A domain name is the address you type in a web browser to get to a specific website. The problem at this point is that many of the good domain names are taken; you might have to use some creativity to find one that works for you. There are several steps that go into choosing and checking a domain name before you begin to use it as the brand for your website.
Picking a Good Domain Name
A good domain name is extremely important. You should choose a domain name that is part of the overall branding of your law firm. Many SEO1 experts used to recommend that you purchase several domain names, a few of which exactly matched some of your keywords. However, in the past year, Google began to penalize exact-match domain names that led to sites with poor content. While an exact-match domain name that leads to a site with good content is fine, the more important consideration is having a domain name that works with your firm’s overall branding. So think about the brand you are seeking to convey in both your off-line and online presence and go from there.
Try to get a domain name with .com. People are familiar with .com, and that is what they will try to use to get to your website. If you have a different top-level domain,2 people are likely to still type .com. It is generally better to choose a different domain name than to go with anything other than .com. For example, assume your law firm is named XYZ and you want the domain name XYZ.com. If XYZ.com is taken, consider registering XYZlaw.com instead. Flexibility is important when choosing the proper name.
Keep it Simple
Keep the name simple, short, and memorable. You want people to be able to type it quickly. Use the same domain name for your e-mail address. Do not use dashes or any other characters. Dashes add confusion and length to the name. If someone else has the same name but yours has a dash, people will consistently visit the other person’s site instead of yours. Similarly, do not use numbers, unless your firm has a number in its name.
Watch for Competitors’ Names
Be careful about using “my,” “the” (at the beginning), or “s” (at the end) to get around the fact that someone has the domain name you want—especially if the owner of that domain name is a competitor. When people forget to type in the additional word or letter, they will end up at the competitor’s site.
Relate the Domain Name to Your Brand
As already noted, make sure your domain name relates to the name and/or brand of your firm. Many law firms use their initials. This is a fine idea, as long as the initials are available. Adding law or lawfirm to the end works well too, especially since it lets people know what your business is all about. The only problem is that years ago a number of businesses picked random initials and the word law and registered them. They are now in the business of selling those domain names. You might feel it is worth it to buy a name, if the cost is not prohibitive. I once had a client ask me to purchase such a name and ended up spending about $300 for it. Not much money in the grand scheme of things.
Some law firms use keywords, such as divorcelawyer.com. This is also acceptable and can be excellent for SEO, but it is very difficult to find short, concise names like this anymore.
Research the Name
You will need to do a search to see if your name is available. You can do so through your web host or virtually any domain name registrar. For example, if you decide to use HostGator as your host, when you begin the process of setting up your account, HostGator will ask you if you have a name already or want to choose one. If you respond that you need to choose one, HostGator will provide you with a tool to conduct a search. You can access a domain search tool on pretty much any host. Just enter “domain name registrar” on Google.
- Access a domain search tool.
- Enter the name you would like. Most tools do not require you to type .com. Instead, you normally choose from a drop-down menu.
- Click on Search to see the results. Most tools will offer recommendations if the desired name is not available. If the domain name you want is not available, keep searching until you find one that works for your firm.
Check What the Domain Name Might Spell
This may seem like a strange instruction, but sometimes we get so focused on what we think a domain name should be that we don’t realize how other people might see it. In other words, it may not convey what we mean it to convey. A famous example is www.therapistfinder.org. Do you see “therapist finder” or “the rapist finder?” Obviously, this domain name is a problem.
Check for Prior Problematic Use
Just because a domain name is available now does not mean it has not been used in the past. Do a search on Google to see if the name comes up for anything offensive or problematic. For example, if you should want to use the name demonoid.com, you might be interested to know that Demonoid was a website that was famous for copyright infringement. It was a torrent site that enabled people to find illegal copies of music, movies, pictures, and so on. To check a name, do the following:
- Search the name in Google.
- Use the Internet Archive site’s Wayback Machine to check for old versions of a site using the name.3
- Use URL Checker to find out the history of the domain name.4
Check for Legal Issues
Make certain you are not violating someone else’s trademark or causing yourself any other legal problems.
More Than One Domain Name to the Same Site
Some businesses will purchase all of the top-level domains for their chosen name, such as .net, .org, .biz, and so on, to protect themselves. This is fine if you are worried that someone else will take the domain name(s) and cause you trouble. You can own the names and have them actively lead to your site or simply turn them off. But do not purchase a huge number of domain names and have them all lead to your site. This can be harmful for your firm’s SEO.
