A business owner’s guide to choosing a domain name

You've decided to take your business online. One of the first steps is to choose your domain name, your website's address. Here are some things to think about.
How to choose a domain name

So you’ve decided to take your business online.  What next?  One of the first steps is choosing your domain name which is your website’s address.  Ours is littlebizdesigns.com.  How did we go about choosing this?  And once we had chosen it, what did we do?

We started at the end

It’s not our usual style, but in this case, we did in fact start at the end by deciding on what letters we wanted after the dot.  In our case, we chose a .com site, and that’s because our business is not limited to one country.  So what are your choices?

Generic

Generic domains (or gTLDs, since everything needs an acronym in the tech world), are domains that end in:

  • .com
  • .org
  • .net
  • .info
  • .travel

There is now an almost infinite list of generic domains, some of which are very industry specific (eg .accountant, .bar or .cricket).

Country Specific

Country specific domains (ccTLD: country code top level domains), are those domains which end with a country indicator like:

  • .uk (eg .co.uk or .org.uk)
  • .za
  • .au

Within the country specific domains there are also choices.  For example, if you want a .uk domain, you also need to decide whether you just want .uk or whether you want .co.uk, .org.uk or one of the many other choices.

Around 47% of all websites use .com.  The next most popular domain is .org, but only around 5% of websites use .org.  Country specific websites like those ending in .uk (2%), .au (1%) and .za (0.4%) have much smaller representation across the internet, although that doesn’t mean that only small companies use them – there are plenty of large organisations that use country specific domains, and multinational companies might have different websites targeting their customers in different countries, all of which have a country specific domain.  Note you generally don’t have to live or work in a country to have a specific website for that country, so say you wanted to market your guesthouse to German clients, you might consider using a .de domain.

But back to you.  Which domain is going to be best for you?  Here are a couple of things to think about:

  1. Local vs International: if you are running a local business that will only ever target local customers (for example a restaurant or guesthouse), then you may want to choose a country specific domain.
  2. Availability: this is perhaps the most challenging part of choosing a domain, and we will discuss it further below, but generally you will find that there are more options available if you choose a country specific domain as there are just simply less websites already out there with country domains compared with say .com
  3. Charities or non profit organisations: you could find some benefits to using a .org domain (either generic (.org) or country specific (.org.au, .org.uk, .org.za).  A charity we worked with in South Africa was able to access some technology resources for free or a substantially reduced cost, but one of the criteria (along with being registered as an NPO with the government) was that their website address included .org not .com
  4. Cost: to be honest, this is a pretty minor consideration as most domain names are actually pretty inexpensive to buy and then renew each year (it’s usually the hosting of websites that adds up).  But different domains do cost different amounts, so it’s worth bearing in mind.

Back to the beginning

Once we had decided that a .com domain was going to be best for us, we spent some time looking at what domains were available.  With a .com domain there is a much higher chance that someone has already got your perfect domain name, so you might find yourself trying some different variations until you are happy.  You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find and visit your website, so things to consider include:

  1. Memorable: this perhaps encompasses several of the following points, but you want people to be able to remember your website address
  2. Easy to spell: try to avoid words that can be easily misspelled.  And be careful with abbreviations such as “4” instead of “for” as you might end up explaining yourself constantly
  3. Relevant & informative: say you run a cafe called Yummy Eats – you might decide to use yummyeatscafe.com to instantly give web searchers information about what you are when your name pops up on Google
  4. Succinct: short is sweet. Fewer chances for misspelling, quicker to type, usually easier to remember (depending on what it is, an acronym isn’t usually your friend)
  5. Availability: taking all of the above into account, the best website address you can think of is no use unless it is available!  Fortunately it’s easy to check, and you can easily try all the different variations that you have thought of.  If you already know which hosting provider you want to use, then search through them, alternatively Google “domain names” and you will get lots of companies pop up, you can go to their website and click on Domain Name Search and start trying out all your names.

What next?

Once you have found your perfect domain name you need to buy it (well, you are effectively renting it as you need to renew it each year).  You may decide to buy multiple domains (eg if you are a guesthouse in South Africa you might want the .co.za website and also the .com, and you can have both the web addresses pointing to the same website).  We find it easier to buy our domain names from our hosting provider as it means that we only have one organisation to deal with (and one set of passwords to remember!), but there might be some reasons why this isn’t always possible.  Read our Business Owners Guide to Website Hosting to find out more.