One of the questions I get asked quite regularly is how do I choose a new domain name for a project I decide to work on. There are quite a few aspects I take into account that I will share with you.
Exact Match Domains – If you can get an exact match domain, do it. Google says they might be working on lessening its effect on rankings … maybe … but, either way, I would still prefer an exact match domain over any other domain. Period. That said, getting an exact match domain name that isn’t already registered is going to be pretty difficult. Not everyone is going to be able to spend 5 million on a domain, but there are plenty of times when it’s worth it.
Keyword Domains – If you can’t get the exact match domain, getting a domain with the keyword in it is the next best thing. I prefer to get the keyword toward the front if possible (ie LasVegasHotelDeals.com as opposed to DealsLasVegasHotels.com).
Brand Name or Trademarked Domains – I can tell you from first hand experience you want to avoid these like the plague (see Truth behind GoogleDashboard.com) . If you want to register NFLSexKittens.com to keep someone else from doing it, go ahead, but don’t develop on it; instead, develop on the generic FootballSexKittens.com domain. Just trust me: these types of problems never end well.
Misspellings or Creative New Spellings – IMHO Google has gotten really good at correcting misspellings–so good, in fact, it’s rarely worth actively chasing misspellings. Additionally, avoid made up words that are missing vowels unless you have a huge marketing budget. Flickr.com may look like a good domain now but a lot off $$$ was spent on getting people to not go to Flicker.com before it was purchased and redirected.
Hyphens – Coming from the guy who writes on a hyphenated domain, I can tell you: don’t do this. It’s a huge PIA and the dash just never works when spoken.
Length – When I talk about length, I’m talking about the actual number of characters, not the registration period. Shorter is almost always better than longer.
Billboard Quality – A few years ago, there was a thread on WMW about domains having billboard quality, or specifically how memorable is the domain name that someone sees on a billboard. If you can get a more memorable domain that is longer, go with that instead of the shorter one, but it really should be more memorable.
TLD – if you can, always try to get the .com, .net, and .org variations. If you can’t, get .com first, .org second, .net only if it’s an exact match; otherwise choose again … really. Don’t use country TLD’s unless they are going to be used in country. IMHO Google doesn’t have this sorted out yet for all TLD’s that don’t have residency restrictions. I’ve complained about it multiple times to multiple Googler’s who chuckle at my predicament.
2AM Rule – Everyone I know has some variation of this story … it’s late and maybe you had a drink or two. You check some domain names and find they haven’t been registered yet. You expand your search and find more. The next day you wake up to $200 of new domains you registered that quite likely have typo’s in them or don’t seem like anywhere near as good an idea. No domain registrations after 2 AM. End of story.
Whois Info – Using the “creative” whois info can get you into trouble with domain ownership if someone presses the issue. If you are going to use private whois info, don’t link up the account with the same adsense or google analytics account. Google will figure it out. I have seen some evidence that having real info that matches address info can help your rankings.
Length of Registration – Registering a domain for multiple years may not help you, but it will never work against you.