One would think that registering a domain is the first step when setting up your website. This is not quite true. Hopefully you had done your research first to identify your niche keywords, in other words, the primary key terms that people are looking for in relation to your business.
Your domain name should reflect what your site or your business is about. It should be descriptive and easy to remember. If you can register your domain name by using your best niche keyword you will also score a few points in trying to get your site high up in the search engine rankings.
Just note, however, that while this was especially true a couple of years ago, the prevalence of garbage made-for-adsense type of sites to try and register a domain name with keywords in have led to this factor being overused and abused. Search engines are wising up to the fact that a domain name like www.red-widgets-blue-widgets-purple-widgets-cheap-widgets.com might not really be a real business and you should therefore be careful not to STUFF your domain name with keywords.
Here are some tips to choosing a good domain name:
1) If your company has a distinctive name that you use in your marketing campaigns, and if your company is well known among your customers it is best to try and register your company name as your domain name. For example, it will be better for Standard Bank to register standardbank.co.za as opposed to bankingservices.co.za. Branding yourself as a company that provides a specific service is very important.
2) But if your company does not have such a strongly branded presence in the market, or if you are offering a product or service that you specifically want to market through the internet without even HAVING a company, then a descriptive name might be a better option (e.g. www.health-products.co.za)
3) Hyphens are easier to read in print, are easier to ‘understand’ by the search engines (remember that a key linking strategy is to have text links contain your targeted keywords. If your domain name is legible to search engines and it is used to link to your site, you score some points since your keywords are already contained in your domain name), and gives you more choice. The negatives about hyphens are that they are difficult for people to hear! You will probably have difficulty in spelling out your domain name over the phone or in conversation when it contains hyphens.
It is also true to say that a name without the hyphens are also seen as being more professional (often the hyphenated name is seen as being a bit johnny-come-lately as well as spammy due to the reasons mentioned above). Search engines are also getting more and more proficient in understanding text that are embedded within domain names (even without the hyphens) and using a hyphenated site purely so that the search engines can understand them is probably not necessary these days.
4) But a good piece of advice is that when you register a domain name is to register as many variants (with hyphens as well as without hyphens) and as many domain extensions (.com, .net, .info, .biz) as you can afford. Registering domain names are really not that expensive and you will be protecting the investment into your company and your website brand. Remember that there are unscrupulous domain squatters (typo squatters) out there that will register variants of your domain name to either try and sell it back to you at a high cost, or to try and capture some of your traffic.
5) It is extremely difficult to come up with a good .com domain name these days. Most good domain names have been taken already. Here is a good resource page that contains a list of language tools that you can use to try and mix and match words or portions of words to come up with a good domain name. http://marcusvorwaller.com/blog/archives/2005/08/09/how-to-find-a-great-domain-name/
6) If you are located in a country other than the United States, always try and register your domain name with your local Top Level Domain extension (e.g. .co.uk, .co.za) since the local version of Google will give preference to names with extensions matching your own country.
7) Always try and register your domain with an independent registrar and NOT with your hosting provider. If you ever want to move your website to another hosting provider, it will just be easier to do it if your domain name registrar is also not your hosting provider. You might find it more difficult to get your website away from a bad hosting provider if they have control over your domain name as well.
Christine Anderssen is the owner of Tailormade4you. After 20 years in the coporate IT world she now runs Tailormade4you and offers Web Site Hosting; Web Design and Web Development services for small businesses.