain name as simple as possible for your customers.

Be prepared for the renewal. This has nothing to do with maximizing the visibility of your name, but everything to do with ensuring that your website is available all the time. You’ll have to renew your domain name every year. Don’t let that renewal catch you by surprise or slip by you. Once it’s expired, your website is inaccessible to your customers, rendering you invisible.

Keywords can be used in your domain name, but be careful. There’s nothing wrong with using a keyword in your domain name, so long as it makes sense and builds on your branding. However, avoid throwing in keywords for no other reason than to improve SEO. There are better ways to increase visibility than by detracting from your domain name’s quality, value and ease of recognition.

A Word on Extensions

Now that we’ve discussed domain names, let’s touch on extensions. An extension is little more than the period and two to three letters that come after your domain name – .com, .net, .biz, .us, and so on. Choose your extension with care, because they’re not all created equal. In fact, most of these were created for a specific purpose, and using the incorrect extension can cause you some real headaches. Here’s a quick look at what you should know about the many different extensions available.

.com – The most popular domain extension, .com is suitable for pretty much any type of website, including small businesses. It’s also the most competitive of all the extensions, and there’s always the chance that your domain name has already been taking with this one (if that’s the case, you can choose a similar alternate, or you can find out who owns the domain and try to purchase it from them). Most businesses should opt for a .com extension because it’s the most familiar to consumers.

.net – This is the second most popular domain extension, and can be used by a variety of different organizations, including small businesses. However, it’s not as widely recognized as .com, so it ranks as your second choice here.

.biz – The .biz extension was created specifically for businesses as an alternative to the very competitive .com option. However, .biz doesn’t carry the same weight with most consumers as .com does. Bear that in mind when choosing your domain name (it comes in third in terms of value for your business).

.org – This extension was created specifically for nonprofits and other non-business organizations. If you’re a small business, don’t use it if you can avoid it.

.us – The .us extension is for websites located within the United States, and can be used by businesses. However, most US consumers are more familiar with .com or .net extensions, and will give greater credence to those domains. In the absence of other viable options, .us can be used, though.

.info – This extension is becoming heavily used by companies that offer in-depth information, but it’s not necessarily the right option for a small business or an entrepreneur.
Why do domain extensions matter? In the end, they matter for one reason only – the reaction of the consumer. Most consumers are less trusting of sites with .info or .us than they are .com or .net. This is largely to do with their level of familiarity with those extensions, but it also has to do with how those domains were used in the past. For example, .info was once heavily used by spammers, and many consumers still associate it with those implications, despite the increasing use by businesses.

Where Do I Get My Domain Name?

Once you’ve decided on a domain name (or, better yet, several potential domain names), you’ll need to buy it. You need to stake your claim, and you need to do it as quickly as possible, even if you won’t be setting up a website in the immediate future.

Why buy it now? Domain names are snapped up very quickly, and if you wait to purchase a name that’s currently available, it might not be available when you’re ready to buy. Do yourself a favor and get your domain as soon as you can.

So, where do you go to get your domain name? There are a couple of options here. You can buy your domain name from a registrar, or you can purchase it though a web hosting company. Understand that these options differ considerably.

All domain names have to go through a registrar, but some registrars offer different services, so you’ll need to compare your options based on several factors, including the following:

Cost – You’ll definitely want to shop around for the right price. The cost of registering your domain name will depend on many factors, including your extension and any extras included with your registration. It will also depend on the registrar in question.

ICANN Accredited – Never, ever work with a registrar that is not ICANN accredited. You’ll find a list of registered companies at the ICANN website. However, if the company isn’t listed, don’t worry just yet. They might be an affiliated reseller for a legitimate registrar. Look for clarification on the reseller’s website.

Take It With You – Double check the registrar’s policy regarding taking the domain name with you if you choose to leave (this applies to registrar/hosts). Many companies offer very low cost or even free domain names as a lure to get you in the door, but then keep the name if you decide to change hosts down the road. Don’t wind up in this situation.

Multiyear Commitments – In the beginning, only register your domain name for a single year. This will give you time to evaluate its performance before making a longer commitment.

What to Do if Your Domain Name Is Taken

Many business owners and entrepreneurs are shocked when they discover that their domain name is already taken, particularly when that domain is their company name. It’s actually rather common, though. You might find that there’s a Bob’s Pizza Shack in New York that’s already snapped up BobsPizzaShack.com, leaving you out in the cold. You have a couple of options here.

First, you can modify your domain name so that it’s close to what you want, but not identical. For instance, if you run a Bob’s Pizza Shack in Boise, and you want that BobsPizzaShack domain name, you could use BobsPizzaShackID.com. That does two things. It lets you capitalize on your company’s name recognition, but it also localizes your domain name, improving performance in local searches and separating you from the pizza shop in New York.

Second, you could conduct a “whois” lookup through your domain registrar or hosting company (most leading web hosts offer whois lookups). This gives you information about who owns the domain name you’re interested in, and allows you to contact them in most instances. You can then offer to purchase the name. However, be prepared for a shock in many instances when it comes to price. Many domain names are purchased for the sole purpose of reselling them at a higher price, effectively holding your domain name hostage against a hefty payout. This may or may not be the right choice.

A third option is to use your preferred domain name, but a different extension. If you wanted to register a .com, you could instead opt for a .net or a .biz extension. The .com extension is certainly the most popular, but don’t discount the other options out there if you’re stuck.

Finally, you can always come up with a different domain name. It doesn’t HAVE to be your business’ name. It can be similar to it – related but slightly different.