Selecting Your Business Website’s URL

Black and white "www" in three-dimensional letters

This is the fifth blog post in an ongoing series called “The Stage Presence Marketing Online Guide to Digital Marketing for DIY Solopreneurs.”You can find the earlier posts at that link.

The first step in setting up a website is to register a URL.

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. It’s the address of your website, the thing people type into the browser address bar to reach your website. Think of it as your website’s street address. It’s also somewhat synonymous with “domain name.”

Technically speaking, you don’t so much “buy” a domain as rent it. The accurate term is “registration.” Registering a domain name or URL results in your right to use that domain for the length of time for which you’ve registered the domain.

Most registrars (companies or websites that provide registration service) will allow you to set your term in a year or multiples thereof. If you register the domain for a year, then you’ll have to re-register it before the close of the date you originally registered it one year later. If you register the domain for two years, then you’ll have to re-register it before the close of the second anniversary date.

TIP: Although most registrars will send you a notification to your email address of an upcoming registration expiration, it’s a good idea to put the date of expiration in your calendar program, with an alert set to remind you two to four weeks in advance of that date.

Choosing Your URL

When choosing your URL, you want to shoot first for the name of your business with a .com extension.

If that combination is available, great – you’re golden. (If it isn’t, see the next section: “What do Do If Your First URL Choice Is Taken By Someone Else.”)

Here are some practical tips to keep in mind when selecting your preferred URL choice.

  • Avoid commonly misspelled words, if at all possible. Seriously, a URL like misspelledwords.com is just asking for trouble. Here’s a list of the 100 most often misspelled words in English to help you out.
  • Avoid numbers if at all possible. If not, then try to snag two versions of the URL – one with the numeral itself (i.e., “4horsemen.com”) and one with the number spelled out (i.e., “fourhorsemen.com”). You’ll use one as the primary domain, and redirect the other URL to that primary domain so you won’t lose traffic.
  • Think carefully before including a hyphen in your URL. The downside is if someone neglects it, and you don’t also have the unhyphenated URL redirected to your site, you’ll lose traffic. Also, it looks a little unwieldy, and the more hyphens you include, the more unwieldy it looks. The upside: if your unhyphenated version is already taken, you’ll at least get the words you want in that URL.
  • Use due diligence. Seriously. You can get in legal trouble for violating trademark and intellectual property rights that others hold. Read this article from Nolo, “Avoid Trademark Infringement When You Choose a Domain Name,” for more guidelines. Talk to a lawyer if you’re not sure you’re on solid footing.
  • Consider dropping small articles, but if you use them, use them consistently. Here’s an example: is it The Trauma Dolls, or just Trauma Dolls? (It’s Trauma Dolls.) If I had included a “the” in the URL (as I did with the prior version, “The Tramadol Diaries” (i.e., thetramadoldiaries.com), I’d include that “the” all the way around, everywhere.
  • Carefully consider the length of your URL. The conventional wisdom is that longer URLs are more difficult to remember. BUT, there’s a caveat there: would you more likely remember tkwsn.com? Or TheKnightsWhoSayNi.com? If the acronym is too long, odd, or unfamiliar, you might be better off spelling it all out.

What to Do If Your First URL Choice Is Taken By Someone Else

What if your first choice isn’t available? What do you do then?

You have to get a little creative:

  • You can try a different extension. The .biz, .info, .us, and .org extensions make the domain a completely different one than the .com version. Be aware of the meanings of each of those domain extensions, though, and choose accordingly.
  • You can try alternate spellings. But be careful to avoid using words that are commonly misspelled, because that could result in lost traffic.
  • You can decide to brand your business through your identity — your name. That’s what I’ve done here, though the URL http://stagepresencemarketing.com also redirects here.
  • You can change your business’s name. Though that’s a potential administrative nightmare, if your business has been going for any amount of time, if you’re relatively new it is an option you should consider.
  • You can add geographic tags. Instead of “MyDomain.com” you could try “MyDomainMyCity.com.”
  • You can offer to buy the domain from the current registrant. Use a look-up service such as WhoIs to find out who the registered agent of the website is, then contact the user to offer to purchase the domain. You’ll have to negotiate a deal both of you can live with, and there’s no requirement that they agree, of course, so this is a crap shoot of sorts. But it is an option to consider if your heart is set on your original preferred domain.
  • You can consider legal action — if you have the upper hand. This is a tricky area, and you’d need to speak to a lawyer who’s well-versed in trademark and copyright, but if you’ve had your business name in operation for a long time, and have taken certain steps to restrict the name’s use for your business, you might have a legal claim. See this article from Nolo for more information.

Technical How-To Guide to Registering Your URL

You can register URLs with hosting providers (I recommend HostGator and Blue Host, for reasons I’ll explain in another post). But I recommend using a registration company like GoDaddy.

(Pause while a lot of techies come out of their epileptic fits.)

Lemme ‘splain.

I do not like GoDaddy, as a rule. I definitely don’t like their hosting.

But when it comes to registering URLs, a few truths make them my choice. One is that if you’re at all interested in more than one venture, you’re going to start collecting domain names, like so much digital real estate. You want to keep all the domains with one registrar for ease of use.

Secondly, GoDaddy has some of the best deals around. There’s almost always a promo code available to save more bucks.

Third, their domain management interface is so stupid-easy that even technophobes can hang with it.

Whatever registrar you use, you’ll search their site for the availability of your preferred URL. Then you’ll add it to the cart and go to check out.

Simple enough, right?

Here’s where it gets tricky: Most registrars will then try to entice you with a crapload of add-ons.

Resist.

Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Consider – strongly – signing up for Private or Business registration. Every website must have a physical address associated with it. If you sign up without Private/Business protection, that’s your home, most likely, or your office location (if you have one). With Private/Business registration, a company acts as your “agent,” and it’s their address that gets listed on public directories and websites. 
  2. If you’re going to be offering ANY kind of client interface portal where folks will be entering private information, or accessing legally protected info, get the SSL certificate now. Here’s a great article about SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) technology and what it actually does from VeriSign.

Everything else is kind of gravy and unnecessary if you’re going to be hosting your site elsewhere (which I strongly recommend).

One more thing to consider: pricing. As with a lot of web-based transactions, the longer you pay for in advance, the cheaper each year gets. If you’re sure about your venture, consider registering for two or more years at a time. If it’s a quick-ship test run project, or if budget is a concern, you might be better off with one year.

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