One of the most repeated questions during my coaching calls over the years is this:
Should I use my name for my domain name?
The alternative is to use a unique word or phrase as a brand, separate from your own personal brand.
Given how important choosing a domain name is for your new web business, this question deserves consideration.
It also ties into a big change I recently made, dropping the Entrepreneurs-Journey.com domain name, which I had used for 13 years, and replacing it with Yaro.blog — a personal brand domain that doesn’t even use the .com address!
My First Domain Names
The first domain name I ever purchased was MagicAustralia.com (later changing it to MTGParadise.com), for my Magic: The Gathering card game website.
At that time in history, the late 1990s, I could have scooped up a lot of amazing one-word domain names and become rich reselling them a decade later. Sadly, I didn’t have the foresight as a teenager to see this opportunity, I was too busy playing cards.
The next domain name I bought for a business was BetterEdit.com. I was proud of this choice as it had great alliteration and also explained what the business did.
I also purchased other domain names for side projects that went nowhere, including MP3Now.com for my music site, YoungActivist.com for my change the world site, and Yaz.com.au for my Australian focused online trading community (you can learn all about these failed projects here).
In 2004, after I discovered blogging and made the decision to start a hobby blog about entrepreneurship, I made possibly the worst domain name choice I had up to that point. I registered Entrepreneurs-Journey.com.
I wanted to write about my entrepreneurial journey of the previous seven years and track my ongoing business projects into the then future. The domain was a reasonably accurate description of this ethos.
However, as I would quickly realize, the word Entrepreneur is hard to spell, you should avoid hyphens in your domain and ideally the fewer letters you use the better.
Despite all of these handicaps, my blog did very well and as you probably know, became the basis for a teaching and coaching business that is still going today, almost fifteen years later, having generated over two million in sales.
The Emergence Of The Yaro Brand
Although I was happy with my blogging results, as the years went by I became more and more unhappy about my domain name.
On podcast interviews rather than say my website address I would tell people to just Google for ‘Yaro’ instead. This would bring up my blog as one of the first search results, due mostly because my blog ranked so well and my name is rare.
Around the same time I started blogging, people like Steve Pavlina (stevepavlina.com), Darren Rowse (problogger.net), Brian Clark (copyblogger.com) and John Chow (johnchow.com) were all becoming what today we would call an ‘influencer’ — essentially a personal brand.
As you can see from their domain names, using your name or a brand name for your domain didn’t seem to impact the end result significantly. If you produced content read by thousands, you’d become a known entity.
As time went by it became clear that ‘Yaro’ was by far my strongest brand, not Entrepreneurs-Journey.com. Yet I stuck with my domain and even branched out with the EJInsider brand for my paid programs and first version of my membership site (later relaunched as the LaptopLifestyleAcademy.com).
In more recent years I reached the point where not only did I not like my domain, I became embarrassed by it. I felt that my somewhat amateurish domain name reflected poorly on my overall expertise, especially as a first impression point.
Although I can’t verify this, I also think my long hyphenated domain name may have negatively impacted my search results as time went on and search algorithms became more sophisticated.
Meanwhile, as the web matured, all kinds of new personalities surfaced in my industry, including Lewis Howes (lewishowes.com), Pat Flynn (smartpassiveincome.com), Amy Porterfield (amyporterfield.com), John Lee Dumas (entrepreneuronfire.com) and Marie Forleo (marieforleo.com)
As you can see again with these examples, whether you use your personal name as your domain or a unique word or phrase, didn’t seem to matter. John even succeeded using the hard-to-spell word ‘Entrepreneur’.
New Companies, New Projects, New Domains
No matter what rationale you want to apply to choosing a domain, the most important thing is your own relationship with it.
Emotionally I had no desire to shout to the world the Entrepreneurs-Journey.com brand. Instead, my energy was turning towards a domain name I had bought years earlier in preparation for a new project I hoped to focus on one day in the future.
That domain is ChangeManifesto.com, once again returning to my previous interest in ‘changing the world’ topics, and not just business.