In my case, I have both jlellis.net and jlellis.com. This makes sense because people might type either one to get to my site. For my law firm, we have both lowenthalabrams.com and lowenthalandabrams.com. Our main domain name is lowenthalabrams.com, but since we are actually called Lowenthal & Abrams, people might be inclined to type the latter.
How to Purchase Your Domain Name
You can choose to purchase5 your domain name on your web host or on a different registrar;6 it is up to you. Sometimes web designers will purchase the domain name in one location and host the website with another company. This is to avoid putting all of their eggs in one basket. It is not truly accurate to use the word purchase or buy when talking about obtaining a domain name, but that is generally the word everyone uses. In reality, you are actually renting the name. You may rent it for up to ninety-nine years at a time.
On the other hand, it is easy to keep the domain name in the same location as the host, since the domain name will already be set to work with the host. In the end, it is entirely your choice whether to register your domain name in the same place you host your site. I have sites where the domain name is registered in the same location as the web host and sites where they are separate.7 As far as registrars, there are many that work quite well. I recommend the following: HostGator, Bluehost, GoDaddy, and BulkRegister.
Price of and Purchase of a Domain Name
The cost of purchasing a domain name can vary greatly. Some sites offer a deal on the first domain name you purchase with a new hosting package, perhaps offering it for free for the first year or even permanently. Others charge a few dollars. Generally speaking, I find the cost of a .com domain name ranges from around $6.00 to $15.00 per year.
The purchase process is easy. If you are using your web host to purchase your domain name, buy it when you set up your hosting package. If you want a different domain name registrar, run your search and the registrar’s site will walk you through the process.
How Long to Register the Name?
You often can save money by buying the domain name for several years at once. Many sites include an automatic renewal service. This is a very good idea, since you do not want to find your domain name attached to someone else’s website or your website down because you forgot to renew your name.
Setting Up the Domain Name
How you set up your domain name will depend on whether you registered the name with your web host and whether your e-mail runs through that host or a different service.
If your domain name is with the same host as your website, it will initially be set up to work with your website and nothing more will need to be done. If you choose a separate registrar and host, you will need to point what is called the DNS8 from the registrar to the website. The DNS tells your registrar where to send web traffic when someone types in your
domain name. A DNS looks something like this: dns1.webhostname.com. You should use at least two DNS designations. (You will be provided with two). One serves as a backup for the other in case something goes wrong. Your web host will give you the DNS information for your site during setup. You simply need to save that information and put it into the right place on your registrar.9 That location will vary based on the particular registrar. Most of the time, if you run a Google search for “DNS Setup [Name of registrar]” you will find good instructions. Otherwise, check with your web host and your registrar for directions.
Note: If you work with a web designer, insist on purchasing your own domain name and putting it in your own account over which you have control. While most web designers are very reputable, I have run into cases where a lawyer and a designer had a falling out, the domain name was registered in the designer’s name, and the designer refused to turn it over to the lawyer. Generally speaking, the person whose name is on the domain name owns it. There are ways to fight this, but meanwhile, you have lost your website and probably your e-mail. It isn’t work the risk.
It is vital to pick a good domain name that relates to your law firm as a brand. Because your domain name is not only your home on the web but also part of your e-mail address, this piece of branding will often be what sticks in your clients’ minds about you. Spend some time and pick a name that works well for your firm. You won’t want to change it later.
1. SEO, or search engine optimization, relates to how easily people can find your website using a search engine, mainly Google.
2. The top-level domain is the ending of your domain name, such as .com, .net, .org, and so on.
3. The Wayback Machine (http://archive.org/index.php) archives old versions of websites.
5. It is not truly accurate to use the word purchase or buy when talking about obtaining a domain name, butthat is generally the word everyone uses. In reality, you are actually renting the name. You may rent it forup to ninety-nine years at a time.
6. A domain name registrar is a company that manages your domain name for you and reports it to the registrationnetwork of all domain names. This prevents others from purchasing the same name.
7. If you choose Synthesis as your host, you will need a different registrar. Synthesis does not offer registrar services.
8. DNS stands for Domain Name System or Server (both are correct). The DNS lets the Internet know where a domain name should send a user when it is typed into a web browser. Essentially, the DNS translates your domain name into the numerical address where your website is actually located on the web.
9. If you are hosting your e-mail in a separate location, you will need the IP address of the site instead of the DNS information. The IP address is a series of numbers that identifies where the site is located.
Learn to Master WordPress® Software in One Hour
This post was adapted from the Law Practice Division’s publication WordPress in One Hour for Lawyers: How to Create a Website for Your Law Firm. In this book, author Jennifer Ellis shares how to get create your firm’s website quickly and easily with WordPress® software.