If you visit a web site you will notice the address of the page you are viewing will look something like this: http://www.somesite.com/index.htm


In this example the domain name is somesite.com. That's the bit that can be acquired and owned (The bit before the domain - "http://www." - is called the schema and provides information about how the domain is hosted. The bit after the domain - "/index.htm" refers to a particular document on the domain's server).

The parts of a domain name

In our example the domain itself is made up of two parts "somesite" and ".com". The first part of the domain is pretty much up to you and your imagination. But for the second part of the domain you have to choose from a fixed range of options.

How to choose the first part (the creative bit)

The big question here is: Do you care about search engines? In other words, is it going to be important to you that folks can find your web site if they do a search in Google (or something similar such as MSN or Yahoo)? It costs nothing to be indexed by search engines and they can potentially bring in new business. That's got to be a good thing, right?

Well not necessarily. There is a cost to be paid if you want to make the most of the free indexing that Google, MSN, Yahoo and others offer. The price is that you have to be prepared to work hard to make your web site fit the requirements of the search engines. Now some businesses don't need to do that. Perhaps their web site exists primarily to support existing customers or perhaps they already have a good source for new business through traditional sales methods. Other businesses are not prepared to rely on the whim of the search engines for their marketing. They prefer to pay because that puts them in control. Usually these kind of people have deep pockets! OK.. But if like most people you can't afford to ignore the wonderful opportunities the web provides for free publicity through the search engines, then your choice of domain name can get you off to a good start!

The importance of key words

A search engine such as Google does a brilliant job of delivering quality content when you type something into that little Google search box. For example a search on the phrase "domain name" just now delivered the first 10 web sites from a total of 172,000,000! When you think about it, that means that one web site is "number 1" out of 172,000,000 for that search term. How in heaven's name does Google work that out? Well it's not done by a team of humans looking at and evaluating web pages! Instead it's done by "robots" or "spiders" that go from site to site analysing the content of the web site according to very clever, complicated (and of course secret) rules. One part (a small part) in the analysis of the content of a web site by a search engine robot is the domain name. So you can help the search engine spider to do its job by including your most important keyword in the domain name

Example: Consider a business that sells holidays in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Perhaps the business name is "Happy Holidays, inc". But instead of happyholidays.com, perhaps a good name for the web site would be mauritius-seychelles.com, which effectively builds both keywords into the domain name (In fact this web site is No 3 in Google for the phrase "holiday seychelles" at the time of writing!).

Search engine friendly domain names

Right there in that domain name "mauritius-seychelles.com". What's that dash symbol doing? Well you've got to remember that search engine robots - like all computerized systems - are literal beasts and in that sense they're quite stupid. Especially at pattern and word recognition. So if the domain was "mauritiusseychelles.com" it's quite probable that the keywords in the domain name would not get picked up. (Ed. That looks ugly to humans too!) The dash character ("-") helps the search engine robot to get its hooks into the keywords in the domain name.

Wouldn't capitalizing the keywords work just as well? Certainly you can improve the look of a non-dashed domain name... for humans! For example you could always display "MauritiusSeychelles.com" instead of "mauritiusseychelles.com" on your letterhead, business cards, the side of your truck, your forehead, or whatever. However on the Internet domain names are case-insensitive in web addresses and email addresses. Search engine spiders and robots are blind to the case of the letters in your domain name.

What characters can I use in my domain name?

Apart from the dash (hyphen) symbol, you're restricted to just letters and numbers. Also you cannot have two hypens next to each other, or start the domain with a hyphen or end the domain with a hyphen The next issue: Geographical or generic domain name? The key question to ask yourself is this: Are your customers primarily in your own country? Or is your market worldwide? If the answer to the first question is yes - if your business is mainly targeting customers in your own country - we strongly recommend that you choose a geographical name! There are two reasons for this:

  1. Google (and other search engines): If you are hoping to get good traffic to your web site from search engines it pays to work with them and not against them! And you can help Google (and other spiders) to index and analyse your site accurately by using the domain name system to 'hint' at what your site is about.
  2. Your customers need to know that you are nearby! For example, let's say I live in Canada and I'm looking to buy a crate of wine online for home delivery. If I come across your web site and it is called "super-wines.com" how will I know without researching your site that you can deliver to me? You could be in New Zealand or Timbuktu for all I know! But if I see straightaway that your web site is called "super-wines.ca" then I'm pretty sure I've come to the right place.

Examples of geographical domain names

There are now many hundreds of "country code", geographical domains. For example:

There is a complete list at ICANN's web site here

Names that are both geographical AND generic

Some countries have attempted to create some order within their domain space by creating generic sub-domains of their geographical domain. An example is the UK, where you can order domains in various flavours: