Freelancers, small-business owners, artists and architects: the list of people who need a web site to make a living is long and varied.
But with almost 1 billion web addresses in existence and the most popular domain names taken, it’s tough to figure out where to start.
Let’s say you came up with a great recipe for cake pops and want the cake-pop-loving world to know about them. Sure enough, cakepops.com is taken, and other cake pop sellers already have an online footprint. How can you get your site to be found by potential customers?
There’s no perfect, simple answer to the question, but here are some tips to get started.
1. Choosing a domain name
The possibilities are endless, but the most desirable ones are usually taken.
The best domain names are short, easy to spell and representative of what you’re doing or selling. Special characters like dashes and numbers should be avoided because they're harder to remember.
Going back to the cake pop example, you might choose a domain with your geographic location, like "miamicakepops.com". You can also add generic words before or after the name you’re looking to register, like "mycakepops.com" or "cakepopsworld.com".
2. Dotcom is king
It’s better to register a domain name you like less with “.com” at the end than a domain name you like more with just about any other extension. Cakepopworld.com will do better than cakepops.biz, simply because “.com” is the largest and most recognizable top-level domain, or TLD, on the web. It’s not only easier for visitors to remember, but it also turns up higher and a lot more frequently in search engines like Google.
If your dream domain isn’t possible with a “.com” attached, “.net” is another commonly used and recognizable TLD. If you’re buying a domain name for something personal, like a blog or resume, you might want to register a “.me”. Companies often use “.co” or “.biz” as alternatives to ".com".
3. When your dream domain name is taken
There is a high probability that your No. 1 domain name won’t be available. Sometimes that happens even when it’s your own name.
As such, registering the perfect domain name requires creativity. One trick is putting the words “the,” “my” or “your” in front of the word or phrase you’d like to use. There are also sites like Bust A Name, LeanDomainSearch or Impossibility! that can help you find clever alternatives.
4. Getting found
You can have the most clever domain name of all time, but if it’s not optimized for search engines, it might as well not exist.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a big deal when it comes to not just the domain name but all the content on your site. For instance, you’d want the cake pops site to have a blog with frequently updated and relevant articles on your company in order for customers to find it easily through search engines.
There are sites like Moz and Google Webmaster Tools that offer guidance on best SEO practices, and companies like Webpage FX and Digital Current that can improve your site’s SEO for a fee, to help it rank higher and appear more often in search.
5. Choosing a registrar
There are many platforms to register a domain name but, frankly, they all do the same thing.
If you have a fixed budget, NameCheap is one of the cheapest options. GoDaddy offers many related services for small businesses like web hosting, bookkeeping, email, etc. eNom offers wholesale prices and is therefore the best for those who want to register several domain names.
Owning a domain name should only cost $9 to $15 annually. But other services like email, web hosting or encryption software to protect credit-card transactions will cost more. Buying all the services from one provider can be simpler, because they’re bundled together, and charged in one flat fee. But you might want to consider shopping around for either better prices or service.
My domain names are registered with NameCheap, but my email is hosted by Zoho Mail and my web site is hosted on Weebly. I did this because although I love NameCheap’s inexpensive domain registration costs, their email service was not suitable for my business. In addition to email hosting, Zoho provides offers document storage, bookkeeping tools, and a Customer Relationship Manager. On the other hand, Weebly has an easy to use drag and drop website builder that can get a website up and running in minutes without needing any programming skills.
7. Legal liabilities
Last but not least, it’s important to be aware of relevant trademark laws and other legal system obligations when registering a domain name. In 2014, real estate mogul Donald Trump was awarded $32,000 in damages after he sued a man for registering four domain names that included the word “trump.” One way to avoid infringing anyone’s intellectual property is by doing an online search for the name you’d like to use with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There you can see if another person has the exclusive right to use certain brand names.
Warren Cassell Jr. is a writer and investor living on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. His work focuses on entrepreneurship and personal finance.