“What’s in a name?” Juliet asked Romeo.

Your company’s domain name is the cornerstone of your digital marketing efforts and your online brand.

Your domain name (usually something like companyabc.com) is a combination of your physical address (the place where your clients can go to find you) and the sign outside your store / office building.

It could communicate professionalism—or make your company seem cheap, shady, amateur, or incompetent. It could let people on the web know who you are and what you do—or confuse them. It could encourage people to visit—or it might scare them away.

Which is why picking the right domain name is important.

In this blog, we’ll tell you how to pick the perfect URL for your company; the tools we use to search and purchase domain names; and how to protect your domain name once you have it.

The name of the game is clarity.

  • Generally speaking, the best option is your company name. It’s the easiest and most obvious choice. And that, in many, perhaps even in most cases, is a good thing.
  • You may want to be creative. Standing out is a great way to raise heads.
  • That being said, make it easy to type. Using slang (2 instead of to) or incorrect spellings (krazy instead of crazy) may make it more difficult for customers to find your site. It also may send your customers to someone else’s site!
  • The best domain names are simple and short. Complex and lengthy domain names are hard to type and spell. Don’t frustrate your visitors. Make it as easy as possible for them to access your site.
  • That being said, shorter domain names are, generally speaking, more expensive.
  • Consider using relevant keywords: it helps increase your search engine rankings.
  • Think about using geographical terms (city, region, or state), especially if your business is local.
  • If possible, don’t use numbers, hyphens, or underscores. They’re often confusing. It’s easy to misunderstand “2” for “two,” to get hyphens and underscores confused, and to misplace dashes in the domain name. Not to mention, a clean domain name presents a professional and credible image.
  • Are there similar domain names already owned by other companies? Will that confuse people who are trying to get to your site?

Pick the right domain extension: .com, .org, or .net?

Just so we’re clear: domain extensions are like suffixes. They appear at the end of a web address.

Chances are, the best option for you is a .com domain extension. It’s the most popular (108 million websites used .com extensions in 2013); it’s the most-professional-looking (sometimes, .info sites seem sketchy). But this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. For now, there are two things to consider.

First: Your company: Who are you? What do you sell? What do people coming to a site like yours expect to see? In general, the assumption about domain extensions is that

  • .net is associated with tech companies.
  • .me is for personal blogs.
  • .org is for non-commercial and non-profit organizations.
  • .info is used by organizations that compile and provide information.
  • .biz is almost always associated with poor quality, spammy websites.

Unless your organization fits squarely in one of these categories, .com is probably the best option for you.

Second: However much a .com extension represents the norm, it may be unavailable. “What if my perfect domain name is available only with a .net extension?” It’s a good question, and, unsurprisingly, there’s no one answer. It’s a matter of weighing the pros and cons. In general, it makes more sense to pick a domain name with a .net extension than one with a .biz extension.

Again, let us restate that these are general rules, not to be followed in every case.

How to Search for the Perfect Domain Name.

So, you have a few ideas for a domain name in mind. How do I know what’s available? For a number of years, we’ve used 2 tools:

  1. GoDaddy’s Domain Name Search Engine. You can search “by bulk” or one domain at a time. We have found that it’s real easy to find the answer to what we’re looking for: is this domain name available or already taken? What if the search engine reveals that your perfect name is already taken? You have two options. Think about selecting another. GoDaddy will auto-generate suggestions if the domain name is already registered. Or: try buying the domain name from the organization / person who owns it.
  2. WhoIs.net. Like GoDaddy, WhoIs.net is a search engine for domain names, but it also can help you locate the organization / person who owns it. There’s no guarantee here. Sometimes, the information is not available. Sometimes, even if you find them, they won’t want to sell, especially if they’re a legitimate business currently using the domain name. Then again, if your offer is good enough, it may be too tempting to pass up.

Treat your domain name like gold.

So you’ve found the perfect domain name (or, at least, the best one available. The one that fits your specific needs). What do you do now?

Protect it. Seriously. There are way too many “URL-gates.” Stories of companies with massive public exposure and huge budgets who just neglected to take care of their URL. It can happen to anyone. In fact, we’ve seen it happen to people we know. Losing their domain name hurt their reputation, was extremely costly, and damaged their brand.

Your domain name is as important as your brand. It’s your company’s “address” and identity on the web. It’s one of your most valuable business assets.

We hope that this short list of advice will help you avoid the pain of losing your domain name:

  1. Write the login information—user name, password, security questions—down. It may be obvious, but it’s important (and many companies don’t take the time to do it). Think about making a password-protected “Important Information” document on your computer … and perhaps even write it down (legibly) on a piece of paper and store it in a locked filing cabinet.
  2. Consider sharing the login information with someone you trust—an employee, your in-house web technician, the CEO, your business partner, or even your spouse. Businesses are in trouble if only one person in the company knows its important passwords. What happens if that one person leaves the company or passes away? It’s an unpleasant thought, but if the account holder dies, privacy laws and user agreements make it extremely difficult for anybody else to access the information, even a business partner or the next of kin.
  3. That being said, it would be even better to put the domain name in your business’s name—not your personal name. Many providers’ terms-of-agreement stipulate that ownership ends if the account holder passes away—at which point, your company loses its domain name. Some providers won’t even allow access to the information unless a certificate of death is provided. It’s a tricky legal issue, but there’s a simple fix: put it in the company name.
  4. Do not give your domain name’s user and password info to anyone outside of the company, including your third-party website design and search engine optimization firm.
  5. Renew your domain name on time. Once you purchase a domain name, it’s yours forever, right? Wrong. It has to be renewed. The trouble is, companies often forget to renew their domain names. It’s embarrassing and reflects poorly on your business, but it happens a lot—to big and small companies alike.

If your domain should expire, the best-case scenario is paying a small “expiration” fee and your site is down for at least a few business days. Worst-case: an outside party purchases the expired domain name, and you have to either buy it back (for a steep price) or forfeit it.

Don’t let it expire on you. Renew it on time. We recommend that your company consider three strategies to make sure this happens:

  1. Multiple people in your company should set recurring calendar reminders for when the renewal fee is due.
  2. If you plan on having the domain for the foreseeable future, use the domain provider’s auto-renewal option.
  3. When registering the domain name, use a permanent email address that you will check regularly. Typically, the domain provider will send you an email warning you that the domain name will expire soon. We all have those “extra” email addresses that are used for junk mail. Don’t. Use. That. One. It’s too important.

Even these strategies aren’t foolproof, however. (Your credit card information might change. You might start using a different calendar app.)

Don’t let the domain name slip through the crack. Do whatever it takes to renew it on time.

Your domain name is one of the most important assets your business owns. Be diligent to keep it in the company.