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Domain Names (part 1)

The art and science of choosing a domain name.

Choosing a domain name is one of the first tasks one must undertake when getting a new web site. The name you choose could have a significant impact on the future success of the web site, and as a result, your business. But as with other marketing decisions, this choice is made with more art than science.

But first, the science:

Using Back2Front as an example our web address looks like this: http://www.back2front.ca

http://
The "http://" part is the protocol used to talk to web servers . Others examples are "mail" or "ftp" used to communicate with mail and ftp servers respectively.

. "dot"
The rest of the address is the Domain Name. It is made up of parts separated with a "." (pronounced "dot").

WWW
For web sites the first part is usually "www" meaning World Wide Web. In some cases the www is optional. Web servers can be set up in such a way as the www part is assumed and so you can reach the same web site whether or not you type in the www part. For all of Back2Front's clients the www is optional.

NAME
The second part is the bit you make up, (the name) ours is "back2front". More on this later.

TLD
The next part, usually the last part, is called the TLD or Top Level Domain. Ours is "ca". Other examples are "com, org, net,". Sometimes before the TLD you will see an additional part indicating a subsection of the domain. For example in Canada there are subsections of the .ca TLD to indicate province. The one for Ontario would look like this "www.back2front.on.ca".
Technical requirements for Domain names;
Unique
Your domain name must be Unique. The "name" plus the "TLD" and any "subsection" there of, in combination, must be unique for each web site. But do not worry, you will not be able to register a domain name that is already taken the registries are responsible for preventing this from happening.

Character Set
Domain names are restricted to the alpha numeric character set and the dash. Characters like (&@$%*'?=+#) are not allowed as part of a domain name. For example; "back-2-front" is acceptable, "back&front" is not. When you see forbidden characters used after the TLD, they are not actually part of the domain name but are parameters used in web programming.

Case
Case is not significant in a domain name. For example "www.Back2Front.ca" is identical to "www.back2front.ca" as far as the naming system is concerned.

Now the Art of choosing a Domain Name:

Once you have satisfied the science, or the technical requirements for your domain name then comes the ART of choosing a domain name. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the NAME part of your domain name.

Memorable
Lots of folks use the initials of the founders or other unfamiliar acronym to come up with a name, like "www.BAF.com". Well, fine, but who can remember a random 3 letter acronym? "www.BestAccountingFirm.com" may not be creative, but it is much more memorable.

Spell-able
Is it "www.colour.com" or "www.color.com"? If they can't spell it, they can't find it. However, if you have an idea for a name that is commonly misspelled, register both spellings to avoid the problem. If it is just plain difficult to spell, like pneumonia.com, just think of something else.

Short
The longer the name, the more likely it will be that there will be errors in typing it, or spelling it. Fitting it on signs and other advertising materials could be a problem as well. So all else being equal the shorter the better.

Indicates What You Do
This rule is not hard and fast and is often difficult to accomplish but it is worth considering. A name like 123accounting.com makes it clear from the outset what sort of business you are in, and this is good. However, Back2Front could be anything, so we added "The Web Site People" as a tag line to make it clear. You can do this too.

The Humour Trap
Be careful with humorous names. It may work brilliantly, but it also could cause you untold grief. The restaurant called "The Slug in the Lettuce" was apparently not adversely affected by this distasteful name, but it could have backfired.

Double Meanings and Unintended Connotations
The humble grain 'Canola' was once called 'Rape Seed'. The name was changed for obvious reasons. Make sure the name you pick does not have unsavoury and unintended meanings for other people. Ask around. Especially ask people from other cultures, languages, and backgrounds for their opinion. You may be surprised at what you find out!

For Posterity
Try to pick a name you can live with for a long time. Changing your name is a hassle you can do with out. You will spend a lot of time and money 'getting your name out there.' Do not waste it by picking a name that won't stand the test of time. If possible choose a name, and live with it for a while before committing to it in print and advertising. (You may want to register the one you are considering to make sure you don't lose it while you are thinking.) Then once you do commit, keep the name! Do not be tempted to switch names each time you think of another one you like. There are millions of possibilities and you can't have them all.

Your company name
Of course if you have been in business a while already and have been working under a name that is known to your clients, or in your industry, you will most likely want to register a name very similar to your company name. But be warned just because you have a registered company name does not mean that you will be able to get the domain name to match!

Find out more about registering a domain name at: www.internic.net

By Candace Carter, Back2Front - The Web Site People, 2007