Your domain name: A "Websites 101" recap of an often confusing issue

By Jill Townsend for Amy Smith Consulting, LLC

One of the questions I’m frequently asked when working with clients on their new websites, or on a website they want to re-design or update, is about the domain name – the part that comes after the www.  They ask:

  • How long should it be?
  • Do I need more than one domain name?
  • What words (often referred to as keywords) should it contain?
  • Can I use an extension other than .com? For instance, .biz or .us?
  • What if the domain name I want is already taken?

Let’s look at each of these important points one by one.

How long should it be?

There are conflicting opinions on this, of course, but the widely held consensus is that 8-15 characters is best, and 8 is better than 15. Note I said characters, not words. For a pediatric dental practice in Boxborough, for instance, that could present a problem if you want to include your location and your profession in your domain name. For example:  www.foxboroughpediatricdental.com, which is 25 characters. (That domain name doesn’t exist, by the way, I checked.) So is it a good name to buy, yes or no?

Both.  

No, because it’s too long, and it’s also tough to type and spell for many. Yes, if you feel this domain name is pertinent to your business, and people might look for you using it. In that case, I suggest you buy it and have it automatically forwarded to the shorter, better domain name you eventually choose. Domain names are inexpensive, and forwarding is often free, depending on the company you buy them from. There are hundreds of good companies to choose from -- GoDaddy.com and Register.com are names many people recognize. Do a little checking to make sure you are paying a reasonable fee – $15/year or less for a .com domain name – before you choose. You might also ask what they charge for other related services, too, like email.

Do I need more than one domain name?

I recommend coming up with 4-5 domain names that are descriptive of your business, whether you end up using them as your ‘main’ domain name or not. Don’t go overboard. You could probably come up with 20 or 30 without too much trouble. Do always try to buy your own personal name, JohnSmith.com, for example. (This is an instance where you’re very fortunate if you have an unusual name.) You may or may not use it, but you should own it.

What words (often referred to as keywords) should it contain?

As many good, short ones as you can think of. Start by brainstorming words that describe you, your practice, your location, etc, that also fit into your 8-15 character limit. Some good ones I’ve seen, or would recommend, are similar to these: drmaryforkids.com, lansdownesmiles.com, drstedandjerry.com, docforkids.com (this one’s available!).

You’ll notice that only one of these has a location, while the others use the doctors’ names, but they are all easy to remember, and short. While domain names are important in letting Google and other search engines know who you are, and what you do, there are many other, equally impotant ways to achieve this same result through good on- and off-the-page search engine optimization, or SEO. (We will talk about this topic in a future Tip of the Month.) It is NOT necessary to stuff your domain name with every keyword that describes you and your practice.

Can I use an extension other than .com? .biz or .us for instance?

Again, the best answer is yes and no. Always try for the .com first. If you can’t get that, try for the .biz. (That’s my personal preference, as it identifies you as a business.) The day is coming when you will be your own extension, for instance, www.smile.jamesmurphydds. In the meantime, do the best you can with a .com or .biz.

What if the domain name I want it already taken?

First of all, don’t panic, it very well might be. Keep trying until you find one that works for you. And always, always make sure you have your domain name locked down before you name your business, or dental practice. I’ve known more than one instance in which a dentist – usually a new one – names their business before checking on the availability of the same domain name. Mountain View Dental is a great name, but is mountainviewdental.com available? (Nope, I checked on that as well, some lucky practice in Utah owns it.)

As someone who works in the world of Google all the time, I can sympathize with how confusing seemingly simple issues like a domain name can be. Rules change, trends change, opinions vary. Use the advice above as a guideline, but trust your common sense as well. If you need a second opinion, please don’t hesitate to contact me, or talk to Amy or a member of her team. We’re here to help.