A domain is an identifying name that points to a website and ends with .com, .net, .biz, etc.
Like apple.com or wikipedia.org.
It is your web address, but it is not your website. You need to register a unique domain name in order to access your website online.
Think about your website like a house. You can build a great house, but nobody will be able to find it unless you have an address. Fortunately, you get to pick your address, and the name you select matters.
Good domain names are easy to remember, look trustworthy, and make sense for each individual business. Good domain names are not only easy to type, they also look credible to a potential visitor.
When someone comes across your domain, they have to make a judgment call on whether they’ll click that link. How many users see your site vs how many users actually click on it is known as the CTR (Click-Through-Rate). CTR matters, especially in organic search; and the domain name you choose can impact that decision.
A straightforward domain name goes far to make your site look trustworthy and relevant.
Make it short and to the point
Ideally, the shorter your domain name, the better...but within reason. Most domains are between 10-15 characters and contain 1-3 words.
hwp.com is not a great domain name, even though it is very short. This domain tells you nothing about my business.
hollywoodcaliforniaboudoirandweddingportraits.com is very descriptive, but it’s way too long. If the domain name seems like it could be a full sentence, it’s probably too long.
hollywoodportraits.com is near-ideal. It’s medium-length and tells you a lot about the website you’re going to see.
Shorter domains are easier to remember, have better word association with your brand, and they’re more to the point. (Plus, they’ll fit on a business card!)
Try to get your real business name
It’s a great idea to use the actual name of your business for your domain name.
This is a great branding technique because when users see it shared, they identify your name with the services you offer.
Don’t misspell your domain name on purpose.
Intentionally misspelling domain names to get one similar to what you want is a really bad idea.
holllllllllywoodphotography.com – No one will ever remember that.
ho11ywoodphotography.com – Now it looks like spam.
Imagine telling someone your website address over the phone. If you stumble explaining extra dashes, unfamiliar words, or alternate spelling, it’s going to be confusing for your clients, too.
Don’t stuff your domain with keywords
A lot of people think that including keywords in their domain name will help with SEO. That’s simply not the case. At least, not anymore.
Way back when, people tried to artificially boost their search rank by making their domains exactly match certain search queries.
Like if I wanted to come up for “Idaho Wedding Photographer,” all I had to do was buy idahoweddingphotographer.com… and boom! Page 1.
But then Google fired back:
“Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo(rithm) change will reduce low-quality "exact-match" domains in search results.”
(That's Matt Cutts, by the way. Pretty much THE go-to guy when it comes to what makes Google happy, sad or mad. Not sure who he is? Google him.)
This doesn’t mean you should avoid all keywords in your domain... it simply means that using ONLY keywords won’t get you any extra “SEO Juju,” and it might make you look silly.
Don’t hoard domains
Another common misconception is that by owning multiple similar domains you can somehow increase the SEO value of them all. This is not the case.
Owning every variation of your domain name is a waste of money and in no way beneficial to SEO.
The only potential advantage is preventing your competition from buying a similar domain name. For example, janesphotographs.com vs. janesphotography.com could be confusing. But that doesn’t mean you should spend $500 a year squatting on domains you’ll never use.
Choosing between .com, .net, .info, .biz, .blog, etc…
Google ranks all TLDs (top-level domains) the same. Doesn’t matter if it’s .com or .pizza.
In fact, as of February 2017, there are 1528 top-level domains you can choose from! You can get anything from .ninja to .wow.
While these are totally cute, we recommend you stick to .com if at all possible.
That’s because .com is basically the “default” in the minds of consumers. It’s easier for customers to remember .com web addresses, and they trust .coms more when they see the link. As of 2013, approximately 75% of ALL US domains were .coms.
There are exceptions, of course. A .org address makes sense for a Non-Profit, while Network or Tech companies may consider .net. Recently, Startups have been favoring .io. However, for most common businesses that serve consumers, .coms generally work best.
What if I want to change my domain name?
You can change your domain name whenever you want to, but there are some things to think about before you do.
The age of your domain and any optimization or positive/negative feedback you've received while using that domain is a big ranking factor for search engines.
If you get a NEW domain and switch your site over with no preparatory action, there's a good chance you will basically start over with Google ranking. Google would need to re-index the new domain name and reevaluate your site to determine your new rank (or whether you'll rank at all). Even if you utilize redirects, you can expect to potentially lose some amount of ranking for a period of time.
This is not necessarily permanent, and it's not always bad. In fact, in some circumstances changing your domain can work out great in the long run.
For example: If you’re not currently ranking well anyway, then it’s not a huge deal to start over with a new domain – especially if the new domain name is better, easier to remember or appears more professional than the old one. If your site has been penalized by Google in the past, changing your domain could serve as a fresh start and new opportunity to improve your site/business's rank.
Also, if you’re changing your business, your service model, or a substantial amount of pages, your old rank won’t matter for your new services. Therefore, it’d be fine to change the domain name when you re-launch your site.
Picking a domain name is important, but it doesn't have to be hard. The best domain names tend to be the simplest, and most direct to your business model.
If you need help picking (or purchasing!) your domain name, the PhotoBiz Passionate Support Team is a great place to start.
Alex C. is our senior SEO expert at PhotoBiz. He is Google Analytics (GAIQ) certified, HubSpot Inbound Marketing certified & Moz Advanced SEO certified. Alex has helped hundreds of clients optimize their websites, blogs, and online portfolios.
Want Alex to review your site and see how it can perform better for your business? With an SEO Kickstart, Alex will personally guide you through fine-tuning your website content and layout, crafting effective metadata, and building a blogging strategy that will get you more exposure online.