This article has been excerpted from The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Marketing by Jon Rognerud.
Choosing a domain name is an extremely important part of designing your website, as that becomes the name of your website. Your domain name is the first part of the Uniform Resource Locator, or "URL." There are many things to keep in mind while choosing a suitable domain name.
If you haven't already done so, give some thought as to what your domain name is going to be. For those who are new to the internet, the domain name, also known as a website address, is a word or phrase that a website visitor has to type in to visit your site. It's preceded by http://www, although for modern-day browsers typing this portion in is optional. It ends with .com, .net, .biz, or a host of other extensions that you'll be exposed to when you're ready to sign up for your domain name.
Stuffing your domain name with keywords isn't going to help much, if at all, unless those keywords naturally make sense. For example, don't pick "peanutbutterandjelly.com" if you're planning to launch a site for fishing supplies. Also, avoid abbreviations. Using your whole site name will make your domain name easier to remember. Try to get a ".com" name, as those are the most popular and easiest for most users to remember. However, if this is impossible, don't use .com anywhere in the name if your site is under ".net". Doing so is tacky, and will only cause confusion to potential visitors. Remember to display your site name--prominently. Multiple domains can be a good idea but only when built as a complete strategy. Each domain also requires different content to avoid being penalized by search engines for duplicate content.
Buying a Domain Name
To buy a domain name, you can do so directly from your web hosting provider, or through a separate domain name service (a recommended option for those who are using their own servers). If you're using a separate domain name service for your server, make sure you choose one such as no-IP.com, which assigns you a static IP address, the numerical address that identifies your computer. If this address is ever-changing (as it is with some internet service providers), you won't be able to successfully assign a domain name to your server. I personally use register.com and godaddy.com. I like the independence that register.com or similar services provide. Another good strategy is to choose and register your domain in advance of building your site. You then have the comfort of knowing that the name belongs to you. When you register a domain without having a site, typing the name into the browser will bring up a page indicating that it's parked. This means the name is owned by someone but a website has not yet been launched.
The process for signing up for a domain name works the same way whether it's through a hosting provider or through a separate domain name service. You'll be asked to enter into a text box the domain name you want to register. The service shows you the extensions you can choose. Generally, you always want to go with .com, since this is the most popular domain name extension. In terms of what domain name to use, this is where keyword optimization comes into play. That's right--even your domain name should be keyword optimized. Don't fall into the temptation that many webmasters do and use something catchy and creative for your website. It might be more memorable to potential visitors, especially if you use a lot of offline marketing, but it won't get your site ranked high in search engines. Ultimately, you will want to use keywords to create a domain name that is both memorable and likely to be ranked in the first 10 listings of search engine results.
However, keywords in the domain are useful for reasons outside of just ranking by its words. How people link to you and what the description reads in the incoming "backlink," or anchor text, plays a key role. So if you have realestate-mortgage-loans.com it's better than simply remloans.com. The latter is shorter, but the former yields a better link popularity strategy.
If your desired domain name is taken, the domain name service recommends other selections you could use. This can be helpful, since sometimes they can come up with suggestions that might rank better than your original choice. Or, they could be terrible, especially in terms of their length. Generally, the best domain names are short, contain no hyphens, and offer an excellent one-, two-, or three-word summary of what the site is about. An example of an excellent domain name could be cheapknives.com. It's short, contains no hyphens, and, if it's pointing to a website selling affordable knives, perfectly summarizes the main point of the site.
Another alternative when it comes to domain names is buying one that's already established or expiring. This is a popular tactic used by internet marketers to generate traffic for their websites. You can find these types of domain names anywhere, from eBay to specialized services selling them (they can be found through a general Google search). You could use snapnames.com to bid on a name that's already taken. On this site you enter your contact and billing information, the domain name of interest, and your bid price. When the name becomes available, snapnames.com will purchase it for you. This eliminates watching and waiting for the name. This is also helpful after you launch your business if you want to snap up similar domain names.
There are auctions specifically for expired domain names. To find the best deals on expired domain names, don't be afraid to use a shopping comparison site, such as froogle.com. I've purchased domains both on eBay and the SitePoint Marketplace. If you get an admin e-mail account and read on the membership site SitePoint--you can transfer a domain over without losing page rank and traffic.
Most folks who sell a website/domain will show you traffic charts and money charts (example: AdSense). Make sure that it's not inflated, and that you can look at it over time. One month is simply not good enough. Make sure you also ask about how traffic has been coming to the site, and ask to see server logs.
Get It Registered
Once you've selected your domain name, you need to register it. Be careful of whom you select to handle your domain registrations, as losing your domain name could put you out of business. You may want to choose a hosting company before registering your domain name. Many hosting companies will register the name for you when you set up your hosting account.
A little over a decade ago, Network Solutions dominated the domain registration field, charging $100 annually for service. Today, hundreds of registrars exist, which can cause difficulty in choosing one. Use a tool such as RegSelect, which can help you compare prices and options of domain registration companies. All registrars require the name of the company or individual who owns the domain (the registrant), the individual authorized to handle daily matters (the administrative contact), and the person who handles all things technical (the technical contact).
Most registrars have rules against using false names, and you'll run the risk of not receiving important notices if you do so. Whoever possesses the registrar username and password is essentially in control of the domain, despite the fact that the legal owner is the registrant, so be careful. Choose a complex password, as this could protect you from being hacked. Hackers could have the opportunity to change ownership or servers associated with your account. Try to find a registrar that allows you to "lock" your accounts. Finally, avoid registering your domain name with your web hosting service. This could complicate a domain transfer, should you decide to change hosting companies later.