picking a domain name
Maybe your organization is just starting out and you’re bringing it online for the first time, or maybe it has changed over the years and your domain name isn’t what you wish it was. Either way, your domain name will stick with you and your organization for years, and while it doesn’t make or break your success, there are a lot of things to consider when picking one.

At the end of Q2 2017, an estimated 331.9 million domain names existed across the world. This can be bad or good news, depending on how you look at it. It can make finding your desired URL difficult, since one-word or common phrase URLs are basically nonexistent. But it can be good for the same reason: all the common URLs are taken and this forces you to be a little creative, and thereby build brand recognition.

In order to pick an effective URL for your organization, follow these six guidelines.

1. Keep it short and simple

Your URL should be easy to say out loud. This means it should be pronounceable and doesn’t have any odd spellings, numbers, or hyphens.

2. Make it on brand and intuitive

Can it describe your brand or what you do? If people see your URL and know what your organization does, that’s great. This includes making up your own words, if appropriate. They should still be easy to spell, but Google wasn’t a word before Google made it one.

3. Consider SEO

If you can naturally include a keyword, that’s good, but don’t force it. I recently saw a URL for a company that cleans windows and gutters, and their URL was windowguttercleaning.com. It has keywords, yes, but it isn’t unique and doesn’t do anything for their own branding.

4. Be careful about trademark infringement

A domain name may be available, but that doesn’t mean the name is really free for the taking. Not only could using a trademarked name cause legal issues, but it would also hurt your own branding efforts, because someone else is already using it. It’s a good idea to also check social media to see how the URL you are considering is used in usernames, pages, and hashtags.

5. Use .com if you can

Your next best options are .net and .org. If none of those top-level domains are available, try a different domain name. There are nearly 1000 top-level domains (think .biz, .info, etc.) and .com is still the most widely recognized. Most people will assume it is .com, and many still see alternative extensions and think the site is not credible.

6. Think long term

Don’t make your URL too narrow if your organization may expand in the future. Changing your URL down the road will cost you time, money, and hard-earned SEO value.

Bonus: the vanity URL

A vanity URL is unique URL that’s used specifically for branding or marketing. For example, if your organization is hosting an event, and you have an information page on your site, the real URL might be something like examplecompany.com/specialevent2018. If you created a vanity URL for that event, it might be examplecompanyevent.com. The vanity URL will direct people to the original URL and extension, but it looks prettier to share in marketing material and it’s easier to say—hence “vanity.”

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