How to Choose a Great Domain Name for Your Church
Your domain is your web address or URL, such as “http://mychurch.org”. Having a good domain is essential–and you definitely aren’t stuck with the one you have if you don’t like it. A great domain name makes it easier for people to both find and remember your church website. It affects your official email addresses as well, seeing that the addresses end with the same domain, “email@example.com”. Here are three strategies to consider when choosing a domain:
1. The Keyword Church Domain
The Keyword Church Domain strategy is still the best approach for most churches, though it’s not as good as it used to be. With this approach, you choose the name that most resembles what you think people will search for in search engines such as Google. With churches, the keywords are obvious. They are most likely to include, in this order,
a. the word “church”
b. the name of the city or municipality that it is in
c. the denominational affiliation
Keep in mind that while 74% of Americans claim a religious affiliation, 40% of millennials (the “nones”) consider themselves atheist or agnostic and likely have zero church experience. They are thus unlikely to consider a church affiliation when searching online (Pew Forum). So, for them, you are better off not including your affiliation with the domain, when it comes to the Keyword Church domain strategy.
In an effort to prioritize substance over marketing hacks, search engines don’t rank close matches as high as they used to, but it’s still advantageous to use them at times. For example, churchtown.com is nearly as good as townchurch.com. An exact keyword match, on average, will land you a top 12 search result (highposition).
2. The Branded Church Domain
A branded domain is one that uses a primary word for your church, which may or may not be a common word. (Aboundant.com is an example of a branded domain.) If your church has a strong brand that is already recognizable in the community, then your domain choice is a no brainer.
I recently helped a campus ministry at the University of Northern Iowa re-brand themselves as “Threehouse.” That name doesn’t mean much to most people, but it resonated strongly with the students at the University. Thus, as part of a larger branding effort, it was a slam dunk to pick up the domain “Threehouse.org.”
The Branded Church Domain won’t help you much with search engine optimization (SEO) like the keyword domain, but will be the most memorable as long as you have a strong brand. If the domain for your brand is already taken, you may be able to win it back with a successful trademark application.
3. The Mission Statement Church Domain
If your church has a strong mission statement that is unique and can be summed up succinctly, then it may also be a good candidate for your domain name.
A few years ago I worked with a church that wanted to be known as a center of inclusiveness in their community. We expressed this by putting the word “meet” in front of the name of their city and making that their domain. In this case, the word “meet” represented an open invitation you would expect from an inclusive church.
4. Mix and Match
You can actually have multiple domains. If you are launching a new brand but don’t want to give up on your key word domain, then use both! Eventually you’ll settle on which one works best for you, in part by viewing your website traffic statistics. Also, there is no reason why you can’t put keywords in your brand or your mission statement domain. Notice how we kept the city name in the mission statement domain I used as an example.
Other Considerations When Choosing a Domain
Keep it Short
The longer the domain, the harder it is to type, understand, remember. By the way, avoid using a – (dash) in the name for the same reason.
Check for Availability
Just because a domain is already in use or is not for sale by a domain merchant, that doesn’t mean it’s “unavailable.” It will just take more work and more money to try and wrangle it in. If the domain is not for sale but it’s not in use either, it may be held by a domain broker who buys up domains for resale at a profit. Similarly, if a domain is use but the site is outdated or unused, the domain might still be for sale.
To find out who owns a domain you need to do a whois search. A domain broker will almost always “highball” you on the cost, often wanting $500-2000. Haggling is expected, and I often find that explaining we are a church with a small budget goes a long way. I have yet to pay more than $200 for a church domain.
Domains are a commodity product these days, and the prices are all pretty close. Expect to pay up to $15 for the first year and around $20 each additional year. Purchasing for longer periods will often yield you a discount. What’s more important than cost is the quality of service you can get, so stick with a major provider like enom.com or godaddy.com, who each have excellent customer service. There are few support issues more painful than setting up or transferring a domain. The major providers are worth the extra cost.
Top Level Domain (TLD) (ie: .com, .org, .church)
Churches have traditionally used the “.org” TLD. That’s fine, since .org has traditionally referred to “organizations,” a descriptive moniker for churches. However, it’s often recommended that you use “.com” whenever possible since it is the most common TLD, and thus is the easiest to remember. I recommend that you pick up both if possible and forward the “.com” to the “.org” domain. This is the best of both worlds. You’ll do that using the domain tool provided by your domain reseller.
In late September of 2014, the TLD “.church” was released. This is a very attractive option considering that keyword searches will almost always contain the word “church”, and often at the end to boot. I recommend that you get your ideal .church domain and try it out (they are somewhat more expensive), or hold onto it and see if the vanity domain catches on. My guess is that it will!
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