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Blogging Pitfalls: Picking a Bad Domain

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With this edition of Blogging Pitfalls, I have to eat a bit of humble pie as I talk about a pitfall I didn’t just fall into, but have had to stick with for five years for various reasons: Picking a bad domain name.

How bad did I fall into this one? Though there are many things I would do differently if I could start blogging over again, I would put this at the very top of my list of things I would change and often times ponder making the change regardless, just sucking it up and moving it.

The reason is simple, my main domain is plagiarismtoday.com. While it seemed like a fine domain when I bought it, it has two inherent problems. First, the site is not just about plagiarism anymore and, second, only a fraction of people, in my experience, are able to spell plagiarism correctly on the first try. This has led to a series of awkward and difficult conversations as I try to pass along my domain or email address to others and has greatly limited my marketing.

It is a pitfall I don’t wish to see anyone else fall in and, unfortunately, it is one that can be fairly tricky to dodge considering how unpredictable domain buying is. However, if you’re willing to take some time when selecting the name for your new site, you can easily minimize the risks.

The Pitfall

Most people know that, if you want to be taken seriously as a blogger, you need to have your own domain. This is true regardless of platform.

However, picking a domain is far from easy. Not only are the vast majority of obvious options already taken, but it is often debated what makes a great domain.

This sends a lot of bloggers into a cycle of frustration when trying to find the right domain for their site. They come up with a great idea only to find that it has already been registered, often by a domain speculating firm just hoping to resell it at an inflated price.

This causes many to either “settle” for a domain that they aren’t enthused about or, even worse, not think too hard about how good or bad a domain is when they find one that they think can work. This can cause a blogger to set up shop with a mediocre or even outright bad domain and the consequences can be very dire.

The Danger

A bad domain can hurt a site in many different ways. The most obvious, however, is in turning visitors away by making it difficult to find or link to your site.

Simply put, a domain that can not be easily spelled is going to get significantly less “type in” traffic, where people simply type the URL of the site into their address bar and go. This forces the domain to lean more on search engine, bookmark and inbound link traffic, but since other sites wishing to link to yours will also have the same difficulty with typing the URL, that becomes less likely as well. That, in turn, hurts the number of inbound links, which in turn hurts your SEO.

In short, having a difficult-to-type domain literally hurts every element of your promotion. From telling others about your site, to creating promotional materials, to generating inbound links and even your SEO.

However, that isn’t the only way a domain can go south. Even one that is easily understood can do a poor job defining what the site is about. If your site changes topics or broadens out to cover more than what your domain indicates, that too can hurt your marketing as your actual URL no longer effectively conveys what your site is about.

Simply put, your domain name is perhaps the most critical element of your site’s marketing and having a bad one can be a crippling wound that can stick with you for the life of your site.

How to Avoid It

This one can be surprisingly difficult to avoid. Not only is it easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting a new site and not perform due diligence on your domain search, but it can be amazingly difficult to nail down exactly what makes a good domain. After all, the most popular site on the Web has a domain that is an intentional misspelling of an obscure mathematical term, defying almost all domain-buying logic.

So, rather than dealing with hard and fast rules about what makes a good domain, I would rather recommend the David Ogilvy approach to marketing. Ogilvy, who once famously said, “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals,” put heavy emphasis on research in his work in advertising and it served him very well.

With that in mind, here are three steps to help ensure you don’t get stuck with a bad domain.

  1. Brainstorm Thoroughly: First, generate a list of at least five domains that are available, that are on-topic, are relatively short, use only two or three words and can be easily spelled/spoken. If you have the money, register all of your finalists right off the bat, otherwise, be careful who you share them with.
  2. Test Your Ideas: Get a diverse group of friends together and ask them what they think of the domains. Be sure to have them try and type the domain from just you telling them what it is, this tests how “radio friendly” the domain is. Also, make certain to learn what they think of when they hear or see the name and how appropriate they feel it is for your site. Get this feedback and pick one winner and one alternate.
  3. Launch Site, Test Early: Finally, launch your site but be sure to test your domain early and constantly ask your early readers how they feel about it. Within the first few months your domain has not built up much in the search engines nor with readers, making it much easier to move if needed. If there is a problem and you spot it quick, you can correct it without too much damage being done.

Basically though, the goal is to research your domain thoroughly and spot any obvious flaws before setting up shop. If you can do that, which takes a great deal of work and patience, you still can’t guarantee that the domain will be a wild success, but you can definitely reduce the odds that it will be a stinker and one you’ll wind up regretting.

Bottom Line

To be fair, this pitfall is not as disastrous as some of the others I’ve talked about already. My site, for example has done fairly well for itself, has a solid PageRank of 6 in Google and is well-known in its niche. Where a good site can do nothing in the face of a bad host or a deluge of ads, it can survive a bad domain.

However, it is an uphill struggle to say the least and there is no reason to handicap your site from day one. If you’re going to pick your own domain, it is worth the time and energy to do it right. It’s a decision that will save you a near-infinite amount of headache and struggle down the road.

So put your site on a good foundation and get the right domain on the first try.

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Comments

  1. Robyn from Sam's Web Guide ) says: 6/19/2010

    Great article Jonathan.

    I actually spent about 3 weeks trying to decide the domain that is right for me. I finally stuck with samswebguide.com and I haven’t regretted it since. It takes a lot of planning, reading other sites and just deciding definitely the direction one wishes to take and bear in mind the possible spin-offs.

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