Web Basics: Domain Names

Your home on the world wide web

I get a lot of questions from clients regarding domain names when they are working through their web design projects. 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. For example, my porftolio used to be at JimFerguson.me – I got a lot of funny looks when telling people my URL. But I liked the .me extension for a portfolio website for an individual, because the website was specifically about that person and the services they offer. For me, it was 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 larger and more well-known domain registrars.