During the many years I have worked with domain names I have found very few people who understand the true nature of domain names. You can find a quick definition for the operation of domains all over the internet, but none will tell you what a domain is and how it can work for you.
There are those who selected their name in a rush, or tried SEO to target the exact same keywords for their campaign. However, domain names, for me, are the door to a customer's head. I don't care for search engine traffic, what rank I will get according to the competition for the selected phrase, or anything technical that interferes with my primary goal, and this is the mind of my customer.
There are even marketing companies who disregard the power of a domain name, or intentionally push their customers to a poor name only to make them pay more for the promotion, trying to make it brandable. In their book "22 immutable laws of marketing", Al Ries and Jack Trout mention in their 5th Law that "The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in prospect's mind". These few lines truly describe what a domain is, and how powerful it can be for its owner.
It's what people in the industry, and domainers call "Generic / Premium" domains. How many of the companies you know own a domain name like bank.com or hotels.com or anything similar? Most of them try to get the name of their company and are happy when they find it's available.. It's easy to find an available domain using a variation of a company's name. It can be pieced together with -ltd.com or -inc.com, or the type of your business like yourfirm-shoes.com
The point is that domain names are not like telephone numbers where the user will note down the number then later dial it from the piece of paper they have in front of them.
In the past, over 10 years ago, the phrase "type-in" domains was prominent. This means the user didn't search the internet to find the exact domain he wanted, but typed in the category plus the extension.com. So, if someone wanted to find shoes he would type shoes.com With the radical change in our internet habits since then, and the advancement of search engines, now many people will instead type "shoes" into a search engine and will most probably see shoes.com in the results.
Do you notice the risk here? If you rely on the ranking the search engines give to your website then you put all your eggs in one basket. If search engines for any reason decide to put your website in 11th spot (2nd page) then users will click on your competitors even if your website is more closely relevant with their query.
The one spot that search engines don't have any power to alter is the mind of your customer.
Sit down, relax and try to track the journey of your thought. Say, for example, the word "shoes" and try to think of the first two or three companies that come to mind. Notice the order that these come to mind. Is the first name Nike, or Adidas or another well known brand? The brand that came first, through their commercials or other promo actions, did the best job at registering in your head. Why do you think multi-billion dollar companies keep spending money on advertising and promoting their brand? Do you think, for example, the known soft drinks firm with the red logo and the two C-C is not known even to smallest village of the world? All these companies try to preserve, or just outrank others for that spot in your mind.
The same happens for domains with much better potential. You're not only capable of being the first in the customer's mind, but literally owning a whole category for yourself.
Why not operate a website like shoes.com and at the same time, if you feel it's necessary, also get yourfirm.com to redirect to shoes.com? Of course some people may say that nowadays it's impossible to get one word domains if they don't spend thousands or even millions to buy them from their current owners. That's true for some extensions. The.com TLD especially is so saturated that even two words domains are equally valuable and hard to find. If.com is the only option then the choices are limited.
One quick piece of advice is to switch to another TLD where you will be able to find your required keyword. ccTLDs or regional registries, where good names are still available, are an additional option, however these registries usually have very tight restrictions on what can be registered, including some who don't allow generic domains to be registered at all.
The bottom line is that domain names are a serious issue for any business and webmasters should spend enough time examining the choices and the goals they have for their website.
Less than 1% will be able to dominate their category with a unique name like Google did, so it's better not to use this as an example for your domain name strategy. Instead, use a generic word that is available under a different domain extension, covers your entire category and is always at the front of the users mind.
For me domain names are an art, but even though my passion is focused on these dot beauties i'm always a fanatical supporter of the whole internet industry.
Socrates T Lambadarios works as Business Manager in CentralNic for GR.com