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HOW TO GET A GREAT DOMAIN NAME
FOR YOUR REAL ESTATE WEB SITE

For any REALTOR® thinking about getting on the Web, there is a lot to think about -- site design, content, promotion, back end development, and, most importantly, satisfying the client. The problem is that many seemingly unimportant items don't get the attention they deserve, and your domain name is one of these.

Exactly What Is A Domain Name?
Simply put, a domain name is your address and identity on the Internet. People use this address to view your site. And, since no two parties can have the same domain name at the same time, your Internet identity is totally unique.

Technically, a domain name (Web address) is an addressing system used for identifying and locating computers on the Internet. While computers use Internet Protocol (IP) numbers to locate each other on the Internet, people find them hard to remember. Therefore, domain names were developed to permit the use of easily remembered words and phrases to identify Internet addresses.

For example, the domain name (Web address) www.RealEstateWebGuy.com represents my Web site. When you type www.RealEstateWebGuy.com into a Web browser or send e-mail to someone at realestatewebguy.com, the Domain Name System (DNS) translates therealestatewebguy.com into the IP numbers used by the Internet and connects you to my Web site.

Why Do I Need A Domain Name?
Business Credibility
- Very few people will ever view your realty business as serious without your willingness to take this step to present yourself as a professional. It all boils down to this: If you are not willing to invest the few dollars it costs to own your own domain, how serious can you really be about your business?

Control - When you own your a domain name, YOU are the master. Should you decide to change where your site is hosted, it's a simple transition. Your Web address will not change. You also enjoy control over site features such as email accounts and site statistics.

Search Engines - A number of Internet search engines refuse to index free sites and those buried within a top-level domain. Some will list these sites, but will always give preference to sites with a top level domain name. In other words, if you have a site like fredjones.REALTOR®.com, you will either not get listed at all, or if you do, you'll be listed after perhaps thousands of sites with a valid domain name.

Mental Retention - How many times have you seen those long Web address? (www.REALTOR®.com/mytown/mywebaddress). Do you honestly think people are going to remember this? Do you really expect them to type all this into their browser address window?

Why Does It Matter?
OK, so you know that your site needs to have a name. You'll use it as a domain, as a page title, in your logo, and possibly in the design. A name is much more than this, though. Your site or business name will be:

  • the way in which people find your site
  • the way they will refer to it and, most importantly
  • what they'll remember when they leave

If you don't really believe this, think about it for a moment. You want to buy a book on the Web. You don't go to a search engine and type in "books"; you go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble Similarly, when you have a good experience on a site, you might say to your friends "I found great book prices at Amazon". Users who visit a site they fine especially valuable will bookmark it so they can return to it easily.

Whatever the name of your site -- and however you promote it -- it's vital to realize that the name is going to be a major part of your success. You'll want to capitalize on your site name and use it in all your printed materials.

What IS A Good Name?
So now you understand the importance of your site's name, how can you ensure that you pick a good one? The first thing you must think of, obviously, is domains. There's no point in having a great name for a site if you don't have the domain, so the Whois databases are the place where you'll do your research. Remember that there can only be ONE person or entity who owns a particular domain name. Once you decide on a domain you must register it so that it cannot be used by anyone else. Domain names are available on a first come first served basis.

So, what makes a good domain?

  • Good Extension
  • Short As Possible
  • Easy To Spell
  • Descriptive
  • Include Your Name or a description of your business
  • Include Keywords

Good Extension
If you believe the spam which arrives in your mailbox every morning, dot-ws is the new dot-com, dot-us is the new dot-com, or dot-tv is the new dot-com. But the reality is simple: there is no new dot-com. Whatever develops in the Internet industry, the dot-com domain extension will always be synonymous with the top Web sites. If you're surfing around looking for a site, and you know its name, 9 out of 10 times you'll try dot-com.

So, for the Web site owner who wants their site to be found, the rule is: if at all possible, get a dot-com name.

But as many of you will know, it's not always possible to get a good dot-com name that relates to your site. So what extension should you pick instead? I'd say that dot-net, dot-agent, dot-info, and your country level domains are also viable for a Web site, but only in certain circumstances:

You can use a dot-net for most types of sites, but it works best for technology-related sites. If you can get a short, snappy dot-net, it's almost as good as a dot-com, but don't bother with anything that's too long or complex.

Consider dot-info if your site is informational. Don't bother setting up a non-informational site on a dot-info domain, though: it will just annoy people.

REALTORS® especially might like to go with the dot-agent domain extension. Although not very well known, you can get them fairly easily now. If the trend catches on for real estate related sites, you'll be one step ahead of the crowd. If it were me, I would register both the dot-com AND dot-agent versions of a domain just to be safe. You can always have your host provider utilize the extra domain name as a pointer to your main site.

Take notice that not all domain name registrars can register and manage your dot-info or dot-agent domain name. Before you decide, check with your hosting provider and registrar to be sure the dot-info and dot-agent extensions will be viable on their network.

Short
I've mentioned length before, but it's important to understand why short domains are so good.

