Your domain name matters. It is at the heart of your internet strategy. Your name describes the nature of your business, creates brand awareness and encourages repeat hits and online sales. It is the central ingredient for successful online marketing and, if appropriate to the market, your name could be spread without you even having to do anything.
Names can include letters, numbers and hyphens so there are a number of ways to distinguish yourself from the competition. For example, if your company is called John Smith Printers and the .com, and .co.uk names are already taken, use your imagination to create an alternative.
You don't always need a name that directly states what you do. Having an unrelated catchy name can sometimes work to your advantage. Take Amazon.com, for example. The name is not directly linked to the products the company sells. However, Amazon has built a reputable brand around a totally new name that stands out from the crowd.
So what makes a successful domain name?
Before attempting to buy every domain under the sun you will have to pose yourself some serious questions. How easy is it to recall the name? How does the name look in front of you and how will it look on business cards as well as company literature? It needs to make an instant impression on the customer so keep it short, recognisable and consistent with the brand you have already established.
If in doubt, remember the acronym, RAIL.
R - Recall
How easy is it to recall the name?
A - Aesthetics
How does the name look? How will it look on business cards and company literature?
I - Impressions
First impressions are crucial, so choose your name carefully
L - Length
Web addresses are limited to the 26 letters of the English alphabet, ten numerals and a hyphen - 37 characters in all. When picking a name, less is more. A short name is preferable to a long one.
Lesley Cowley, chief executive at Nominet, believes the length of name is crucial in customer retention. "There is no standard in the length of a domain but the rule of thumb is the shorter the better."
As the number of websites continues to grow and the web becomes an increasingly crowded place, your name will also have to be easily picked out by search engines, a popular method for site location. If kept short, simple and catchy, it can be easily found, accessed and remembered.
Another key consideration when selecting a name is your email address. Armitage explains: "Email addresses are like social telephone numbers. More and more businesses and individuals swap addresses as the way to stay in contact and it is just as important that these are memorable and descriptive."
So when choosing a name consider this as well. It is a means by which you are remembered, contacted and will gain repeat hits or sales, not just a name.
What name should you choose?
Once you have chosen a name you will have to think about and research the possibilities of the ending. Will it be .com, .org, .net or something more unusual? This depends on a number of factors: the nature of your business, whether you are national, international or both and what is important to you and your customer base.
The suffix .com is the obvious answer but as Nick Saalfeld, managing director of new media consultancy Wells Park Communications and former editorial director for CompuServe UK, says, if you can't register .com, go elsewhere:
"You have two big choices, .com and .co.uk. These are the most desirable. However, with the uptake of alternative names, .com is slowly becoming less desirable."
Armitage agrees: "Dot com doesn't do anything these days. Businesses are a lot more knowledgeable about the internet and are responding to the lack of obvious names by being more creative and imaginative."
Whatever the experts say, though, the best and most highly regarded name is .com. It is globally and universally recognised, so if you can register it as well as .co.uk, do it sooner rather than later.
Even if you don't use the UK name it will keep others from copying your name and protect you from the competition. In theory the more names you have the better the chance you have of maintaining that brand as yours and yours only. But short names are scarce and fading fast. So what should you do?
Saalfeld, explains: "There's very little status in suffixes today. A British company should aim to own .co.uk and .com addresses, both of which imply a corporate entity, with .co.uk specifically identifying you as British."