Note: I have an update later on in this post about the heated discussion that broke out on Tuesday over the topic we announced (and what we plan to do about it). Skip ahead to find out, or keep reading to learn about choosing your domain name and setting up your blog.
Choosing a domain name is an important and potentially tricky step in building a new blog. We’re going to talk about all of the things you should watch out for when selecting your domain name.
Then we’re going to show you how to set up your new blog in 15 minutes or less. That part is actually pretty easy if you haven’t done it before.
If you already have a domain name in mind, you can get straight to setting up your new blog.
Finding a Great Domain Name
There are different ways to go about choosing a domain name, depending on your goals. If you’re setting up a niche site, for example, you would probably choose a domain name differently from if you’re setting up a blog. The same goes for building an online product or service.
Let’s look at several guidelines for choosing your domain name.
With any of these guidelines, I like to talk about the guideline, and then talk about the exceptions. Any of these guidelines can be broken, and I’ll try to share some examples of domains that break the guidelines and have still been wildly successful.
Length of Your Domain Name
Generally, the shorter your desired domain name, the less likely it will be available. On the other hand, the shorter your domain name, the easier it is to type in and potentially the easier it is to remember.
Shorter domain names can also stand out if you find one because they’re so hard to find (or expensive) these days.
For web applications, the guideline is usually that your doman name should be 8 characters or less. Think about Facebook, Google, Digg, or even a new application like Square (at squareup.com).
For blogs, the rules aren’t the same, but in general the shorter the better. If you have a choice between a great 8-letter domain name vs. a similarly great 20-letter domain name, choose the shorter one.
If you can’t find something short, it may not be a problem though. Look at Smart Passive Income for example, Pat’s domain has 18 letters and he’s doing fine. Escape from Cubicle Nation has 23 letters and Pam has a massive audience there as well.
Personally, I still prefer to keep it to 12 characters or less for a blog, but I wouldn’t be afraid to go higher if the name was good.
Should You Include Keywords in Your Domain?
To answer that question, I asked my friend and SEO consultant Sean Ogle to write a special section for this post. Below is what Sean had to say about including Keywords in your domain.
I also wanted to mention that Sean is launching a new course this week called Location Rebel, which gives you the skills necessary to build a business that you can run from anywhere on Earth. Check out Location Rebel if that sort of thing is on your to-do list. 😉
Over the last few years there’s been lots of debate around the effectiveness of certain search engine optimization strategies.
While some strategies like keyword stuffing or content farms are becoming less relevant, there’s still one aspect of SEO that’s proved to be particularly effective: the exact match URL.
If you’re creating a new site, there are three different types of domains that you can register, each with their own benefits:
- Branded: My new site locationrebel.com is a branded domain. Generally speaking, I’m not going to get much SEO benefit from that name because there aren’t any relevant keywords within the URL. However, it’s memorable and the intention is to build a brand, not necessarily drive SEO traffic.
- Semi-Branded: This is where you take a keyword and embed it into a brand name. For instance if I had a site called hdrphotographyexperts.com it would be semi-branded. I’d still get some SEO benefit for the term “HDR photography” but it’s branded in a more memorable way.
- Keyword: A good example of a keyword domain is hdrsoftware.com. That’s the primary keyword, and with help from the exact match domain it now ranks #2 in Google for that term just a couple months after it’s inception.
When deciding what type of domain is right for you, think about your visitors. Are they more likely to be one time or repeat visitors? If it’s just one time, then a keyword domain is probably your best bet. If you want to keep them coming back, then a branded or semi-branded is the best way to go.
Thanks for the tips, Sean.
Using Sean’s framework, “Think Traffic” is actually a semi-branded domain. It contains one part of a popular keyword that’s relevant to this site (“traffic”) and I added the word “think” to it because of the connotations and alliteration. Together I thought it was clear, smart and fun to say.
For blogs, I usually recommend either a branded or semi-branded domain. Keyword-match URLs are great for niche sites, but if you want repeat visitors it’s better to include an element of branding in your domain name.
.com vs. .net vs. Other Suffixes
One question I’ve heard a lot is whether you need to go with a .com address, or if a .net address (or others) will work too. You may have noticed that Think Traffic is a .net address.
When I looked for domain names for this blog, the .com address for Think Traffic was for sale, but it was a bit more than I wanted to spend at the time.
I looked around at some of the most successful blogs I know and found that several of them used .net addresses and hadn’t been held back by that decision. Two great examples are Zen Habits and ProBlogger. I reasoned that if the .net extension worked for them, it could work for me too.
