Domain names play a critical role in conversion rate optimization (CRO). The domain name is the first thing potential customers see when finding your website, so it needs to instill trust and credibility immediately. An effective domain name makes a strong first impression, communicates what your business does, and is easy to remember. This allows you to drive more visitors to your site and improve conversion rates.
This approximately 10,000 word guide will explore the best practices for choosing and optimizing domain names to boost conversions. It will cover:
- The importance of domain names for CRO
- How to brainstorm and evaluate potential domain names
- Best practices for structuring domain names
- Tips for making domain names memorable
- Using keywords in domain names
- Avoiding common domain name mistakes
- Implementing redirects for branding changes or mergers
- Subdomain vs subdirectory setup
- www vs non-www domains
- Choosing new domain name extensions like .com vs .net
- Renewing and protecting your domain names
- Pointing domains to landing pages and monitoring analytics
By following these best practices for domain names, you can drive more relevant organic and paid traffic to your site and improve the user experience. This all contributes to higher conversion rates and return on investment from your CRO efforts.
The Importance of Domain Names for CRO
Your domain name is one of the most important elements for CRO because it impacts multiple stages of the customer journey, from initial discovery to brand impression and even conversion. Here are some of the key reasons domain names matter for optimization:
- Domains impact organic search rankings and traffic. Domain names that contain target keywords can improve discoverability and click-through rates in SERPs.
- They influence branded search traffic. People may search for your brand name or domain when trying to find your website. An easy to remember domain drives more direct visits.
- The domain creates a first impression of your brand. It can establish credibility and trust or cause confusion. A domain should match your brand identity.
- Short, memorable domains are easier for people to remember and tell others about via word-of-mouth referrals. This leads to more direct and referral visits.
- A domain name change can disrupt traffic and rankings until redirects are properly implemented and new branding is established. This can negatively impact conversions.
- Subdomains and subdirectories influence how pages are indexed and ranked, impacting organic search performance.
- Technical elements like www vs non-www can create duplicate content issues and split conversions between domains. This makes optimization more difficult.
Given the many ways domain names influence discoverability, branding, and usability, optimizing your domain is crucial for maximizing conversions. It lays the foundation upon which all other CRO efforts are built.
How to Brainstorm and Evaluate Domain Names
When choosing a new domain name, brainstorming and evaluation are critical first steps. Here is a process you can follow:
- Start by identifying your target keywords and brand name options. Evaluate whether your existing domain aligns with your brand and keywords or if a change is needed.
- Brainstorm a list of potential domain name ideas. Aim for short, memorable options that contain your most important 1-2 keywords and brand name.
- Use an online domain name generator tool for inspiration. Look at competitors or industry leaders for examples of effective domain names in your space.
- Evaluate each potential domain name based on the criteria below:
- Aligns with your primary brand name and keywords
- Short, simple, and easy to spell and remember
- Evokes trust and credibility
- Unique and not easily confused with other brands
- Domain extension (.com, .net) matches brand identity
- Domain is available for purchase
- Check domain availability using WHOIS domain name search. Verify the domain you want is available for purchase from a registrar.
- Buy the domain name and setup a temporary landing page for user testing. Get feedback on understanding and user experience. Refine based on results.
Following this brainstorming and evaluation process will help you select the ideal domain name for your brand and conversion goals.
Best Practices for Structuring Domain Names
How you structure your domain name can optimize or hinder conversions. Here are some best practices to follow:
- Keep domains short and limited to one or two words. This makes them easier to remember and type.
- Use keywords early in the domain, such as in a branded keyword domain like DigitalMarketingAgency.com.
- Avoid overstuffing with multiple keywords, which looks spammy.
- Add your location for local businesses, like SeattleLandscaping.com.
- Use hyphens (-) to separate words and make long names more readable.
- Be consistent with hyphens vs camel case (DigitalMarketingAgency vs DigitalMarketingAgency).
- Avoid obscure abbreviations and acronyms unless they are widely recognized.
- Use words people would naturally associate with your brand or service.
- Choose verbs for calls-to-action, like GetInsured.com.
- Use nouns to establish expertise, like FinanceAdvisor.com.
- Evoke positive emotions with adjectives, like TrustedHandymanServices.com.
Properly structuring your domain name makes it easy for customers to understand what you do and improves recall.
Tips for Making Domain Names Memorable
In addition to proper structure, you also want your domain name to be memorable. Here are some tips:
- Use common prefixes and suffixes like “get”, “find”, “direct”, “go”, “shop”, “store”.
- Incorporate alliteration, rhymes, rhythms. For example, ModifyMyMortgage.com.
