Now more than ever, a website is fundamental to your small business’s success. New and current customers are simply much likely to open an internet browser than a phone book when they’re looking to find you. Fortunately, getting a website up and running is relatively affordable and easy.

However, before launching a website you need to buy a domain name — and that’s where people get stuck. Choosing the right domain name requires a lot careful planning to ensure it best represents your business. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide outlining the key things to keep in mind when choosing your business domain name.

Pay attention to format

Follow these best practices concerning length, pronunciation, and spelling of your domain name. If you don’t, you’ll undermine its effectiveness and decrease the chances that customers will find you online. Never forget that you’ll be giving out your web address across the internet, as well as printing it on business cards, marketing collateral, and signage. Prioritize clarity above all else.

  • Keep it short. The shorter the name, the easier it’ll be to remember. Ideally, a domain name should be below 20 characters, but it can go up to 67. If your existing business name has a long name, like “Jen’s Incredible Bridal Loft,” remove the unnecessary verbiage. In this case, choose a domain name like “JensBridal” or “JensBridalLoft.”
  • Watch your spelling. Customers will become easily confused by weird spellings. They’re also likely to forget your URL and type in the proper spelling instead. And make sure you write down your domain name on paper and look for alternate interpretations. You don’t want to accidentally register something awkward, like a URL for IT Scrap as “ITscrap”.
  • Avoid cutesy abbreviations and numbers. If your business name is long or someone already registered your perfect domain, don’t attempt to shorten it. Something like “4U” or “Ur” in a domain name looks unprofessional. Also, numbers are problematic —people who hear your name won’t know whether they need to spell out the number or use the numeral.
  • Avoid hyphens. This goes along with pronunciation and spelling. When people are talking about your name or typing it in to their browser, hyphens will be problematic. While it may be tempting to use them to simulate an already-claimed perfect URL, don’t give into the urge. Hyphens may even damage your SEO rankings. Experiment with alternative extensions to see if they’re available instead.

The main message here: Create a domain name that people can talk about and type into a browser without difficulty. Whether you’re sharing it in-person or saying it on the phone, you want to be proud of your URL.

Decide on your strategy

It’s important to consider your domain name strategy. In other words, do you want to create a unique and distinctive brand name? Or do you want to use keywords to describe your business to improve your rankings?

  • Keyword focus: Keyword-based domain names are great for niche and specialized businesses that intend to focus on a particular market build their e-commerce traffic.

For example, if you only sell bongo drums, then by all means use those words in your domain name. You might try something like “BongoDrumsDepot.” Using keywords is one way to get an immediate boost in the search engines. But don’t forget about longevity. If you’re a local business that plans to expand regionally or diversify, avoid limiting yourself with a name that is too narrow.

  • Branded focus: If your business venture encompasses much more than a single specialty — say, you’re launching an online lifestyle brand for fashionistas — then it’s best to skip the keyword approach.

    Instead, aim for a unique domain name, along the lines of Amazon, eBay, and Google. If you go this route, however, make sure that you set aside energy for other accompanying branding efforts. When your name isn’t intuitive, you’ll need to educate consumers about your products and services.

Choose a domain extension

Frequently, one of the biggest frustrations when looking to register a URL is that domain names ending with established extensions, like .com, .net, and .biz, are often off the market because someone already owns them. Luckily, hundreds of new domain extensions are now available, and they’ve opened up the possibilities for acquiring cost-effective and relevant domain names. Here’s how some of the newest extensions are being used:

  • .info: Ideal for websites strictly focused on information
  • .me: Often used for personal websites, blogs, and resumes
  • .tel: Great for small businesses because it’s like a business card, aggregating all your contact information in an easy-to-remember place

Over time, newer extensions are expected to change the way consumers globally seek out and find businesses online. Since they’re relatively new, they’re a great opportunity for business that want to grab a perfect domain name while it’s still available.

A good domain name is a long-term investment

Coming up with a domain name can be an intimidating task. To make it happen, schedule a brainstorming session with your team so that you can develop some ideas. Then, use a domain name search engine to make sure it’s not already taken.

Also don’t forget to make sure that the name isn’t trademarked, copyrighted, or being used by another business. This will ensure you avoid costly issues with infringement down the road. By really putting all this time in to get your domain name right, you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.