Quickly, what’s the first thing people notice about your e-commerce site? The landing page? Your call to action, perhaps? A form to create a new account? You can be forgiven if any of these were your first thought. The problem is that you’re thinking too large. Before a potential customer ever lays eyes on your webpage, they first need to navigate to it. And the way they navigate to it is by typing your website’s URL. That stream of characters between www dot and dot com is going to be the very first impression that most people get of your website. It should go without saying that it should be memorable, and the first step towards doing that is to be sure that you own a custom domain name.
What is a URL anyway?
We use them everyday, but we rarely give them much thought. Simply put, it’s a code that lets you get a specific response from a server. Depending on what extensions and protocols you specify, you might get extremely different pieces of information, but 9 times out of 10, that information is a web page that your browser then displays. If you’re an e-commerce business owner, the only thing you really need to think about is an HTTP request to your specific hostname; that’s your bread and butter.
In a very real way, your web domain is a piece of real estate that you can buy, but instead of a physical address, it’s a location on the internet. Any business owner will tell you that location is everything, and this maxim holds true online as well. The more memorable and snappy your domain name is, the more professional and appealing your business will look. This effect is more difficult to achieve if you are hosted by a platform like Shopify or Wix. One benefit these platforms give you is a domain of your own, but by default it takes the form of something like “myOnlineStore.myshopify.com”. You can have the coolest URL in the world, but having that generic host site tacked on will cheapen the effect. That means you need to buy a custom domain name.
How Does A Custom Domain Help?
One of the main benefits of buying your own domain name is for the sake of simplicity. A good URL should be easy to remember and type out. The name of the game is convenience, and even small things like having to add the extra syllables of a hosting service can really grate on a customer’s nerves. It also makes it easier for new, less tech-savvy customers to find your website. Many people’s first instinct when trying to find the website for a business is to type “name-of-business.com”, even if they don’t actually know if that’s the real address. Just like your tagline and business name, your custom domain should be short, snappy, and memorable.
Speaking of memorability, having a custom domain also allows you to have domains that aren’t limited to .com. While top level domains, like com, org, and net, are good to have, many online businesses like to play with others. For example, if your business is named for a verb, you could use the domain .it. It’s a fun way of messing with people’s expectations that can help your website really stand out.
If you’re not interested in that, consider acquiring as many suffixes as you can to associate with your domain. This is both to make sure that people won’t miss your website by entering the wrong suffix, but also to limit the chance that another business doesn’t lay claim your name with a different suffix. Amazon, for example, can be reached at amazon.com, amazon.org, amazon.ca, and many more. They’ve even bought up domains that are spelled similarly to Amazon, just in case. Try navigating to “amazong.com” if you don’t believe us. Your URL is your address on the web, and you don’t want to find yourself with unexpected neighbors. While buying up those additional pieces of real estate is an extra cost, it is one that any e-commerce site should consider for the sake of branding.
An additional perk to owning your own domain is being able to set up an official email address for your business, along with you and any employees you might have. If your point of contact with your customers is a Gmail address, that makes you look unprofessional at best. At worst, it makes you look untrustworthy. Would you want to trust a website whose primary contact information was listed as “email@example.com”? Of course not. However, “firstname.lastname@example.org” has a far more legitimate air to it, one that inspires confidence in you, and your product.
Finally, having a custom domain name is vital to improving your site’s Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. SEO is the study of how to make your website more visible to search engines like Google, one that many people have built entire careers around. Making sure your site has the best SEO possible is another article entirely, if not a full-length book. However, every search engine’s algorithm is designed to prioritize results that have a custom domain. This is done to prevent scammers from drawing gullible browsers into insecure websites. Unfortunately, this also keeps legitimate sites that happen to use their hosts’ domains out of the top results. Having a custom domain for your business prevents this problem, and helps people find your website that much more easily.
The saying “you never get a second chance at a first impression” is a bit misleading, because a first impression is actually made of a dozen little impressions that all occur around the same time. While you can’t control every aspect of a user’s initial experience, you can certainly make a spirited effort. Giving your website a catchy domain name is a much larger part of it than you might realize. When people spread word of your site, the URL should just roll off the tongue. That is truly the first part of any first impression.