- Make it fun, unique, and descriptive like ShoesThatFit.com.
- Use consistent repetition and patterns. For example, SeattleSeattleSeattle.com.
- Take a common phrase and change spelling or format. Like EverydayHomeChef.com.
- Use homophones, which are words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings. Such as WhaleTailTravel.com.
- Consider uncommon domain extensions like .club, .guru, .ninja to stand out.
- Combine multiple techniques: CallCarol.com or Happy.Pet.
Using these memorability tips will help you choose a domain name that sticks in people’s minds and brings them back to your site more often.
Using Keywords in Domain Names
Incorporating target keywords into your domain name provides SEO benefits by indicating relevancy to searchers. Here are some tips:
- Do keyword research to identify terms people are searching for. Include 1-2 primary keywords in your domain.
- Place keywords at the beginning. SeattleRealEstateAttorney.com vs SmithLawSeattleRealEstate.com.
- Avoid over-optimizing with multiple keywords, which looks spammy.
- Use keywords naturally in short phrases. IndoorRockClimbingGear.com.
- Include local city/state names for geo-targeting. TampaDivorceLawyer.com.
- Use product or category names. LuxuryHousePlans.com.
- Include misspellings of niche keywords. MassageTheropyStudio.com.
- Separate multiple words with hyphens for readability. Natural-Dog-Treats.com.
- Review keyword metrics in Google Search Console to optimize.
- Redirect legacy domains with outdated keywords to optimize.
When done properly, keyword-rich domains signal relevancy while maintaining branding and memorability. Prioritize quality traffic by focusing on 1-2 core terms.
Avoiding Common Domain Name Mistakes
It’s also important to know what types of domain names to avoid. Steer clear of these common mistakes:
- Overly complex names with multiple hyphens and words. These are confusing and easy to misspell.
- Made up words or elaborate phrases. These lack meaning and are difficult to remember.
- Heavy use of odd prefixes/suffixes. For example, UltraMegaShop.com.
- Misspellings beyond common mistakes. Craoglist instead of Craigslist.
- Trademarked or copyrighted terms. For example, AppleRepairShop.com.
- Numbers or crazy characters. Like 12OnlineStore.com or Onl!nePetSupplies.com.
- Hard to pronounce names. Vajxushef.com.
- Offensive or obscene terms that could deter visitors.
- Competitor’s names or brands which can raise legal issues.
Your domain should be simple and intuitive in structure. Avoid convoluted naming conventions that create confusion. Test any questionable names with target audiences before selection.
Implementing Redirects for Branding Changes
If you change your domain name or branding, properly implementing redirects is crucial to maintain traffic and avoid losing rankings. Here are some tips:
- Acquire both old and new domain names during transition.
- 301 redirect the old domain and pages to relevant new domain URLs.
- Use a redirect mapping tool to align all old URLs with new URLs at scale.
- Redirect individual pages to related content where possible to retain topic relevancy.
- Create custom 404 error pages describing the change and linking to home page.
- Implement redirects before migrating website and switching DNS.
- Monitor redirects regularly and fix any broken chains.
- Submit new sitemaps to search engines and update listings/profiles.
- Include rel=”canonical” tags on new pages to signal the authoritative URL.
With care and some technical SEO expertise, domain transitions and rebranding can be completed smoothly without significant declines in organic traffic and conversions.
Subdomain vs Subdirectory Site Setup
Setting up your domain using subdomains or subdirectories influences SEO and conversions. Here are the differences:
- Subdomains operate as separate sites, like support.brand.com or blog.brand.com.
- Subdirectories are folders within the domain, like brand.com/support or brand.com/blog.
- Subdomains allow completely separate indexing and optimization.
- Subdirectories consolidate authority and link signals for the whole domain.
- Subdomains can silo related content but won’t benefit the core domain.
- Subfolders make it easier to structure IA and migrate pages.
- Too many subdomains can dilute a website and complicate branding.
In most cases, subdirectories are preferable for consolidating authority and not diluting signals across domains. Here are some best practices:
- Use subdirectories for most website sections and categories.
- Reserve subdomains only for completely separate sites or properties.
- Implement proper cross-linking between subdomains and main domain.
- Consolidate subdomains using redirects if beneficial for SEO.
- Analyze search performance by subdomain vs subdirectory URLs.
Subdomains have their place for some uses but subdirectories tend to work better for ecommerce and lead generation sites that require consolidated domain authority.
WWW vs Non-WWW Domains
Another technical consideration is whether to use the www subdomain or not for your primary domain. There are a few key differences:
- Non-www is simpler for branding without the subfolder prefix.
