42 Killer Domain Secrets Exposed!
By Jim Symonds

The Basic Stuff

Every website needs a domain name. Example "WebBootCamp.com" is a domain name. Your domain is your website address, a.k.a. URL (universal resource locator). Should you use your company name for your domain? Maybe, maybe not. Is it memorable? Easy to spell? Does it contain keywords that relate to your business? For more considerations on choosing a domain, I've put together the following checklist.

Pick a memorable name. How catchy is it? Would the average person be able to remember just your website name, without looking through their bookmarks (if they have even bothered to bookmark it, that is)?

Make it easy to spell! Face it, most people can't spell. Try to target for the masses when you pick your name. Think of everyone having a 7th grade education.

Make it short, try for a two or three word domain. When possible, name your company the same as your domain name. Whether you actually add .com to your company's name makes little difference.

Use keywords in your domain. Try services like http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/, https://adwords.google.com/select/tools.html, and wordtracker.com to see what people are searching for, in BIG NUMBERS, related to your subject.

Don't use numbers or hyphens. These are easily overlooked or forgotten when people type in your domain. Unless you're using a stand out combination like 911alert or 123homerepair, don't go numeric. If you use hyphens, then every time you tell someone your domain, you have to say "it's blah-blah-blah.com - with the hyphens". This is not impressive, and you risk losing traffic to blahblahblah.com. You're asking your potential customers to work harder, to remember tedious details about your name. Simplicity is important, because you want them to find you. You're building a brand here.

Don't buy any other extension except a ".com" This is the best branded domain extension, highly known and trusted. Any other extension is practically worthless, in my book. In addition to being first in the minds of the public, remember also that most people trying to find a company will put a .com after that company's name in their browser. It's second nature to most of us. A .org can bring attention for non profits, but even most of those companies will try to purchase a .com as well.

Avoid running names together that end in a vowel and begin in a vowel. EXAMPLE: freeebook.com Also try to avoid having the second word start with the same letter as the last letter of the last word. These combinations can look weird, and are often likely to be misread or simply forgotten. By avoiding these two combinations, along with numbers and hyphens, we make sure our words (and our brand) will stand out.

EXAMPLE: WebmasterNow.com

Good For Starting Sentences, Not Domains

Avoid starting your name with THE, or A, if being used as the word A. EXAMPLE asimplehome.com - "a" is likely to be forgotten. While it is true that directory listings usually list alphabetically, search engines do not.

If you can come up with a catchy name starting with "a", by all means, do so. You may find yourself first in the yellow page listings. Have a look there first, and see what the competition looks like. What are their names, how do they rank?

Now, here's where it gets interesting. You'll see that names starting with numbers get displayed first (for non paid listings). So the big question becomes, is yours the type of product or service that will do well from yellow page traffic? You must carefully weigh this against overall branding of your company.

You could of course, have more than one domain, and more than one brand for your company, but be careful about promoting the same sites with different names to the same search engines. You could find yourself banned from those search engines altogether.

Brand New?

Don't pick your name as your domain name, unless you're famous. Names aren't keywords (won't help your search engine rankings), and usually easily forgotten. Unless you've built a big brand around your name already, stick to a good key phrase! It is much easier to brand.

Who's who, and is my name taken?

To search available domains, and to find out who owns registered ones, use the whois function at http://www.internic.net. If you come across a registered domain, it will show you where it was registered. The next step to detecting the identity of the actual owner, is to visit the registrar (this is where the domain was registered) site listed, and use their whois search. This should provide you with name, address, phone number and email of the rightful owner. Unfortunately, this information is not always available, but it is most of the time.

A Common Myth Equals Missed Opportunities

All the great domains are taken. Hogwash! The dirty little secret is, thousands of great domains expire every day! Here's a handy resource for finding great expired and expiring domains - http://deleteddomains.com - I've found some real gems here, like webbootcamp.com, webmastertoolset.com, customoilpainting.com and customoilpaintings.com - all formerly owned and let go, just to name a few.