Since then, I have acquired the .com address for this blog and if you type in thinktraffic.com you’ll be redirected here. That provides access to some interesting data: I can track how many people type in the .com version and it gives an idea of how much traffic you might miss out on by choosing a .net.
Over the past month, less than 4% of the traffic to this site came from the .com redirect. You could use that as an indicator of how much traffic you might give up by choosing a .net. Keep in mind that in the beginning people won’t be familiar with your brand name and won’t be typing it in as much. They’ll mostly be coming through links, so the choice of a .net shouldn’t matter much then.
Bottom line: the .com is always the best choice because of convention and expectations online. If a great .net is available, you shouldn’t be too worried about going with it.
In any case, just make sure another extension of the same domain isn’t occupied by an active site. Don’t register a .net if someone is already using the .com actively, for example. You could end up with a lawsuit on your hands down the road.
Personally Branded Domains
Another question I get a lot is whether people should use a personally branded domain. My other site sits on my personal domain name at CorbettBarr.com.
That site didn’t used to be that way, originally it was called FreePursuits.com. I made the switch because I wanted to put more emphasis on my own personal brand, and because I didn’t want to maintain Free Pursuits as a separate brand over the long-term.
I learned some things from that switch. Mostly, it makes the project much more intimate and personal. That can be a good thing for some (it was for me). It could also scare you a little and maybe restrict your ability to write outstanding content because of fear you personally are being judged.
Obviously with examples like Chris Guillebeau’s AONC project, it’s clear that a personally branded URL can work. Chris had a different issue on his hands because his name is difficult to spell, but his outstanding content and interesting blog concept overcame that as well.
Before you choose a personally branded domain, consider how you’ll feel about being so exposed to the world. Consider how important your personality is to the project you’re planning. Also, think about whether you might someday want to step away from that project and let other people run it, or even sell the project.
Things to Avoid
There are some basic things to avoid when choosing a domain name. These are all to make sure you don’t confuse people or make it unnecessarily difficult to find your site.
In general, avoid using the following in your domain name:
- numbers (either written “two” or numeric “2”)
- confusing or difficult to spell words
- letter jumbles (look at your potential domain name, do the letters from one word jumble into the next, so that it’s hard to tell which is which?)
Of course, there are probably successful examples of domains that violate these rules, but most of them are still a good idea to follow.
Searching for Your Perfect Domain
Here are a couple of tools you can use to help find your ideal domain name as you keep the above guidelines in mind.
Step 1: develop a list of words and phrases related to your topic
Let’s say you’re going with beer brewing as a topic. You would start by brainstorming potential brand names. I like to write down lists of words that I might want to have in my domain name.
For this example, “beer” and “brew” and “brewing” would all be candidates. I would then make a list of related words and phrases like “head” “mug” “wort” “dry hopping” “cask” “cask conditioned” etc. (Google something like “beer brewing terms” to find a list of potential key terms if you need help)
Step 2: add some helper words
Then I like to make a list of other short, non-topic-related terms that might be good add-ons to our brand name. Here’s a list of common short words you might use.
Often you’ll have a word or two you want to use, but the related domains will all seem to be taken. Adding an unrelated but positive or inspirational word (like “think” or “zen” or “art” or even “experts” or maybe “hq” or “now”) might open up lots of possibilities.
Step 3: search for domains with combinations of your words
Once you have your list of terms, you can use a tool like Bust a Name to find available domains. Just type in your favorite words from your brainstorming list and the service will tell you which domains are available.
Step 4: choose a domain (or repeat the process)
Using Bust a Name and the process I just outlined, I found dozens of domain names related to brewing beer that are available.
Try the process yourself for your own topic and see what you find.
Setting Up Your Domain and Blog
Alright, once you have a domain name in mind, it’s time to register your name and set up your blog.
Before you do that, you’ll need a web host.
I’ve used half a dozen or more web hosts over the years and have way too many stories to tell about server crashes, downtime and slow performance.
Recently when Think Traffic outgrew Dreamhost, I migrated to a $200/month VPN service and ended up having nothing but trouble, despite the high price tag and promises from the service. There’s nothing more frustrating than when you server crashes during a new product launch.
I started asking around and several of my friends (with blogs much bigger than this one) recommended BlueHost for reliability, service and performance. I was skeptical because some of these huge blogs were still running on BlueHost’s basic plans (which start at less than $5 a month).
I did a bunch of research and found lots of people who swore by BlueHost. Our sites now all run on a decided plan, but that is because we bring in over 100,000 visitors a month. Until you reach this level, BlueHost is the best option.
The crazy thing is, all this runs on a regular shared hosting plan, which costs as low as $5 per month for one domain.