In 2017 I decided to finally begin the Change Manifesto project, starting with the book and blog. The blog was setup, I wrote some articles for it, and began writing the book as I traveled Europe.
During the same year, in partnership with my team member Claire, we completed a behind-the-scenes test of a new business. For this project I did some brainstorming and was happy to discover I could register the domain InboxDone.com (my first choice, InboxZero.com was taken). I was excited that such a short and descriptive domain was still available even in 2017.
After finishing the first draft of the Change Manifesto book by the end of 2017, I faced a bit of a crossroads.
I wanted a break from the book, and the idea of jumping in and editing the first draft, which required a significant rewrite, was not motivating. The Change Manifesto blog on the other hand, I enjoyed writing to roughly once a month. Some of my best written content was going there.
Meanwhile Entrepreneurs-Journey.com was finally heading towards the release a of new design, which had been delayed by years because of an unreliable web designer I had to part ways with.
The entrepreneur in me was very excited about the potential of InboxDone.com. I wanted to make sure whatever energy this business needed from me to grow was available. The only way to get customers was to do some form of marketing, and that was definitely high on my priority list. Yet this business was still very new, so there was no guarantee it was going to work.
There were different directions available to me, and I knew there was no way I could go all-in on all of them at the same time.
The Emergence Of Yaro.blog
I’m not sure when he made the change, but at some point Tim Ferriss, who you probably know as an author, podcaster and hacker of life, converted his main personal brand domain to www.tim.blog.
This was probably the first time I’d see someone very successful use the still relatively new .blog domain name extension.
I usually stay clear of any domain name extensions that are not .com. There are countless examples of companies and people doing really well despite not using .com, but still, I hadn’t seriously considered something as different as a .blog domain until I saw Tim do so.
Each month new clients signed up for InboxDone.com. This was awesome and exciting, and also helpful because it gave me a clear focus. I like making decisions based on where momentum is going. In this case we had an obvious winner, so in my mind InboxDone.com was becoming my number one growth focus.
I still love coaching and creating content, so I wasn’t about to give up that part of my life. However, it did mean I needed to simplify this area so I didn’t have too many competing goals.
All of these thoughts were running in my head, yet I still hadn’t made a decision to change anything. It wasn’t until one day after a call with my project manager Laura that I made a big choice.
Laura said to me what I was already thinking. All of these projects in some way connect to the Yaro brand. Whether it’s a book and blog posts about change, my coaching business, and even my new business InboxDone.com, they all link to me, my story and my expertise.
Laura knew very well I didn’t like the Entrepreneurs-Journey.com domain, so she said to me, why don’t you change everything to sit under the ‘Yaro’ personal brand, which you are known for anyway.
I agreed, and with that I decided to make some fairly significant changes.
1. Entrepreneurs-Journey.com would become Yaro.blog. Tim Ferriss had given me ‘permission’ to see the .blog extension as a viable option. In case you are wondering, I did contact the owner of Yaro.com — he said he wanted a million dollars simply because I wanted the domain — sigh.
2. The new blog design and logo would have to be modified to remove the Entrepreneurs Journey parts and replace them with my name. Thankfully the designers could easily make that change, meaning we could launch the new domain and the new design at the same time (well almost, we had to carefully roll out one change after the other to manage SEO considerations – see below).
3. ChangeManifesto.com the blog, would merge into Yaro.blog. The ChangeManifesto.com website and domain would focus on the one-day-to-be-released book (whenever I felt like going back to rewrite the first draft). The blog component of the site would close down, and all the blog posts I’d written there would be migrated into Yaro.blog
4. All my blog posts and podcasts would be branded under the Yaro personal brand and released on the one Yaro.blog going forward.
5. InboxDone.com continued to be promoted within my Yaro.blog content. We have podcast ads running on my own podcast and I’ve written several blog posts related to email management that recommend InboxDone.com. This has worked surprisingly well, as our number one source of new customers outside of people who know me already has come from one blog post that ranks well in Google search.