- WWW versions were traditionally used to direct to website content.
- Search engines treat www vs non-www as two separate domains.
- Duplicate content penalties can result if the domains are not properly configured.
Here are some best practices to optimize use of www in your domain:
- Pick either WWW or non-WWW as your primary domain version.
- 301 redirect all traffic from non-primary domain to your preferred version.
- Carefully redirect or canonicalize every page to avoid duplicates.
- Be consistent with internal linking to the same domain version.
- Submit sitemaps for the primary domain you select.
- Specify the preferred domain in Google Search Console for performance data.
- Use the preferred version consistently on marketing materials and business listings.
With careful setup of 301 redirects and rel=”canonical” tags, you can consolidate authority and optimization signals to one primary domain format.
Choosing New Domain Name Extensions
The traditional .com top-level domain remains dominant, but many new domain extensions have emerged as viable options:
.net – Historically used for networks and technical organizations but now widely used by all types of sites.
.org – Traditionally used by non-profit and community focused organizations but now used more broadly.
.info – Positioned as an information-focused domain, though not as popular as other extensions.
.biz – Targeted at businesses but failed to gain significant adoption.
.us – Second-level domain designated for United States-based sites.
.io – Used for tech startups and products but expanding to broader uses.
.co – Originally for Colombia but now widely used globally.
.fm – Originally for Federated States of Micronesia but adopted for music sites.
.ai – Associated with artificial intelligence given the abbreviation, though not required.
New domain extensions provide more options, but .com remains the first choice for branding a mainstream consumer business. Exceptions can be made for niche uses associated with another extension like .fm for a radio station.
Use keyword research to determine if alternative extensions are worth pursuing. For example, if bestkeyword.com is taken, bestkeyword.net may be a good option.
Renewing and Protecting Domain Names
Once you purchase a domain name, there are ongoing maintenance best practices:
- Domains must be periodically renewed, typically annually. Use registrar renewal reminders to avoid lapses.
- Renew for multiple years at once to lock in lower pricing and prevent lapses.
- Enable auto-renewal to set and forget.
- Monitor expirations dates using a domain management tool.
- Purchase suitable alternate extensions as duplicates for brand protection if affordable, like brand.com + brand.net.
- Set registrar locks and domain privacy/proxy tools to prevent unauthorized transfers or changes.
- Use registrar abuse reporting if targeted by spam or fraud.
- Transfer SSL certificates, hosting services etc well before a domain expiration to avoid disruption.
With proper renewals and brand protection strategies, you can securely maintain ownership of your domain long-term.
Pointing Domains to Landing Pages
Once you have purchased your ideal domain name, you need to point it to your website or landing pages using DNS records and hosting tools:
- Create A records to point subdomains like www or support to specific IP addresses.
- Use CNAME records to direct domains to hosted servers and content distribution networks.
- Configure ANAME records to alias domain names and implement redirects.
- Update nameservers to direct domains to new hosting providers.
- Use domain masking for domains that are not public facing.
- Integrate domains with tracking systems like Google Analytics for monitoring.
- Point top-level domains to landing pages using masking for testing.
Configuring DNS and other technical settings enables you to route domain traffic for optimization and track website analytics. Work with developers and hosts on implementation.
Monitoring Domain Analytics
Ongoing analysis of domain performance is crucial for CRO. Use these metrics and analytics to optimize:
- Google Search Console for organic search and site errors.
- Google Analytics for overall site traffic and engagement.
- Click-through-rates on domains in SEM/PPC ads.
- Moz and Ahrefs for tracking incoming links and domain authority.
- Redirect tracking tools to identify broken chains.
- Rank tracking software for search visibility.
- Brand monitoring for direct mentions and searches.
- Email and click tracking to test landing page resonation.
Regularly monitoring domain analytics will reveal opportunities to improve search optimization, fix technical issues, and boost brand recall. This ultimately drives more conversions.
Optimizing your domain names takes research, evaluation, technical implementation, and ongoing monitoring. By following the best practices outlined in this guide, you can maximize the conversion potential of your websites.
The domain creates that all-important first impression for visitors and serves as the foundation for online branding. An effective domain name signals trust and credibility, conveys what your business does, and is memorable for site visitors.
Carefully brainstorming and selecting your domain, structuring it effectively, and technically implementing it to consolidate authority establishes the basis for higher organic reach and conversion rates. Ongoing management and optimization further solidifies the domain as an asset driving business growth.
In today’s crowded online marketplace, your domain name needs to stand out and connect with customers. By investing time upfront and continuously maintaining your domains, they will pay dividends by improving website conversions and contributing to your overall CRO success.