What to consider when choosing a URL

Domain names – website URLs – come in all shapes and sizes. Large organisations and brands tend to have top level domain names ending in extensions like .com .gov .org and .net for example. Businesses that were quick off the mark snapped up the best of the bunch years ago and even fought in the courts and paid huge sums of money to protect their brands and claim ownership of their eponymous URLs.

Website extensions were often allotted to countries and the first website’s URL was http://info.cern.ch which was published in Switzerland by Tim Bernes-Lee, the founder of the world wide web. The site is still live and if you visit it you can also see a simulation of how it would have looked on green monitors in 1991.

Generic name extensions

People still trawl through domain name registration sites searching for a magical or meaningful URL. In some ways it’s become easier with the recent introduction of generic name extensions like .london and .tv. At the time of writing this there are over 520 to choose from and you can still register – if you really want to – www.bbc.trade or www.virgin.website. This is surprising as large organisations tend to buy up anything and everything that could be passed off as their own genuine website address if only to make it harder for the fraudsters and spammers.

The .UK extension is almost certainly worth getting.  It will help protect the investment you have made in your .co.uk name – just point both names at your website (see canonical linking below) and this is something we have done with logodesign.uk and this URL extension helps with SEO-friendly URLs (like logodesign).  You can check if your company has the right to claim the .uk extension with this rights lookup tool.

However you need to be careful with domain extensions: one of our clients bought his domain name with a .co extension only to discover that people thought it was a typo and added .uk which presented a ‘page not found’ message. .co was intended for sites associated with Columbia. As far as I can tell www.coke.co is taken (by the CIA?) but not in use!

There seems to be no end of domain names amongst the billion plus websites currently registered. We have all mis-spelt a website address only to find some other strange site inadvertently dredged up from the murkier depths of the web.

Long URLs

There is an ongoing debate about the SEO benefits of having a long descriptive URL comprising of several keywords like the-web-expert-blog.com and I must admit, looking at search results, the jury is still out on that one. But it is an accepted fact that search engines favour sites with top level domain extensions.   They also show respect for long-established domains – the elders of the web – and treat new kids on the block with suspicion.
Even a site that has been live for a few weeks stands a far better chance of appearing in Google’s listing than one launched yesterday. This is why it is important when building a brand new website to get a meaningful page live using your new URL as soon as possible. Meaningful doesn’t mean ‘under construction’ but a proper description of the goods or services to be offered along with supporting meta tags.

Domain names, like company names should be distinctive and memorable. Human perception plays a very significant role in people’s decision to buy or interact and so the choice of the name of a business, its domain and URL extension should resonate with humans regardless of what the robots think.

Keyword URLs

Some people go over the top and register several domain names targeting different keywords and either point them at their website or create a bevy of sites with slightly different content in the hope that if one doesn’t come up in the search results another one will. Google frowns on these sort of ‘black hat’ practices and is likely to push you out of sight, way down their SERPs (search engine results pages).
Google doesn’t like duplicate content copied from one site to another. The exception being two identical sites one prefixed with www. and the other without any www prefix. This is called canonical linking which tells search engine robots that these are duplicate sites with one version set as preferred. This saves room and typing (just like you rarely need to type in the mysterious http:// prefix). From a marketing point of view, including the www. prefix in copy makes it very clear to readers that it a website address that is being referenced.

It is also important to pay attention to page URLs when building a site or when adding pages or products using a CMS. It is usually necessary to over ride default page URLs and replace the with something meaningful to human and robot visitors.

A useful tip:

TinyURL is a website that converts long URLs to a unique combination of a few letters and numbers that are easy to cut and paste into emails and documents. It’s free, they keep working forever and it saves the frustration of typing a lengthy string only to find you’ve put something in the wrong case.
PS – Looking through the new extensions on offer I can understand ones like .mob .toys and .me but .wtf is a bit of a puzzle.