Aside from our spangly new logo, website and shorter name, something else you might have noticed about Social’s rebrand is the address of our website. Freed from “communications” and a hyphen as part of our URL, we now reside at social.co.uk.
You might think that domain names are no longer particularly important when it comes to people discovering your website; and it’s true that online, most methods by which people find you will involve following links, whether on search engines, social media or elsewhere.
But domain names still serve an important function, particularly in the real world – and if you’re putting your site’s address on print materials, or giving it out over the phone, then it makes sense for it to be as clear and catchy as possible. But how do you decide what domain name is best for your site?
For the world wide web to function, browsers need to be able to figure out how to get to the right sites and pages on the right servers.
Every device connected to the internet – from servers to routers, and from phones to fridges – has a unique identifier known as an IP address, consisting of (usually) four numbers separated by dots. These function effectively like phone numbers for websites – but with billions of possible IP addresses out there, it’s easy to see how having to remember the digits for every site you wanted to visit wouldn’t be a workable system.
Hence, domain names, which are effectively a directory system. Every domain name is an alias for an IP address somewhere – either linking you directly to a website, or to a web host server which will then be able to use the domain to direct you to the relevant site directory.
The majority of domain names consist of a top-level domain, or “TLD” (such as .com, .net or .org), preceded by at least one hostname. Each part of a domain that sits before a dot is a subdivision (or “subdomain”) of the domain before it. In this way, apple.com and microsoft.com can be distinct domains (as they are each subdivisions of the .com TLD); but apple.co.uk and apple.com are also distinct domains (as they are each subdivisions of different TLDs).
Further subdomains can also be placed before the main hostname – indeed, the popular “www” is itself merely a subdomain, originally intended to specifically denote websites (where other subdomains could serve other internet functions such as mail and FTP); although in modern usage there’s little distinction between sites that have it as part of their address and those that don’t.
When top-level domains were originally created, the intent was for each type of domain to be used for a different category of website. .com and .co domains were intended for commercial use, .org for non-profit organisations, .gov for government bodies, and so on. In addition, each country worldwide is given a two-letter code under which a number of nation-specific TLDs can sit – so the UK, for example, has the likes of .co.uk, .ac.uk (for academia), .org.uk and so on.
In practice, however, these distinctions quickly broke down; so while there are still some who prefer to use the likes of .org or .net for specific purposes, the ubiquity of .com domains meant that to the general public at large, that particular TLD simply meant “website”. As such, it’s common practice to use a .com (or country-specific equivalent) if available, no matter the type of organisation.
Our recommendation to our clients for TLD choice is generally to use a .com or .co.uk where available, unless there are particular circumstances that mean a purpose-specific TLD such as .ac.uk or .org.uk is essential.
In recent years, a number of additional TLDs of longer than three characters have been created, with names like .london, .club, .global, .live and the like. We generally don’t recommend using these – in that aforementioned “real world” space, they don’t always immediately look like website URLs (even if you use the one called “.website”!), and so can create confusion, as well as in some cases giving a somewhat unprofessional air.
If you can get your company’s name as a .com or .co.uk (or both!) then the answer is simple. But if those names are already taken, then this is where you have to get creative. If your company name can be paired with another word such as “agency” or “group” then that’s a good start – assuming that there isn’t somebody else who’s already taken that, too.
One way of getting a domain that someone else has already used a version of is to introduce punctuation – although the only non-alphanumeric character available for use in hostnames is the hyphen. Based on our own experience, we don’t recommend choosing a domain with a hyphen in unless it’s unavoidable – from our experience as social-communications.co.uk, we’ve found that it can be awkward to read out over the phone, particularly when giving out email addresses! If your name consists of multiple words and you can run them all together, it’s always preferential to do that than to separate them with hyphens.
(Just take care that you’re not accidentally creating new words by doing so – while some of the most famous unfortunate URLs are apocryphal, it’s nevertheless a genuine danger!)
If there is another company using the exact same name as you at a .com or .co.uk level, then be wary of simply registering another alternative such as .net – you don’t want to risk being directly confused with them, or having users who are trying to find your site end up on theirs!
One strategy is to consider phrases that are associated with you – if you have a key slogan or tagline, then that can be a good alternative. As they were unable to use an ampersand in their domain – and with “banq” looking somewhat illegible – B&Q were able to nab the extremely useful diy.com; meanwhile, toy shop The Entertainer have thetoyshop.com, a fact they exploit in their visual merchandising.
If you’re lucky enough to want a domain name that hasn’t already been registered by anyone else, then getting hold of it is as simple as paying the low registration fees at your registrar of choice. But if someone else already has it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get hold of it – it just means that, depending on whether they’re actively using it themselves, you might have to be prepared to negotiate a sale!
At Social, we felt it was important to make a statement with our rebrand – but we were also conscious that our name is in popular use across a number of different sectors. After exploring various options for our new domain – and wanting to move away from having an excessively lengthy or hyphenated name – we discovered that social.co.uk was listed for sale. Following internal discussion, we took a business decision to treat ownership of such a prestige domain as an investment – and so took the plunge and negotiated to buy it.
We were delighted to successfully obtain this domain, and we feel that it outwardly reflects our status and growing ambition. To say nothing of the fact that it’s a relief to no longer have to fit such a long address onto our printed materials! A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but having the right domain makes it that little bit sweeter.