Organizations need to make a lot of choices when they are planning their online customer or member community. These important decisions include how to structure the community, who is in charge of their community's content plan, and which customer groups have access to specific content, features, and discussions.
However, one of the decisions that causes the most angst among our customers might surprise you:
While our customers' online communities are hosted on the Socious platform, they are configured to live on a custom domain specific to every customer.
Some companies simply add a community directory to their primary domain, like moz.com/community or blackboard.com/community. While others create a subdomain for their community, such as community.ebay.com or community.sumtotalsystems.com .
A third option that many organizations chose is to put their community on a completely new web domain. The independent Oracle user group, heug.org, and Adobe's connectusers.com are good examples of this.
The right approach for your organization depends on several factors, such as branding, the type of community, and your company's affiliation with the community. For example, user groups like to think of themselves as run by the users, so building a user group community on your company's domain might deliver lower adoption than an â€œindependentâ€ URL.
The domain name or URL is the most important part of your community's branding and marketing plan. Your URL is the way that community members will directly access your community and many people refer to the community by the URL (example: inbound.org).
To help you with this critical decision, here are six tips for selecting an effective domain for your online community:
You're going to be putting this URL on marketing materials, using it in emails and phone outreach, and giving it out from the stage at all of your customer events. Make sure your online community's URL is easy to both give and receive.
While a bunch of words strung together can be memorable, people can easily transpose or leave out words. Additionally, long URLs are frustrating to type on mobile devices.
Hyphens are not something you see often in legitimate websites. Your community members are not used to typing hyphens into their browsers. Your target audience may remember the words in your domain, but they might not remember where to place the hyphens when they are trying to visit your community.
You know your organization inside and out. You work with insider jargon every day. However, your community members don't.
Avoid the temptation to shorten the long string of words down to a new acronym. This isn't the time to force an acronym that means little to your current and prospective community members. Lastly, an unrelated acronym can take on a life of its own and muddy your brand.
Most business-class online community software platforms have discussion groups with built-in listserv technology. This allows people to engage via their browser, mobile devices, and email inbox.
The email discussion thread (and any other email coming from your community) will use the community's domain in the email address.
Long listserv URLs are more likely to be flagged as spam and it will be impossible for your community members to remember a long email address when they try to start a discussion or ask a question from their email client.
It should also go without saying that you shouldn't infringe on anyone's intellectual property when you name your community. Even if you are launching a community of users of a specific type of technology or software platform, you can't use that company or product name without permission from the organization that owns the name.
A conventional .COM domain is more desirable than a .NET or .ORG domain (if you're a nonprofit, .ORG is fine). While most community members assume your domain ends in .COM and it adds credibility to your community, good .COM domains are increasingly scarce.
If you are not in a technical role or don't have experience working with web technologies, searching for a domain can be a little daunting. Here are two simple tips for researching available.COM domains.
Search domain registration websites, like to godaddy.com, to see if you have any viable .COM domains left.
If you try all of the .COM domains that would work for your community and none of them are available, move on to a domain suggestion tool. Here are a few of our favorites:
If you have searched high and low for a .COM domain that fits your online community and the criteria listed above without any success, don't despair. You still have options. Time for Plan B.
In the past two years, the domain gods have cooked up dozens of new top-level domain extensions. Whereas we were stuck with .COM, .NET, and .ORG for years (with a few .US or .INFO options mixed in), you now have an array of options â€“ from .BIKE to .MARKETING to .GRIPE to .COMPARE.
Since these domains names are very new and not yet a convention for your community members, they should not be your first choice for your community. However, one of these options in particular just might do the trick. I'm talking about .COMMUNITY domains.
While your community members might not know that URLs like this exist, you can bridge the â€œweb convention gapâ€ if you find the right domain for your community and market it effectively.
As an added bonus, there are plenty of great domains left.
Here is a list of top-notch domains for online communities that are still available as of the publication of this post:
These domains are simple, easy to remember, and can align well with your community's purpose.
Keep your brand, audience, and the usability of your community in mind when selecting a domain name for your online customer or member community.
Start by exerting your creative juices in searching for a .COM domain name. If you run out of options, expand your .COM domain search using domain suggestion tools. As a last viable resort, consider a one-word .COMMUNITY domain.
Follow these three non-technical steps to secure a URL that your community members will be proud of and promote. Selecting the right domain name will help your online community get off the ground and grow for years to come.