Anyway, do your own research, but I’m a big BlueHost fan now. If you sign up with them I’ll get a commission, which I really appreciate and which helps support doing projects like the $1MBP.
Why You Need WordPress
There are lots of blogging platforms out there, but only one valid choice in my opinion. That’s WordPress, and all my sites run on it.
I’m talking about the self-hosted version of WordPress, not the hosted wordpress.com version. That means the software runs on your servers (like at BlueHost) and you’re in complete control over how you use it, and what to install. Most importantly, you’re in control of your data instead of some other bigger entity who can change the rules at any time.
Our example in this project will run on WordPress, and I strongly recommend you use it, but you’re of course free to do your own research and choose whatever you think fits your needs best.
If you go with BlueHost as your host, they have a quick and easy one-click install for WordPress. You really just click one button and your blog software will be set up for you.
Quick Hosting + WordPress Setup Video
Caleb put together a quick video to show you just how easy this process is.
In this video you’ll see exactly how to sign up for a host, register your domain, install WordPress AND get a spiffy countdown-to-launch page all set up in less than 6 minutes:
(If you are reading via email or RSS, watch the video here: How to Set Up a Blog in 6 Minutes.)
If you have questions or need help with the setup process, just leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to help out.
Up Next: Creating a Launch Plan
Once you have your blog set up, it’s time to start thinking about a launch plan. We’ll be covering this in much more depth coming soon.
For now, start making a list of everything you’d like to have in place by the time you launch your new blog.
What kind of content will you have already written? Will you have a giveaway ready to entice email subscribers with? Do you want to have social media profiles set up? Will you be reaching out to other bloggers or media to tell them about your launch?
A launch is a great opportunity to come out with a bang and generate buzz and interest in your site. It’s a one-time event and I like not to waste it.
Check out this earlier post about how I launched Think Traffic to get you thinking about ideas for your own site.
Addressing the “Great Topic Debate”
Quite a discussion broke out on Tuesday over the topic we announced for our new blog. It seems many of you are disappointed with the topic selection.
I want to let you know that we hear you and are considering what to do about it. We appreciate the feedback and I’m glad this is such a public and community-driven project.
Let’s clear up a few things first before we make a final topic decision.
When the voting results came it, we thought it would be an easy decision to go with the #1 choice (blog and web design), because so many Think Traffic readers voted for it. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, the #1 topic also happened to be something we feel confident about and think could be really fun to build a blog about.
From your reaction to the topic, I understand that you feel like the audience would overlap with Think Traffic too much. That’s a reasonable point.
I also understand that another “blog about blogging” (as some of you put it) might not represent a “real world” scenario for many of you who are building non-blogging / non-marketing related blogs.
We’re taking all of this into consideration and will update you with our final decision shortly. I’m actually taking a real vacation (with no Internet) over the next week and will be thinking about this issue in between boat excursions and lounging by the pool (we’re in Croatia at the moment).
Whatever we decide, I want you all to know two important things:
1) some people will likely be disappointed with any topic we select, and 2) we will always have some advantages in this project that you will not have. It is impossible to remove those advantages completely.
Some of you mentioned you’d like to see a popular blogger (me) go from “zero” and build a new blog in a new niche from scratch. I started with no audience and no experience in 2009, and the result of that work is at CorbettBarr.com.
Now that I’ve been blogging for two and a half years, I can never truly start from scratch again. Whatever project I work on now, I bring certain resources and knowledge that a true beginner won’t have.
Even if we went with “DIY rocket ship building” as a topic, there will always be some built-in overlap with my various audiences here and on social networks. Whatever blog we start will have some sort of instant audience, simply by being the subject of this project. The project we start will also have certain disadvantages simply because this will be my third active blog, and we’ll be managing it along with half a dozen other active projects.
Whatever advantages we have, I’ll be happy to point those out along the way. We’re not competing with each other here, hopefully we’re helping each other. Hopefully you will have certain advantages from participating in this project as well.
Again, we appreciate all the feedback and are deciding what to do about it. We’ll update you as soon as we’ve made a decision. If you have other feedback for us, feel free to leave it on this post.
Next week, Caleb will be giving you instructions on how to officially register your participating blog with this project. Stay tuned for that. We’ll get back to you with our final topic selection shortly after I return from fun in the sun.
Cheers and thanks for following along with the project so far. It’s incredible that so many of you feel invested in the project already.
Your assignment is to finalize your topic, set up your blog (if you haven’t already), and start thinking about your launch plans over the next week.
We’ll see you here again shortly. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below. We’re here to help.
Finally, if you haven’t completed our free Business Plan Workbook for Bloggers, go check it out now. This is 6-page document contains 33 questions to ask yourself as you’re starting your new blog.
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