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The process of choosing a domain name is not unlike that moment in your teens or early 20s when you decided to get a tattoo. Yes, we’re going there, but stick with this for a moment.
Those of you who’re inked, think back to the process leading up to that decision. You labored for hours about what exactly to get. What best defines you? What sort of message do you want to convey to the world about your person? It’s mostly permanent, or a lot of work to get removed.
This same thought process is similar to choosing a domain name. Before registering for a hip, new domain, you must ask your business: What best defines your brand online? Is it a name, or a catchphrase? Do others have the same or similar domains?
Right off the bat, business owners have two potential payoffs by optimizing and customizing domains: optimizing your business for search, and branding your business.
It’s not just .com, .org, or .net anymore
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN for short) will reportedly launch just short of 2,000 new generic top level domains names (gTLD’s), with a few select end domains already released since the end of October. In a nutshell, these gTLDs will allow users to create domains ending in phrases that will aid in a user’s ability to optimize his or her site with endings like .google or .clothing.
But why are gTLDs relevant? Elisa Cooper, director of product marketing for brand protection firm MarkMonitor, says new domains give companies the opportunity register something more meaningful and search-friendly.
Rather than a random company name followed by .com, the customized domain helps give businesses more context. The new domain names will also be helpful for those who were unable to snag the right phrase or word if someone’s already claimed it.
How does picking the right domain affect your business?
There’s just one (albeit major) catch to these ultra-custom domains: most aren’t reasonably-priced. “Costs for these new registrations will vary, and the most desirable domain names will be sold at a premium,” Cooper says.
Jeremy Goldman, entrepreneur, strategist and CEO of the early-stage branding consultancy Firebrand Group, says premiums for custom domain names can cost upwards of $185,000. But Goldman thinks the price is right – on a few conditions.
“The longer a file name is, the longer the URL becomes and the less value it has from an SEO standpoint,” he says.
After authoring his book, “Going Social,” Goldman also purchased a customized URL (goingsoci.al) for branding purposes. To do that, he had to negotiate a bit; the domain .al is currently assigned to Albanian properties.
Do standard domain names still pack a harder SEO punch?
The .com isn’t going away, says Lou Hoffman, CEO of The Hoffman Agency, a global public relations firm based in San Francisco that specializes in corporate business strategies like these. “While the nine new domain names mean some ‘heavyweight’ phrases will once again be in play, there’s no getting around [the fact that] .com remains a powerhouse domain,” he says.
Are new domains ending in a customized phrase merely a fad? It’s unclear right now whether this strategy will take hold with top business owners, but Hoffman says that rather than pursue an obvious new top-level domain, business owners should still build URLs on a .com domain with one or two keywords with the goal of optimizing a site for search. For startups strapped for cash, this optimization tactic is a win-win.
If you already have a domain name, do you need a new strategy?
If you’re like most startup founders or small business owners looking to launch a product, you’ve likely already claimed at least one domain for your business – as you should. Many hackers have auto-alerts set up for domains, such that when anyone searches a domain more than once, they’re alerted to buy the domain in order to sell it at a higher value (ranging from $20 to as much as $100,000, depending on the company and who’s buying).
Bottom line: should you abandon the current domain and strategies you’ve enlisted for a custom one at a steep price tag? Not necessarily. Just because you’ve got a great name doesn’t mean you can short circuit other best practices for your business, says Goldman.
“People need to stop thinking about optimizing their sites and start thinking more about doing the same for [their brands],” he says. “You want your brand to come up in search, but it doesn’t really matter where it comes up.”
Goldman says it may be more effective to leverage relationships and brand partnerships on-site and on social media platforms to increase search capabilities. His company, which services clients like beauty brand AHAVA and CPG powerhouse Unilever, has leveraged partnerships with people and brands in order to effectively scale its offering.
Some entrepreneurs have a different get-found online strategy entirely – and it could prove to be just as effective as selecting a domain.
“A lot of people [use domains] to represent their product or service, and in a way, we did, too,” says Robert Kaufman, former managing director of capital markets at National Alliance Securities and currently the founder and president of Memoriis, LLC, a photo-focused tech startup. Memoriis is Latin for memories, so there was an immediate branding opportunity within the startup’s name.
Does a word or domain lead a consumer to what the product is or isn’t?
There is no concrete way measure whether a custom domain name (again, we’re talking about ones ending in obscure names, like .lawyer) will boost your business’ search capabilities more than an SEO expert could do through programming content for search.
Jon Chang, part of the marketing team at startup Pricing Engine in New York City, recently bought a domain for an outside venture he’s launching called Local Envision Labs. His experience in searching for domains is a common one: once he’d searched for the same domain name a handful of times, he found the one he wanted already bought by an unnamed source.
But is it worth it to buy? Chang is of the millennial generation, and the struggle to stand out and brand oneself as an individual is real – especially if you’ve got a common name. If Chang were to select a domain name of .me, for instance, versus the standard .com, “that first URL has a pretty good chance of crushing it from an SEO perspective.”
And at the end of the day, we all just want to get found.
Got a great domain name strategy or just a plain great domain name we’d be envious of? Tell us in the comments section below.