Choosing your website’s domain name

Here are five best practices for picking your organization's domain name.
Picking domain name

Your domain name—or website address—is how people locate you on the web. It’s a part of your identity and will be a part of your online presence for a long time. While picking your domain name can be exciting for some, it can be frustrating for others.

Whether you’re about to purchase a domain name for your new business or wondering if you should change, here are five tips I’ve learned helping clients pick domain names for the past twenty years.

Tip 1: The extension is important

Believe it or not, the extension—actually called TLD or Top Level Domain—actually means something. Everyone seems to want a .com, which is theoretically for commercial organizations, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.

Nonprofit organizations should get a .org if possible. Typically, websites that live on a .org are assumed to be nonprofits.

Another option for any organization is .net, initially intended for companies involved in networking technologies. However, it quickly became widely used by other organizations.

Now there are many other industry-specific options as well, including options like .accountant, .attorney, .band, .cafe, .photography, .realestate, and plenty more.

As a rule, look for a domain name ending in .com if you’re a for-profit business or one ending in .org if you’re a nonprofit organization. Otherwise, you can pick .net or a different one that fits your industry.

Tip 2: You can use it for email

When picking your domain name, don’t forget you can also use it for email. If you were to purchase example.com—a domain that’s actually reserved so people can use it as an example in articles—then you can set up anything@example.com.

If your name is Joe Blow, that means you can use joe@example.com, joeb@example.com, joe.blow@example.com, or even something less professional like supermanfan@example.com.

However, you do have to have email hosting to set up your email address. Often, website hosting comes with free email hosting as well. But you get what you pay for, so you may want to invest in an email hosting service like Office 365 or Google Workspace.

And not all of the services you use have to be attached to the same company! If you’re using a digital marketing company, they’ll likely purchase much of the services needed for you and bill you for it. But you can actually buy your domain from one company, your website hosting from a second company, and your email hosting from a third.

For example, my company will often purchase a domain name for our clients, but they sometimes come to us with one already purchased. While we do offer website hosting and free email hosting as a part of that, many of our clients work with an IT company that manages Office 365 or Google Workspace services for them. We work with their IT company to get the technical side of things working, then they’re up and running with email addresses that use their domain name.

Tip 3: It matters where you buy it

It seems like there are a million different places you can purchase domain names, and they’re known as domain name registrars. However, it does matter where you buy yours.

Different domain name registrars offer different capabilities. Almost all of them provide basic services like pointing your domain name to a web host and an email host. But once you get past those basics, what they include and don’t varies greatly. Sometimes you can add specific services for additional investment, and sometimes they simply don’t offer what you need.

For example, some domain name registrars will let you set up email redirects for no additional charge. If you already use joeblow@gmail.com and purchase example.com, some domain name registrars will let you set up joe@example.com to forward emails to joeblow@gmail.com automatically. Other registers won’t let you do that.

Or maybe you’re offering a new service and purchase a domain name for it but want that domain name to go to a link on your current website. Some domain name registrars will let you redirect people from newservice.com to example.com/newservice. Others won’t.

It helps if you know what you want to do before you purchase your domain name, so you can make sure it’s possible with the registrar you choose. Of course, a digital marketing professional should be able to guide you in your decision.

Tip 4: You can move it later

Okay, now I have good news. Let’s pretend like you didn’t know what you were doing when you bought your domain name five years ago. Now you realize that you don’t like the domain name registrar you picked. You’re stuck, right?

You’re not stuck! You can move the domain name from one registrar to another or even from your registrar account to one run by a digital marketing company you now have helping you.

It is a bit of a process and can take several days. It helps to keep a close eye on your email account for emails from the old registrar and the new registrar and quickly click on any confirmation links.

Of course, there are limitations. Most registrars won’t let you transfer if your domain was registered less than 60 days ago, if your contact information was changed less than 60 days ago, or if you already transferred it less than 60 days ago.

I wouldn’t recommend moving your domain name to a new registrar frequently, but you’re definitely not stuck with the first one you chose.

Tip 5: You don’t need the www

Remember back when the internet meant more than just the web? Well, it still does, if you count email. But the web took a while to show up. 1983 is typically considered the birth year of the internet, while the web took another six or seven years to show up, depending on how you count.

For years, the www at the beginning of your website address helped people know that the address was a website address. However, it was never really required, and most modern websites don’t need it.

So what should you put on your marketing material? If you have a common TLD like .com, .org, or .net, I generally recommend not including the www in your address on marketing material, as long as it works correctly. If you have a less common TLD like .agency, you might include it there, so it’s evident to people that it’s a website address.

Finally, be sure to test whatever you put. If you include the www, then type it that way into your browser and make sure your website comes up. If you don’t include it, then try that version.

If this all feels overwhelming, consider hiring a digital marketing agency or freelancer to help you make your choice and set everything up. Professional guidance can often help avoid headaches later on.

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About Tim Priebe

Tim is a public speaker, author, publisher of Edmond Business, and the owner of T&S Online Marketing. He helps businesses that are worried they don’t have the expertise or time required to invest in doing their own digital marketing. He helps them plan where and how much to invest and often helps execute the plan.

Tim started the Edmond Business online magazine in May 2020 to fill a need in the community when The Edmond Sun shut down and stopped publishing their monthly magazine, The Business Times.