Web Basics: Domain Names

I’m starting off a series of posts about “web basics,” where I talk through a topic to help clear up some of the questions I routinely receive when working through a web design project. First up, I’m going to be talking about domain names – your home on the world wide web.

Domain Names

Domain names, also called your URL, are very similar to the address of your brick and mortar building – you give your web address out to your customers so they know where your business or organization can be located on the web. More specifically, your domain name is the address that you type in to be directed to a particular website.

Domains are usually reserved on a per-year basis from a service like GoDaddy* for between $7.50 (you can usually find coupons online to get this lower price) and $12 a year. There are also some select domains that the powers that be have deemed to be “premium” and can be very expensive to purchase – you’ll know pretty quickly if you run across one of those when searching for a domain.

Typically .com, .net and .org domains are the most commonly used and recognized, but there are many other extensions that can be used. Take this website for example, which is JimFerguson.me – I get a lot of funny looks when telling people my URL. But I like the .me extension for a portfolio website for an individual, because the website is specifically about that person and the services they offer. For me, it’s different, easy to remember and describes what the website is about. These alternate extensions can also be considered when the .com version of a domain has been taken. Some alternate extensions have certain requirements that must be met in order to purchase, such as .gov websites must be affiliated with the government or certain country-specific extensions require that you have an address in that country. Wikipedia has a complete list of available domain extensions.

From a search engine standpoint, I often get asked if owning an exact phrase match would help a company show up better in searches. In short, the answer is yes, they can – but for the time being. Recent studies have shown that this factor has started to slip in importance when search engines consider rankings. So if it came down to owning the domain for name of your brand or owning the exact phrase match of what you do, I would almost always recommend going with your brand name.

Another question that comes up is whether or not you should own several versions of a domain and redirect them to the primary URL. The answer here would be that it really depends. If you are concerned with protecting your brand name, then I would say go ahead and buy them up. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. Some companies go to a bit of an extreme here and also register variants and misspellings of their brand name. Registering a domain name and redirecting it to point to your primary URL does not help with searches though, so buying and redirecting the domain greenvillescwebdesignbyjimferguson.com or jimfergusonisthebomb.com wouldn’t help me out much.

So that’s a pretty good top-level overview on domain names. If you’ve got additional questions or comments on domains, leave them in the comments section and I’ll follow up. Or if you’d like some help in choosing a domain name, let me know and we’ll work through it together.

*I’m not endorsing GoDaddy here, they’re just one of the largest and most well-known domain registrars.

  • So would you choose a domain name which includes your brand name even if there’s no searches ?

    Well done for the clean design and great content.

    • Jim

      Absolutely. Unless there is a really good reason, I would always go with a branded domain over a domain that was nothing more than a phrase you wanted to rank for. This is actually a very timely comment – just this week, Google announced a change to their algorithm that pretty heavily discounts exact phrase matching domains.