How to Register a Domain
Domain registration is quite quick and easy to do. The largest challenge is to decide whether you want a company to just register a domain or if you also want hosting. If you aren’t sure about hosting or what you will need, go ahead and register your domain. You can always transfer it later or get hosting elsewhere.
When Should You Register?
As soon as possible. There are very shady people out there who check through recent business registrations and go in and register those as domains. Their hope is that they can get you to pay them hundreds of dollars because they got there first.
Register your domain as soon as possible. Go ahead and register it before you even get your LLC papers or other business info.
Just registration is pretty straightforward. Head over to your favorite registrar and put in the domain name that you’d like. They will guide you through setting up an account and getting your domain registered. Some of the most popular registrars are GoDaddy, Enom and NameCheap.
Make sure when you register your site at a registrar you decide if you’ll want domain privacy. Domain privacy is a service offered by host companies which hides your personal info from your public registration info.
All domain privacy will hide your phone number, email address, and street address. However not all companies will hide your name, so make sure to check into that before you make a purchase if it’s important to you.
Another reason to go with just registration is if you will have your email hosted by Google Apps, and your website hosted by a WordPress Managed hosting service. Neither of these provide domain registration, so you need to have it separately.
Registration and Hosting
If you are ready to sign up for hosting, then you may want to register your domain at the same company as your hosting. Most hosting companies give you 1 free domain registration with hosting.
Selecting a Domain
It’s a simple fact that most people are used to typing in .com for businesses and .org for non profit organizations. These are habits that are well ingrained in most people (especially those over 30). Occasionally people can remember a .net, but most people don’t.
Additionally, if you are considering a less commonly used domain it is likely because the top levels (.com, .org and .net) are already taken. In this case you will be competing directly against the owners of those domains. SEO is hard enough without adding competition before you even get started.
You may also have difficulty getting listed if the search engines don’t think your content is substantially different from the others. Remember, search engines are in the business of finding people answers. If they think you are the same answer as existing sites with the same basic domain name, they will ignore you.
True Story: I know a company that took months to get listed in search engines (and a lot of social media campaigns & backlink building) because they picked .us extension. They picked .us because all the top levels were taken. Well guess what, they offered a very similar service to the ones with the top levels, so search engines ignored them.
In general hyphens (-) are used in URLs to separate words. This makes URLs easier to read. However, people are not used to typing in hyphens when they type in domain names. This means that if someone has www.mywidgets.com and you want to have www.my-widgets.com, you are going to end up sending a lot of your traffic to the folks who have www.mywidgets.com.
You should also be careful about capital I vs lowercase l. They look the same in many fonts, and most people just scan for a name. Domains should always be written out in all lowercase, especially avoiding using an uppercase I. Also watch out for double ll near i’s.
For example aililli would be nearly impossible to type in correctly the first time. If you do already have a name with i’s and l’s, when writing it out use a monospace font (aililli vs aililli) or font which very clearly distinguishes letters. Similar issues can happen with m’s and n’s or w’s and v’s.
If your company name has a frequently misspelled word in it, it might be useful to try and get a couple of the most common misspellings. Additionally, the longer the name, the more likely there is to be a typo. For example I came across an organization with the domain advocatesforadolescentmothers. It took two tries after looking up how to spell adolescent. Trying to email them would be a significant challenge.
Non-profit organizations will frequently get a .org extension. However, many of them also get the .com extension of their name since so many people are accustomed to typing in .com (and to prevent someone else from getting the .com). The organization may also get their country specific top level domain. For example in Canada people are used to typing the .ca extension.
Country Specific Domains
A country specific domain (like .ca for Canada) is fine, as long as your primary target audience is in Canada. Canadians are used to seeing .ca addresses. However, if some of your audience is in Puerto Rico then search engines may target that traffic away from .ca domain. For US folks, the .us extension is a new one and most people aren’t familiar with it.
If you aren’t sure of your hosting situation yet, go to one of the major domain registrars and register your domain with them. It’s better to get it now then find out it’s been taken a month from now. Also remember that you want the domain to be easy to spell, and using a top level domain to avoid unnecessary competition.