Branding Basics: Choosing an URL

man typing on laptop computer online internetChoosing an URL is probably the single most significant decision you’ll make in your online business life. You can tweak, change, and alter anything else—the template, the color scheme, the content—as your business grows. Your URL is your name and address online. It’s what will make your business memorable, attract customers, and keep them coming back. Getting the URL right is the most basic of branding elements.

Where do I start?

If you already have an established business, start with its name. Say you’ve run Jake’s Plumbing in Montana for the last 20 years and think it’s about time you got online. A perfect fit could be JakesPlumbing.com, and you wouldn’t even need to think about it. As it happens, JakesPlumbing.com is actually available right now, so if that’s your business, take this as a sign and snap it up!

Chances are, however, somebody already owns the first URL you want. (If your name’s Mike and you’re a plumber, you’re fresh out of luck.) At that point, you need to get more creative with your web address. Using a location, such as JakesPlumbingMontana.com might be a good alternative if the business is geographically based. For a company trading nationally or internationally, limiting the area through the URL could end up costing sales. Instead, it might be tempting to branch out into a less common top-level domain.

What are top-level domains?

Top-level domains (TLDs) are simply the final part of the URL. These typically fall into two categories. Generic top-level domains are three-digits and were the first to exist on the internet. They include .com, .net, and .org. Then there are country-specific domains, two digits long, such as .br (Brazil), or .es (Spain). Some countries also have secondary level domains, such as .co.uk (UK), or .com.au (Australia).

If your business is based outside the US, you’ll want to consider choosing a local top-level domain for your site. However if you trade in more than one country, or simply prefer to have a .com site, you can purchase additional versions of your domain and have them redirect to a central site. Were Jake’s Plumbing based in Madrid instead of Montana, he might purchase JakesPlumbing.es and JakesPlumbing.com, and have them point to a single central site.

Moving to a less common TLD can help you get the URL you want. Mike the plumber can’t buy his .com URL because somebody already owns it, but he could always choose another domain that hasn’t already been purchased. This can cause confusion, however. If the .com version of the URL you want is in use, having the same name at a .net account could cause your customers to go to the wrong site.

For some sites, a non-geographic TLD is best. Wikipedia, for example, uses .org, a domain originally intended for non-profits but now available to anybody.

Generally you shouldn’t use a geographic domain for a country where you’re not doing business. The exception to this is when the letters hold other meaning beyond their designated country. Armenia’s TLD, .am, is a prime example. As well as being used by AM radio sites, it’s also used by infogr.am, i.am and, of course, TechTe.am. Perhaps the most common example of this is the link-shortening service, bit.ly.

What’s in a name?

If you can’t find the name you really want with an appropriate TLD, you might find you’ll have to completely reconsider your URL. Given there are over 4.6 billion webpages in existence, it’s probable you’ll find yourself in this situation.

It can be tempting to extend your URL to make it more specific, turning JakesPlumbing.com, or even JakesPlumbingMontana.com, into JakesPlumbingAndSuppliesBillingsMontana.com. From an SEO perspective, it might even seen wise. However in practical terms, long, elaborate URLs don’t work.

The longer your URL, the more chance of it being misspelled, or of your customers forgetting it. JakesPlumbing.com is memorable. Jake’s word salad isn’t.

At this point, you’ll have to consider changing your business name. If you’re only just setting up and the website is the first step—especially if your proposed business is going to be web-based—it isn’t usually a big deal. A start-up book editing service, on finding bookediting.com has been taken, can try different variations until they hit upon an alternative they like.

Choosing an URL for an established business is harder when the business name has already been taken. Rather than getting more specific, consider choosing an URL that’s more general. Instead of JakesPlumbingAndSuppliesBillingsMontana.com, LocalPlumbers.com would be a better alternative.

What you shouldn’t do is choose something completely abstract in an effort to be different. Without a clear association between the website and the business the URL becomes forgettable, however zany. It will also confuse new visitors who don’t understand why a search for plumbers drew results from MadcapJake.com.

How do I buy an URL?

Once you’ve decided on the URL you want, you need to buy it. There are plenty of sites where you can purchase domains, including Google and GoDaddy. URLs cost as little as a dollar, or are sometimes even offered for free when purchased with a hosting plan.

Many domain sellers offer a service to bid on domains that have already been purchased. If the site you want is inactive, chances are the owner will be open to you making an offer for it.

A word of caution

It might be tempting to jump-start your web presence by picking an URL similar to something already available, for example Amazons.com. This is known as “typosquatting,” a variation on domain squatting, and can land you in legal trouble.

Conclusion

Choosing the right URL for your brand can be tricky, but taking the time to get the perfect web address will give your business its best start online. Pick a plan and let TechTe.am’s friendly experts talk you through your options today.

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