When applicable, do try to get the singular and plural versions of your domain like we just saw with customoilpainting(s). When one could be easily be mistaken for the other, it helps to be covered this way. You're also protecting your brand.

Another expiring domain service to check out is snapcheck.com. They have some interesting statistics for expiring domains, such as google page rank and yahoo and dmoz listed domains. Bear in mind that any "perceived value" on a domain put there by a search engine listing or page rank is inherently fleeting. That's because the content that was responsible for that listing is now gone, and it is simply a matter of time before the search engine's spiders crawl the site again, and re-evaluate it's content. In other words, the search engine ranking is very likely going to disappear soon, unless you quickly repopulate the site with compelling content, worthy of the rank the original site had.

Roads To Nowhere, No Stops Ahead

One tasty bonus that accompanies a popular site is link popularity. This is how many other websites link to the domain in question. Think of a link as a road into your website. Quite often, webmasters do not update their links when the site they're linking to changes or disappears altogether. So if you find an expired (or soon to be expired) domain with high link popularity (many links to the domain), it may well stay that way for some time to come.

Case in point: special-report-network.net was once a very successful ad network run by online marketing guru Allen Says. For reasons unknown, he shut down the site and let the domain expire. The domain had over 14,000 links pointing to it! The weird part is, it still does! Want proof? Go to alltheweb.com and search for "link:http://www.special-report-network.net", without the quotation marks. This will show all the sites linking to it. The domain got snatched up by Ultimate Search, a hong kong company that registers thousands of domains, and makes money from paid search results. The site has nothing to do with the original ad network site that Allen built and made successful, yet the links remain, and links equal traffic.

Bear in mind not all links are created equal. Link farms (A.K.A. FFA or "free for all" links pages), and seldom visited by real people. Instead, automated programs add people's URLs when they submit to a mass submission service, hoping to generate big traffic. Instead, all they get is a bunch of spam, which they've agreed to receive, in order for using the service.

How can I snag that expiring hottie?

When you find a name that is pending deletion (the owner hasn't renewed it), the next step is to try to secure it, the moment it becomes available. Strangely, domains do not fall back into the pool of availability the day they expire. It can take up to 60 days or more in some cases for them to "drop", and the times are not announced. Thankfully, there are automated services to perform this task for us, such as Namewinner.com, Snapnames.com, Expirefish.com, and Pool.com. Prices vary, and none can guarantee success.

Namewinner lets users bid against each other for expiring domains and only the winner pays, while Snapnames and Expirefish are first come, first served, meaning only one user has a shot at grabbing a particular domain. Snapnames also has the most registrar partners, (including Network Solutions), which may give them an edge for securing expiring domains that are currently registered with their partners. They also have the highest price tag, and you pay whether or not they secure your name. Pool.com is a newcomer that seems to rival the services of Snapnames, with better prices.

One more method you might try, is going directly to the current owner. Let's say your desired dropping domain is already "back ordered" on Snapnames.com, and Expirefish.com. Now you can still bid for it at Namewinner.com, and Pool.com, but you feel the odds are against you. If you're really hot on the name, and willing to pay a premium, you may be able to bypass the solutions above, simply by cutting a deal with the current owner.

This can be a bit risky however, because once the owner realizes your interest, they may decide to ask for a unreasonable sum of money, or simply see value in the domain again (generated from your interest), and renew it as an investment. Assuming you can make a deal, you may want to suggest using escrow.com, which eliminates the possibility of fraud for both of you. The owner will need to renew the domain before they can transfer it to you.

The Website Graveyard - Visit Those Spooky Remains!

Once you've found a deleted or soon to be deleted domain you fancy, you might want to take a trip into the past, to see what that site used to be! Now bear in mind most domains that are registered are never developed, so there may be nothing at all to see. But for those domains with a tangible history, we can often peek at their ghost, courtesy of the wayback machine at http://www.archive.org.

