How to Choose a Domain Name and Guidelines for Registration

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Location, location, location. Everyone knows that choosing a great location is crucial when buying real estate. The same is true in the digital world: choosing a domain name is an important choice for a church's online presence. If your church is just starting a website, this is one of the first decisions that you will need to make. Your domain name is what you will build your presence upon, from the web address to email addresses. For example, the domain name of the CRC is crcna.org. Following are guidelines and unspoken conventions for choosing a domain name for a church:

  • Descriptive. Ideally the domain name that is chosen should be identical or close to what your church is formally or informally called. Abbreviations or acronyms are suitable but whatever is chosen should be recognizable as belonging to the church. Using just an acronym can be confusing and non-descriptive.
  • Memorable. Choose a domain that is memorable so that if someone sees it in the bulletin, they can remember it when they try to go to it when they get home.
  • Not too short and not too long. Just like real estate, good locations are hard to find or expensive to purchase. You will not be able to find a domain that is only one or two words, so you won't be able to have a short domain name (less than five characters). On the other side, you do not want a name that is more than fifteen characters; not only will it be harder to remember but it will be a lot more for people to type!
  • Spell it out. If your church name includes a number, spell it out to avoid confusion. First Street CRC should not be 1ststreetcrc.org but instead firststreetcrc.org or something similar. Its uncommon to find numbers in domain names.
  • No dashes. If your ideal domain name is not available, do not add dashes to work around this, instead change a word or something else. If firststreetcrc.org is not available, don't buy first-street-crc.org instead. Most likely people will go to firststreecrc.org the first time anyway. Dashes are also uncommon in domain names, so stay away from them.
  • Easily spoken. Whether its the church secretary speaking an email address to a caller or the pastor mentioning the church website in an announcement, it should be easy for the listener to understand the address.

After you decide on a domain name you need to register it. There are many places that you can purchase them from, however be mindful that if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Usually a low price is contingent on purchasing add-ons. Here are some items to consider when placing your order:

  • Buy all three. You have the option between different Top Level Domains such as .com, .org, and .net. While there is some debate about which one is best for a church, it does not cost too much more to register all three. By registering all three you eliminate possible confusion for visitors. If you're in Canada, also buy .ca.
  • Register for many years. If you took the time to choose a good domain name, it will be used for decades, so register your domain name for several years. Not only will this save effort, but the more years you buy, the lower the annual cost.
  • Private registration. The contact information you provide when registering is publicly available (example), so it is prudent for individuals registering to opt for private registration. However this is not necessary for churches as the church's contact information is already public knowledge, so don't purchase private registration.
  • Good contact information. Not only is the contact information you provide published online, it is also the way that your registrar will use to notify you when your registration is up for renewal. Provide an email address that will be in use when the domain needs to be renewed. If you register your domain for multiple years, like you should, you possibly won't remember to renew. Or it's possible that someone else is in your role and might not check when the domain is up for renewal. Fortunately, you can easily check when your domain registration expires here. If a domain is not renewed and expires, then your website will stop working and you might have to pay high fees to restore it. If it's been more than 30 days to six months you will lose possession and a squatter might purchase it and force you to buy it back at a high cost.
  • Secure passwords. The password for your domain controls the foundation of your website, so if it is compromised, anyone that obtains your password can redirect your site anywhere. Choose a good password and do not use it for anything else.

If you keep all these items in mind when deciding on a domain name, and when registering it, you will have a great foundation to your church website and you will have secured your little section of 'real estate' on the net.

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Let's Discuss…

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Great article, David--can't really think of anything I'd add. My approach is to think of my mom and dad. For example, they don't understand the difference between .com, .org, etc. so even though we web people wish everyone followed the guidelines, to them it's not real relevant. If a domain name is good for the non-tech folk, that probably means it's just good.

And you're right about the memorability of a domain. Lots of churches aren't going to be easy to find in Google, especially considering how many duplicate church names there are. It's great if church members can actually pull the address of the site out of memory--not going to happen with first-c-r-c.net.

That said, I'd almost treat domains as if they don't cost anything. $10/year is a good benchmark and it's not hard to get them significantly cheaper than that. That's worth it if it will get even a few more people using your site. If you think people going to mistakenly enter your url a certain way, there's not much downside to registering the mistake and putting a redirect in place.

One more thing--telling the registrar to auto-renew the site can save lots of embarrassment.

Great input. I skipped my mind about how many churches do have the same name. This definitely makes having prominence in search results difficult.

I don't know about you but domains are addictive to buy. I'm up to my third personal domain now. I have several others that I want to secure, but I haven't convinced myself. What about you?

[quote=dteitsma]I don't know about you but domains are addictive to buy. I'm up to my third personal domain now. I have several others that I want to secure, but I haven't convinced myself. What about you?[/quote]

Absolutely. I bought two this week actually. Most of them are usually for ideas I get for the next Twitter or something like that, and then I never actually do anything with them. I've gone through a couple "family" domains too. The hard part for us Dutch is that we've got all the tech-savvy Netherlands folk fighting for the same ones.