Firstly, of course, they're easier to remember. Anyone who has tried learning "Hamlet" quotes will tell you that a word is easier to remember than a phrase. Two word domains are probably fine -- three at the most, but if you have a really long domain it will just be confusing, especially if the words aren't capitalized.

A simple name will also:

  • roll off the tongue more easily in conversation,
  • look more professional and
  • have less chance of being mistyped by potential visitors.

Easy To Spell
Ever heard an ad on the radio in which the Web address for the company is spelled out to you? The lack of good domains over the past few years has lead many companies to secure what might be regarded as "nonsense" names. If you find yourself spelling your site's name to people, you've got it wrong.

If you want people to remember you, they must be able to remember your site as a word. Again, words are easy to remember. This immediately outlaws the use of "unnatural" spellings, of course, so don't replace S with Z under any circumstances!

Also, be careful about double letters. Take CyberRadio2000, for example. Their domain uses a double R, as you might expect, but there is an uncertainty there. The two Rs together look a bit strange if written without capitalization, and a good name will not force the user to assume anything about the name. Of course, if you really must have a double letter, the best solution is to buy both versions of the domain, but it's not ideal.

Avoid using dashes (hyphens) in your domain name wherever possible. It's a great way to find a good name that hasn't been registered, but can make your domain even more difficult to remember. Keep to a maximum of one dash and, if at all possible, none. If you choose multiple domain names, dashes CAN be a good thing however - it separates important [searchable] keywords. (see "keywords" below). But don't ever use a hyphenated domain as your primary marketing domain, as it will only be mistyped more often than not.

One more thing. Avoid using the number 4 for the word FOR. You might think it's cute, but again, it can lead to confusion. You are trying to be professional here, not cute. If you insist on being 'cute', get the domain with the FOR spelled out also, as people most surely will mistype it.

Descriptive
A good site or business name will describe exactly what the site is about. Consider the "real world" example of the Royal Mail in the UK. In an infamous marketing move, the company was renamed Consignia. Now what does that mean? If I said the name Consignia to you, you wouldn't associate it with letters and parcels. In fact, Consignia have since discovered this, and renamed themselves, "The Royal Mail Group"! It just goes to show that, though a "made up" corporate name might be flashy or cost a lot of money to create, it is not necessarily your best option. Such names don't make it immediately obvious what you do, and surely that's the whole point of a name.

Of course, many companies have succeeded using a non-descriptive name: "Egg", the online bank; "Google.com (search engine); and "Amazon.com", the online bookseller. How did they make these names successful? Through huge marketing campaigns designed to establish brand awareness. But surely it's better to have an instantly-recognizable purpose than to have to spend millions to tell people what you do?

REALTORS® have it fairly easy in this respect. The words "realty", "real estate", and "property" can be combined with your service area to produce a domain name that fills the bill perfectly. What could be a better domain name for a broker in Seattle, Washington than to have the domain "SeattleRealty" or SeattleRealEstate" or "SeattleProperties"? It not only conveys the company, but also tells users exactly what the site is about. Be sure NOT to use the trademarked name realtor® in your domain. It can only be used in tandem with your personal name, but NOT with a locale or city name.

Using Your Name
If you're an agent and want your own personal business site, one obvious choice would be to use your name as your domain name. Although using your name says nothing about what your site is about, it will be easy for your clients and prospects to remember. Another idea is to register your name, then have it set up to point to your real site. This way, prospects can find you either way.

Keywords
An interesting use of domain names has now begun to appear: keywords. Put keywords as part of your domain - even using a 'dash' to separate them (ie Boston-homes.com, Boston-real-estate.com).

Sites I have worked on have achieved very high search engine rankings by having a search term as their domain. With no real technique for obtaining high rankings as easily on engines like Google, this could be just what real estate Webmasters are looking for.

Finding A Name
Now that you know what to look for in a name, it's time to start the search! You might already have an idea of a name you could register, but unless you are very creative, you'll probably find that it's already been taken (unless, of course, you're registering a company name which isn't comprised of generic words).

You could spend the next week typing names into Whois searches, or you could try a domain generator like Nameboy (www.nameboy.com). Just type in your keywords and instantly receive around 60 domain suggestions, all of which have been checked for availability as dot-com, dot-net and dot-org (and sometimes dot-info if the system is working). Using your new-found knowledge, you will soon be able to find a great name for your site.

Register It!
Once you decide on a domain for your site, you will need to register it. The registration process locks your domain name so that no one else can take it.

Up until a few years ago, there was only one company that acted as the registrar for domain names. They charged $70 to register a domain name for two years. Today, you have several choices. You can now find a registrar who will register your domain name for as low as $8 per year. If you want to register your domain name yourself, shop around for the best rate and service. Personally, I have had the best luck with GoDaddy. The price is right, and customer service is excellent.

Remember that your domain name registration must be renewed every year to remain viable on the Web. When you receive a renewal notice, do it immediately. Forgetting about renewing your domain name will allow it to expire. After that, it again becomes available to anyone who wants it.