One Owner, Driven Only On Sundays

Another way to check the history of a domain, is simply to search for it. Try searching google, and groups.google.com, to see what people may have said about the site. You may think twice about purchasing a domain with a sketchy history.

Speculators Beware!

Don't go overboard and buy every known extension for your brand - (.net, .org, .biz, .info, etc.). Big corporations like google can afford to buy all the country domains. When you're starting out, remember, domain fees are yearly, and you need to consider the lifelong cost of each domain. For most people, one domain is just fine.

You may think snatching up good domains and reselling them would be a lucrative business. The problem is, finding a buyer is not easy. In fact, that's an understatement.

Don't register domains containing trademarks. You will likely here from that company's legal department if you do, and will be forced to relinquish the name by The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), or a lawsuit, or both.

Who's in charge?

Icann (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) oversees the domain registration business. Their URL is http://www.icann.org. If you ever have trouble with your registrar, it may be worth reporting to Icann.

Case in point: A client of mine tried to switch his domain to another registrar (at my suggestion), to get added free features (free URL forwarding), and save money. His current registrar denied the transfer, and tried to charge him a fee for leaving! Once we threatened to take up the matter with Icann, and publicly expose them at Icann's forum (http://forum.icann.org/regxfer), they immediately backed down, and released the domain.

If you believe someone has registered a domain that infringes on your trademark (or has infringed on your intellectual property), the authority to see is The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), at http://wipo.org

Brand Awareness

Capitalize each word of your domain in your sig files and letterhead, and anywhere else you advertise your domain. It helps your brand stand out.

EXAMPLE: http://www.WebBootCamp.com looks better than http://www.webbootcamp.com

Also, only add in http://www. when you're creating links back to your site (i.e., email, websites, and online forms). In all your offline advertising, such as signs, business cards and letterhead, you should definitely skip http://www. and just use "YourDomain.com". You only have a second or two of people's attention when they see your URL, so make it count. Brand that name! Just make sure your web host has your site set up to show without WWW. Most sites are correctly set up to display when a person types in "YourDomain.com", or "www.YourDomain.com" but a handful, maybe 10% or so will show page not found, if you skip "www". That could be devastating, so check with your host, and demand that your site come up either way!

Ready To Buy Your .com?

Don't overpay! I'm still surprised that many people don't know they can buy domains for under $10 these days. Shop around. Currently I recommend http://www.TOSDomains.net. They offer a lot of extras like URL and email forwarding, free.

Keep Your Registration Current!

Don't let your domain expire! You cannot afford to be even a day late in payment. If it falls into the redemption period, you may find yourself high jacked by your registrar for an outrageous renewal fee. See this illuminating article for more about the redemption period - "Domain Redemption Period Farce Exposed!" here: http://www.sitepoint.com/article/1034. If your expired domain falls back into the available pool, it may be registered by anyone, and you may have little recourse trying to recover it.

The easiest way to ensure you are sent renewal notices for your domain is to keep your email contact current for your domain. Perhaps the most common reason for people losing their domains, is simply that they switch ISPs, and subsequently, their email address changes, and they forget to update that information with their domain registrar.

If you own a lot of domains, keeping up with administration can be tedious. One trick I rely on, is to use one domain for my primary business email address, and on that registration "admin" contact, I use my ISP email. For all my other domain registrations, I use my primary business email address (based on my primary domain, which I will never let go). Now, if I should switch ISPs, all I need to concern myself with is changing that one domain record, to reflect my new ISP email. All my other domain records have that primary domain email as the admin contact, so as long as I keep the one record current (and keep the email account active), all will be current, and all domain renewal notices will be sent to me.

In the end, it's not so much about the name, as it is what you make of it. Just look at all the big successful internet companies out there with strange names! Yahoo!

To learn how to set up your domain to point to your hosting account, I recommend the reading materials in Web Boot Camp, http://www.webbootcamp.com/rg.cgi?learn, an all inclusive "how to" guide for web business. Get web savvy today!

Copyright 2003-2004, Jim Symonds, All Rights Reserved.
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