ProBlogger has a (strangely-formatted) overview on selecting a domain name. He provides all the basics, but fails to provide the really crucial advice–what makes an an effective, memorable domain? This applies not only to weblogs, but sites of all sorts. Over the years, I’ve got some basic rules for choosing a decent domain name:
- Keep it short. The shorter the better. Think of the most popular domain names: ebay.com, amazon.com, google.com.
- Make it easy to spell. I advised the guys at Bryght not to go with that spelling, as they’d be eternally saying "bright with a y".
- Make it easy to say, regardless of accent.
- The fewer repeated letters, the better.
- No punctuation. I noticed recently that a resort on Vancouver Island had the domain name http://www.tigh-na-mara.com/. That may be the worst domain I’ve seen in a long time–too long, difficult to spell and difficult to say..
- Make it memorable. It should be fun to say. That’s hard to measure, but you’ll know it when you see it.
- The domain doesn’t have to describe what you do. Nonsense words or non sequiturs are fine. The URL also doesn’t have to exactly match your company’s name. For the aforementioned resort, www.thetigh.com wouldn’t be perfect, but it’s a big improvement.
- If you can’t think of a nonsense word that meets these criteria, consider combining two odd common nouns, as in www.lockergnome.com.
- Alliteration works well in this case, as in www.clevercactus.com.
So what are great domain names? The ones you remember, for the most part. Are all the good domains gone? Absolutely not. One great example of meeting my criteria is www.gizmodo.com, and they only launched in mid-2002. There might be a slight ambivalence about spelling, but otherwise it’s fun, memorable and easy to say.
I was also reminded of this topic because Donna is considering new domain names. Based on my rules, she ought to stick with the excellent arwen.org, but what do I know? Of her new favourites, I prefer westendgirl.ca to www.lifetheuniverseanddonna.ca.
Obviously, choosing a great domain name isn’t going to make or break your site,
but it’ll help with marketing and repeat visitors. If didn’t already have DarrenBarefoot.com as a resume site, I probably would have chosen a different URL for it when I added the weblog. I think I still own thinkingchaos.com, which I’ve always
liked, but I’m not going to change URLs at this point.
UPDATE: Richard has a bunch of interesting things to say about the future of URLs. I agree with him that eventually URLs will disappear. It’s already happening. For example, when I want to attend a movie, I just type ‘Vancouver movies’ into Firefox’s address bar. That automagically completes a Google search and displays the first result. I barely register that the site is CinemaClock.com (a decent enough URL, incidentally). I don’t care, I just want to see what time Surviving Christmas (well, I don’t, but somebody does) is playing.
And I didn’t say Bryght.com was a ‘bad domain name’. It’s just not a great domain name. And I wouldn’t have the patience to explain the spelling every time I told somebody about it. Admittedly, I have to do that for about a quarter of the people I tell about www.capulet.com, but only the slow ones. I’m kidding about that last bit, though it is a litmus test for liberal arts educations.
UPDATE #2: Boris weighs in, asserting that URLs are dead. While some day URLs may die, they’re not dead yet. I’m pretty sure that a lot more people type out the URL to go to www.ebay.com or www.hotmail.com than use Google to find it. If I want to check my Gmail account, I type in gmail.com.
Take a look at my top ten referrers for October, 2004:
16.80% (Direct Request)
It’s pretty clear how most folks are getting to my site–either they’re typing in the URL or using a bookmark. If we add up all the search engine traffic, we might get to 1%. Yes, my site isn’t as optimized as others, but it’s more optimized (and has lots of content) than most.
Secondly, Boris points out that if you search for tigh na mara, the resort is the first return. True, but aren’t people likelier to search for tighnamara? They’re not even in the top ten, and a bunch of other resorts are. As such, Tigh-na-mara Resort needs either spend marketing dollars educating their customers how to spell their name, or get cracking with some SEO on the phrase ‘tighnamara’.
Lastly, Boris concedes that “the only reason you need a ‘good’ URL is for offline marketing purposes.” The vast majority of the world’s marketing effort happens offline. Therefore, it’s still pretty important to have a decent URL. Additionally, the vast majority of site owners don’t understand SEO. They’d rather be dependent on users typing in the domain name.
I look forward to the day when we don’t have to talk in ‘double-u, double-u, double-u, foo dot com’. However, we’re still going to live in that world for quite a while. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that companies will still be pushing URLs ten years from now. If you guys want, we can make a long bet about it.