We get a lot of questions from customers about choosing a domain name (or even what is a domain name?), but even more often than that, we see domain names that we wish people would have talked to us about before registering. Long, complicated, hard to remember URLs just add a hurdle between your website and the people trying to get there.

Just so we’re all on the same page: A domain name is like a street address for your website. In the same way that typing in 1060 West Addison Street into your GPS helps you navigate to Wrigley Field, typing a domain name in your web browser helps you find a website.

In an effort to keep parishes from making bad domain choices in the future, I thought I’d share a few simple rules for choosing a new domain name for your parish:

Keep it short

Let’s be honest: Catholics in Baltimore are not going to have the patience to type out SaintMartinLoynazoftheAscensionCatholicChurchBaltimore.org just to find out what time Mass starts on Ash Wednesday. Yes, that might be the full name of the church, but is that how people refer to it? Go with something shorter: StMartinBaltimore.org.

Make it memorable

You want people to remember your domain name. You want people to sit down at their computers and be able to type it in without Googling for it or flipping through your bulletin to find it. The easiest way to make a domain name memorable is to use something that connects with what people are already used to:

  • Do people tell their friends they are going to Mass at Saint Teresa of Avila Catholic Church or just St. Teresa? I would bet it’s the latter, so use something like StTeresaMiami.org as your domain.
  • Take note of how your parish typically writes the word “saint”. Does your parish write out the full word or use the abbreviation? The way it appears on your letterhead and sign out front should match how you spell it in your domain.
  • Use words not acronyms – unless the acronym is used frequently and consistently. If the folks at Most Holy Redeemer Parish commonly refer to the parish as MHR, then go ahead and use MHR in the domain name. But don’t use something like olotshpslc.org for Our Lady of The Sacred Heart Parish in Salt Lake City.
  • If parishioners have a common nickname for the parish, that might make a great domain choice – but don’t try and force a new nickname. Something like LittleFlowerCleveland.org would work great at St. Therese of Liseux Parish in Ohio, but the families at St. Bathilde Catholic Church in South Carolina probably wouldn’t support the use of SlaveQueenClemson.org for the parish website. (You can read more about St. Bathilde the “Slave Queen” in Brian O’Neel’s Saint Who?)
  • No hyphens. People don’t remember hyphens. Just don’t use them.

Spelling matters

I’m guessing your parishioners are not all spelling bee champs, so don’t expect them to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love that your parish is named after the newly canonized St. Kateri Tekakwitha, but people are not going to spell her name right when they type in StKateriTekakwithaParish.org. That might be a time when you want to use a nickname (LilyOfTheMohawks.org) or an acronym (SKTNashville.org).

If your parish has a frequently misspelled name, it might be worth registering both the proper and improper spellings. So maybe if your parish in Washington is named after the Leper Priest of Molokai, you might want to register both StDamienSeattle.org and StDamianSeattle.org.

Say it out loud

Make sure that your domain name makes sense when spoken out loud. When you tell someone over the phone to go to “Saint Benedict Texas Dot Org” are they going to type out: StBenedictTX.org or SaintBenedictTX.org or StBenedictTexas.org or SaintBenedictTexas.org?

The goal should be that your domain name is easily given verbally, without extra instructions. To do that make sure you try not to use words with a variety of spellings or abbreviations: 1) There’s no need to use your state’s name in your domain; 2) Be clear if your domain has “saint” spelled out or abbreviated”; and 3) Just avoid using hyphens. I’m serious about the hyphens.

Don’t forget about email

The domain name you choose will be part of your email address, so make sure you keep that in mind.

If you’re like me and you have to write or type out your email address constantly, you’ll appreciate having a shorter domain.

And if you have to give your email address out regularly, having an address that makes sense when said out loud is extremely important.

Social media consistency

It’s not a make or break issue, but if you can keep your parish’s domain name consistent with your social media URLs, it makes everyone’s life easier. If St. Justin Martyr parish in Atlanta uses StJustinAtlanta.org, it would be great if they could also use facebook.com/stjustinatlanta and twitter.com/stjustinatlanta. So if you’re trying to decide between two domains, look and see which one has identical usernames available on your favorite social media sites.

Bonus: Get other domain variations

People will mistype your domain: spelling, abbreviations, etc. The only thing you can really do about that is buy the other domains they might type in by mistake and have them redirect to your primary domain. Since domains only cost about $10/year, it might not be a bad idea to spend the extra $30 and register: StPatrickLubbock.com, SaintPatrickLubbock.com, StPatrickLubbock.org, and SaintPatrickLubbock.org. Then just pick your favorite and promote that domain.

Where do I get my domain?

There are literally hundreds of domain registrars out there, and after trying dozens of them, here’s my recommendation:

  • Name.com – $10.99 / year. They have phenomenal support, and the user interface is incredibly easy to use. My favorite part is that they have DNS templates for Google Apps, Office 365, and much more. If you’ve never made changes to DNS records, Name.com makes it a breeze!