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Top 10 tips for getting the right domain name

The first thing you have to do before building a new website is to get yourself an appropriate domain name. That’s not always straightforward, as it seems that almost every combination of words and letters has been taken. Getting something that fits your business can be tricky, but here are my top 10 tips for getting the right domain name:

  1. The most popular domains have a .com extension, so you might have more luck going for a country specific like – they are likely to be cheaper too. Also look at sector specific extensions, like for charities.

  2. Take care going for less common domains, because people are not quite familiar with them. If you pick something like, then some people will inevitably misread this and go to instead, and if that is a competitor you might lose business.

  3. Think about what sites have similar domain names, or the same name with a different extension. It can create confusion – even embarrassment – if someone mistakes a domain name for yours (I remember trying to get the site for popular ISP only to be presented with a less-than-savoury video portal…)

  4. Don’t choose a domain name that is hard to remember or you have to explain too much when you’re talking to someone – like one with unusual spelling, numerical characters, hyhpens and so on. As most names, acronyms and words in the dictionary will have been nabbed, you might want to come up with a memorable phrase instead – something like is a great example.

  5. Try to include keywords that people will be searching for. If you are selling pencils, having pencils in your domain name could help your Google ranking.

  6. Don’t bother buying every variation of a domain name you can, unless you have to think seriously about protecting your brand. You should only ever use and promote one domain name – it’ll be much better for your search engine performance.

  7. You might find that the domain you are looking for has been registered but is being offered up for sale on sites like You might be able to bid for the domain – you can get them for very little if you are lucky,  but the prices asked and paid for some domains is ridiculous.

  8. If you think someone is ‘cyber-squatting’ and has registered a domain that should really belong to you, then there are steps you can take to reclaim it. Check out the domain name dispute resolution service for registrars like Nominet, who are responsible for all .uk domains. It costs money and could take some time, but if the domain is your trade mark and is not currently being used for anything useful then you stand a decent chance of success.

  9. Only ever buy names from reputable companies and never by phone or post. There are plenty of people trying to scam you out of money for domains you don’t need, or scare you into renewing with them instead of your current provider.

  10. Make sure that your domain name provider provides a full web-based control panel so you can manage your domain name effectively – you will need to be able to change nameservers or A records if your site is being hosted elsewhere. Also look at associated services like POP3/IMAP mailboxes – almost everyone used to offer this for free, but many providers now ask you to pay extra for email.

What the EU cookie law means for you

You might have noticed that quite a few sites have suddenly started asking you if you want to accept their cookies. If you’ve been wondering why, it is because the law that governs how you use cookies and similar technologies for storing information on someone’s computer or mobile device has recently changed.

The EU’s e-Privacy Directive was actually updated on 26 May 2011, but we were all given a year to get our act together and comply with the new regulations (although it seems most people didn’t react until the very last minute, if at all).

So what does this all mean? Well, on the face of it the regulations sound reasonable –  website owners are expected to make it clear to their visitors what information they are collecting about them and why, and to give them an opportunity to opt out if they are not happy.

Much of this is nothing new, of course. If you are asking people to submit their details to you, then you should already know that a privacy policy that outlines what you are doing with that information is a necessity.

The difference is that the regulations now stretch to cover cookies, which are just tiny bits of text generated by websites and stored in the web browser. Cookies can be used to collect basic information about the visitor, identify whether they have visited a particular page before and so ensure that the right content is presented as necessary. Users are usually oblivious to cookies doing their stuff and – for the most part – they are completely harmless.

The regulations exclude cookies that are “strictly necessary” for the operation of the site – so those cookies that remember the contents of your shopping cart or those needed for security and such like. What it does catch are those unseen cookies collecting information about your browsing habits – where you are located, what you are looking at, what kind of device you are using and so on. This data is not held at a personal level, but it could be used to serve you ‘targeted’ advertising or for market research. Some people might see this as a bad thing, so now the regulations say everybody should be given an opportunity to opt out if they want to.

You might think that you are safe and do not need to do anything with your site to comply with the regulations, but the law also covers those cookies used by traffic monitoring services like Google Analytics. Although you might believe that measuring this data is vital for the effective management of your website, traffic analysis is not considered “strictly necessary”.

There are other features you might have on your site that also fall foul of the regulations, including the facility to post comments on a blog and social media sharing buttons. See for a helpful summary of what is and isn’t covered.

So, given that most websites will use Google Analytics and other services that use cookies, most of us should now be asking our users whether they are happy to  accept them.

The usual method for this is to highlight a message in the header or footer of your site that asks people to accept cookies. This acceptance should then be remembered for future visits so the message no longer appears – just like you can see on my site (or not, if you have accepted it).

Now I haven’t disabled the cookies on my site, waiting for acceptance before they are used. I am going with the “implied consent” approach. This means I am assuming you are happy with the cookies I am using, because you are continuing to use the site after I have brought them to your attention. I have also made it clear that you can opt-out if you like and offer direction on how to do that. This seems to be in line with the guidance, although the official interpretation isn’t particularly clear. Some sites have taken a stronger approach and won’t let you in at all until you have accepted the cookies, but as a user I find that quite annoying and it could just be confusing to some.

