Why I chose a .co.uk (or "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Choosing a Domain But Were Afraid to Ask")

I got asked to write a post on another blog recently on why I chose a .co.uk for Palhire.co.uk, as part of creating some content that might be useful for budding online entrepreneurs currently thinking about which domain is best for their business. After submitting my work and not hearing anything back for a week, I got a version of my article back from the blog’s sponsors that looked like it had gone through some form of Newspeak-revision that was so corporate and annodyne that I took back my permission to publish it. I present, here, the original…
When thinking about my history with domains, I got a rush of memories that pushed me to the back of the old comfy chair in my home office for at least twenty minutes. You see, in internet years, I’m about 749 years old.
My first job on the net was actually selling domains back in 1996, although this was not my first brush with it: that happened when I sent an email to America using a bakerlite modem and a BBC Micro in a dingy computer science lab in the middle of the Northamptonshire countryside in the spring of Earth’s 84th trip round the sun of the 20th century.
In ’96 I was working for the guy that went on to found and sell LateRooms.com. I have to admit, I was not the best employee (I was flabbergasted that I got the sack when I walked in, as if nothing had happened, after an unannounced two month absence), but I was pretty good at flogging domains. I remember sending out a mass fax-shot to thousands of companies saying something along the lines of:

“If you don’t get www.yourcompanyname.co.uk TODAY, you’ll end up with www.gobbledegook.co.uk!
Call Mark to secure your domain for only £199 now!”

(For anyone under the age of 25, a fax machine is a machine that send paper over the telephone. Oh, never mind).
The problem back then is that no-one, and I mean no-one, in business had a clue what the internet was let alone what a domain name was.
My journey online continued through to 2003 when I had this idea of building an Easyjet.com for skip hire. This idea developed into Topskips.com which in turn developed into Palhire.co.uk.
I remember trying to come up with the name for Topskips.com. If anyone reading this has ever been a budding musician, it was a bit like trying to name a band. I knew Easyskips.com was out of the question because Stelios had (and still has) that adjective sewn up legally so, after the waste paper bin was overflowing with squished-up pieces of A4 containing all sorts of genius like sexyskips.com, wowskips.com and too many others to mention, I opted for Topskips.com.
Big mistake.
I had some sort of plan for skip hire world domination, which is what drove me to choose a .com over a .co.uk (although we bought topskips.co.uk, topskips.net, topskips.org and so on due to some vague notions of online “brand protection” even though at that point we’d not earned one brass penny) because .coms had all the prestige. After all, we thought .com was short for “dot commercial” which meant you were a player and .co.uk was for puny little UK, just a tiny province in the internet hinterland I was to rule like a Colossus.
Two problems with this idea that I had not thought through. The next country on my list for monopolising skip hire was the USA but I had negated to follow through on the most basic of research which would have taught me quickly that yanks think a skip is something you do with a rope. When they want to get a massive metal box to throw shit in, they call it “dumpster rental”.
Second problem was to do with SEO. As the years went by it transpired, quite logically, that when Google is looking for relevant results in a locality, it wants to deliver (more and more every day) local results. This started with “local to your country” and is becoming increasing “local to your street”. Soon it will be “local to that thought you had last Tuesday”.
Compounding this from about ’08 to ’11 was a notion that took the domaining world (yes, there is such a pleonastic tautology) by storm, which was the fact that Google was making it really easy for domains to rank highly that had 100% keyword density. To the uninitiated, this meant that ranking for a keyword like “sexual archetype” was dead easy if you owned www.sexualarchetype.com. These were known as EMDs (Exact Match Domains) which were swiftly dealt with by Google’s EMD Update 97 years ago (in internet terms, this means a few months).
Because of the EMD issue, and in spite of ranking at No.1 for thousands of target keywords for many years, I still bemoaned the fact that I should have called the business Topskiphire.co.uk instead of Topskips.com during the internet marketing seminars and workshops I have been running since ’08.
SEO has always been a game of cat and mouse. We’re the mice and Google is the sabre-tooth tiger. They launched their business with an impossible-to-maintain strap line: “Don’t be evil” – something they may regret saying now they’re in league with the NSA (and don’t even get me started on censorship in China, but I digress).
The fact is that their algorithm (the equation they use to determine where sites rank in their index) has only in recent years matched their ambition following updates that you may have heard of with innocuous names such as “Panda”, “Penguin” and most recently “Hummingbird”. Many SEOs would prefer these to be given more descriptive names like “Hungry Shark”, “Pissed Off Black Widow Spider” and “Blood-toothed Pterodactyl”.
But what does this mean to you, and why did I call my business website PalHire.co.uk?
In the most simplistic terms I can muster – if you’re operating a business in the UK, choose a .co.uk domain. It has more weight and built-in authority in the UK search engines than other awful choices like .biz and .tv.
If you’re going to be international, choose a .com.
In terms of the words you use in your domain, don’t bother matching keywords, just tell it like it is. If you sell pies and your name is Brian, go for BriansPies.co.uk.
Your focus then should be on creating a website that has SEO-friendly architectural (ie. keyword-researched) structure built into it, getting content up that is so good other people share it, testing your offers with controlled PPC (pay-per-click) experiments, taking what you learn from that to give you the best chance of getting traffic for your gold (converting) keywords using SEO and split-testing your offers to increase your conversion rates and sales.
To that end, feel free to get a free 90 minute DVD of a University Seminar I gave on SEO here: https://attwooddigital.com/internetmarketing/internet-marketing-dvd-trailer/

The founder of Attwood Digital, Mark is a digital marketing veteran having been working online since before the dotcom boom. He created the world's first online skip hire service in 2003, has created multiple online courses, lectured on digital marketing and even written a book on the subject. He is also an ICO advisor and crypto-enthusiast.
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