Registering a domain is the most fundamental aspect of attempting to do business online. Your domain is your primary address online and serves several important functions. Despite this, many people register domains casually. If they’re not careful, there are a number of pitfalls they can run into. This article will take a look at some things you need to avoid when registering domains and will offer tips to help you make a good decision.
Not All TLDs Are Created Equal
1) TLDs matter. Put simply, the best domain extensions to buy are generally .com, .net, and .org, unless you’re looking to market to a specific locale. If you are operating in a certain geographic area you can target visitors better using a country specific TLD. That said, in general you will still want to register a .COM domain when possible. Finding a .COM, .NET, or .ORG extension is getting tougher than ever, so you’ll have to consider that carefully when you choose your domain name.
If you do decide to delve deeper into a more exotic domain extension like .ME or .CC, do your research. Even some of the ‘catchy’ TLDs are actually country-specific so this could cause a problem. If you’re targeting business customers, they will likely expect to see a .NET or .COM.
Exact Match Domains Are A Faustian Bargain
2) Keywords in your domain limit your potential. Around the internet, the idea of using Exact Match Domains (EMD) has proliferated. On many low-competition searches online you will often see a domain name with the exact keywords in the URL finish high in the results. Over the years, everyone has noticed this effect, leading to tons of keyword specific domain registrations. As a matter of fact, for most popular keywords, you can no longer register a single .TLD! That shows you how popular TLDs are to register, but how relatively unpopular they remain in the SERPs. Otherwise we’d all see 10 EMDs every time we search. As Google Panda has rolled out, it’s clear that it’s now much better having a brandable or unique domain name rather than keywords. Google is placing a high degree of emphasis on branding, so starting with the domain name is a good choice.
The downside to ranking for EMDs is worth pointing out as well. Although it may make it easier to rank for the ‘primary keyword phrase‘ which you placed in the domain name, it now could get harder to rank for other keywords! If you want to expand the content on your website, you’ll be constrained with your domain name choice. A branded domain name does not have this problem.
You Can’t Use Other People’s Brands!
3) Trademarked names are not allowed. Let’s make this simple: you can’t use other people’s copyrighted or trademarked material, without special permission. If you don’t have the permission from ‘Apple‘ to sell Apple products and use their trademark, you can’t put the word in your domain name. That’s true of all popular brands. Despite this obvious fact, you will see domains like this and they often rank. So what? When the site owners get a cease and desist letter from the trademark holder, down their entire web presence will come. This could negate weeks, months, or even years of hard work. You never want to suffer this type of setback on your primary business website.
Even worse for the sap who registered the domain: He’ll likely have to pay a hidden, ‘clean up fee‘ from the domain registrar who sold him the domain name in the first place. These fees can run $197 or more, even on a ‘cheap domain.’ Registers are happy to take your money and let you register a domain name you don’t have the legal rights to. Once you do, they’re not responsible and make extra cash taking it down. Avoid this trap altogether if you want to run a healthy online business.
Companies spend millions of dollars defending their intellectual property. If they don’t, they could lose their protection. That’s why many companies actively search for IP violations and always threaten to take action. The first time many people realize they have this issue is when they get a cease and desist email from the injured party. At that point, they generally abandon the website in its entirety. This means they ‘drop the domain.’ Which brings us to our next point.
Does Your Domain Have A History?
4) Check your domain name’s history carefully! Most of the time now, you aren’t the first person in history to register a domain name. In fact, there could have been many owners over the last 20 years, all of them doing who knows what to promote their site and products. Some of them could even be bad people who did bad things! Always check out the history of the domain by doing a search in Google or Archive.org. Take a look at what was going on. Truth is, most people don’t drop wonderful domain names. In fact, outside of a few gems that might be found due to death or some other event, most dropped domains are real garbage. Many of them have been dumped because they were banned from search engines for ‘misbehaving.’
Don’t assume a ‘fresh domain‘ is any better. This domain may been dropped at any point in history, for many reasons. Again, check the history of the website carefully, before registering. You’re better off attempting to choose a completely unused word, even if you have to make it up yourself. Think of many of the most popular websites online. Names like “Flickr” and “Digg” are common. If you can come up with a domain name that’s unique, you stand a better chance of succeeding than using a burned out, keyword-infested domain name that has been abused by its last three owners!
Registering a great domain name is the first step on the road online business success. For that reason, take your time and make an informed decision on the best name for your web presence.