If that all sounds a bit beyond you, then the very least you should do is make sure you have a cookie policy page that outlines exactly what cookies are used and tells people how they can remove them should they wish to do do. That stretches the “implied consent” argument a bit and doesn’t really comply with the regulations, but at least it shows some effort to protect the privacy of your users. If you are not a big business or public body, then I think it’d be extremely unlikely that any fine would be imposed for any breach.

You can get more official guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Of course, the other option is to remove “non-essential” cookies from your site, including those for traffic monitoring. I wouldn’t recommend that, as it can be extremely useful to analyse all that data about your visitors to measure performance and to help improve the site further.

One unfortunate side-effect of this legislation is that some people will inevitably reject harmless cookies or switch on the new  ‘do not track’ option on their browsers. This will mean that all that helpful traffic data will be (even) less accurate and make it seem like visits to your site are in decline…

UPDATE: I have since come across No Cookie Law, a site that is campaigning against the regulations governing cookies. I broadly agree with the points it makes – I’m all for improving online privacy, but I’m not sure the new directive has been thought out properly. It could end up doing much more harm than good.

The Web Designer’s 101 Most Important Decisions

Web designer's 101 Most important decisionsMy book has now been published! It was a long, hard slog, but worth it in the end. Covering such a wide variety of subjects was trickier than I imagined, but hopefully it provides a comprehensive, useful resource for anyone thinking about building a website, whether they are doing it themselves or getting someone else to do it for them.

The Web Designer’s 101 Most Important Decisions takes a look at all the things you need to consider and offers advice on how you can achieve your goals. It gives examples of good practice and provides details of useful sites and services to help you on your way, but most importantly it highlights all the key decisions you will have to take as you go. It’s not so much about telling you what to do, but more what you need to think about if you want to be sure of success.

Although much of the book is aimed at budding web designers looking to build their first website, it is also helpful to those not wanting to get their hands dirty. If you are commissioning someone else to do the work, having a basic understanding of the technologies and the principles of web design will make it a lot easier to create an effective brief and understand what it is that your website needs. And even professionals need a helping hand from time to time, and this book offers a useful checklist to make sure they have covered all the bases.

What this book also shows is that you don’t have to be a coding expert to get a fantastic website. There is almost always a quick and easy way to get what you need, with someone else doing all the hard work for you. This isn’t a cop-out either – no matter how good you are, it often makes perfect sense to take a few short-cuts if you want to save time, money and your sanity.

I only skim the surface of what could be written about the design and development of websites – many sections could easily have had whole chapters devoted to them, some whole books – but I have highlighted all the issues you should explore. The web is full of great advice, but sometimes you need a nudge in the right direction and this book gives you a starting point to find out more.

Of course, any book on web design can only provide a snapshot of the time. Things move quickly on the web and what might be accepted as best practice now could be considered outdated before you know it – I’ll try to highlight any developments on this blog!

The book is available in many bookshops, but take a look on Amazon to get a sneak peek.

Key points to remember to make your site a success

There are a lots of things to think about when you things you create your website, and I’ll try to cover as many as I can on this blog, but here are a few of the key points to remember to get you started:

All in a name

Registering the domain name you want can be tricky, but try to ensure it includes keywords or your company name. eg. or Try to make it easy to remember and not too long. Consider what sites use similar domain names – someone mistyping your domain name could end up going to a rival site. Stick to common extensions like, .com and You don’t need dozens of domain names unless you are trying to protect a brand – focus on one and only market that domain.

Content is king

Attention spans are short on the web, so content needs to be clear and concise. Keep all the most important information in the most prominent positions and make sure it includes the kinds of words people will be searching for. Most importantly, clearly indicate how they can get in touch, make an order or do whatever it is you really what them to do when visiting your site. Remember that Google loves well structured, relevant content and standards-compliant code as much as your ‘real’ visitors.

Finding your way

Make sure people can find what they need easily, so don’t over complicate the menus. Titles and headings need to make sense and try to minimise the amount of clicking  and scrolling required. Try not to be tempted by gimmicks – like navigation that only reveals itself if you hover over a particular image. The key principle is to not make your visitors think too hard when they come to your site.

Looking good

We believe in keeping things simple, making sure the content is the focus. Great images can really help, but optimise them and ensure that you have the appropriate rights. Make sure everything is clear and that there aren’t too many things going on at once. Check out your site on different browsers and different screen sizes, including mobile devices. You might also need to consider how people with poor eyesight would view your site.

Get yourself seen

A great website is no use if nobody can find it. Your pages need to be indexed by Google and other search engines, so you need to submit site maps and provide links to your pages on other sites. Google takes account of the ‘quality’ of links, so a link on BBC news is going to do wonders for your ranking, whereas a link on an obscure blog might not help at all. Make the most of free directories like Google Places and use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote your website.

Keep them coming back

Regularly update content to keep people interested in your site and provide new offers to entice them to buy from you. A carefully targeted email newsletter or promotion can be very effective in bringing people back to your site. Keep mentioning your site in blog posts, Facebook and Twitter – that’ll also boost your search engine rankings.