This left me with a wonderfully simple structure. Claire my cofounder and I would focus on keeping InboxDone.com growing slowly and carefully. When not doing that I could spend my time creating content for Yaro.blog, a domain name and brand I was happy to promote as a blog and podcast.
Entrepreneurs-Journey.com had a great run, and ChangeManifesto.com I hope will still one day see the release of my book, but for now having one growth company and a personal brand gives me a clear direction.
The SEO Implications Of Changing Your Domain Name
Once I made the decision to switch to Yaro.blog, the big concern I worried about was how we could manage the change without damaging my search engine rankings and killing my organic traffic.
When you change your domain name, you are changing the web address of every single piece of content you have published on that website. You can do things to inform Google that you are changing domains, but I was still worried about the potential impact.
The tech team led by an old online friend and previous student, Ovi, who I brought on board to finish up the new blog design, could also do the domain change. Given my blog was almost fifteen years old at the time we made the transition, this was not something I was going to do myself!
We talked about it, and decided that first we’d make the domain name change without switching the design, make sure we did everything we could to mitigate any damage to search engine rankings, and then proceed to roll out the new look.
I won’t go into the technical details of how to do a domain name change, since I frankly don’t know enough about it and plenty of other people have written great how-to guides to manage the transition.
Ovi rolled out the new domain name, which switched entrepreneurs-journey.com for yaro.blog. We had redirects setup so the old domain would still work. All our tests showed links were redirecting as they should, now we just had to wait and see what happened to the search engine rankings.
Within two days, Google was showing yaro.blog in search results and entrepreneurs-journey.com was basically gone. This was good, but traffic-wise, things were not looking great — my organic traffic was half of what it used to be.
Over the next few weeks things started to improve slowly, but my traffic never returned to what it was since before the domain name change.
I was hoping the redesign rollout might improve things, since the website should load quicker and have cleaner code. I was also expecting variables like ‘time on site’ will increase (people staying longer on my posts), which also factors into search engine rankings.
Rolling out the new design was a much bigger job than making the domain name switch. Ovi and his team made the new theme live and we all began exploring the site to find bugs. Within a month the site was 95% of what I wanted it to be, which was a satisfying feeling. It was a significant change to the previous design and felt like moving into a new house.
As you will probably know if you own a website, making changes is a never ending job. I’m still working with Ovi now to tweak certain pages, add features, and optimize elements.
In terms of traffic, although there was a move upwards after the design was rolled out, my traffic hasn’t returned to what it was before the changes. This is frustrating, but it has forced me to focus on optimization again.
If you have yet to check out the new design, head over to www.yaro.blog and click some links to look around. I recommend you do this with a laptop or desktop for the larger screen.
It probably won’t surprise you to see a lot of my face all over the new design. The switch to focus 100% on Yaro as my brand has meant, much like so many other personal brands, influencers, consultants and experts, we put forward our image in everything. I feel a little uncomfortable about this as my site seems like a shrine to me, but I understand it’s an effective method for making sure people remember you.
What Should You Do?
To end this article I’m going to answer the question that I started with —
What should you do with your domain name, and consequently, your brand?
Over the years my answer to this question hasn’t really changed. At the end of the day what matters is if you are excited about your domain.
Entrepreneurs-Journey.com carried me far, despite being not a great domain name. As a brand, I could have continued with it and still did well, but emotionally I didn’t like it.
There are other factors to consider too, for example:
- A personal brand is a lot harder to sell, so if you are building a company and the idea of selling it one day appeals, don’t use your name.
- What your actual name is matters. If it’s really hard to spell and remember, you’re not helping your cause if you use it for your domain name.
- Choosing a brand name is generally more difficult because all the best .com domains are gone. Of course you don’t have to use .com, but it’s almost always preferable.
- If you’re NOT looking to personally be a brand, possibly speaking at events, doing interviews online, or at the very least, showing photos of yourself, then don’t use your personal name.
I also cover some other very important elements when choosing a domain in a handout you can download for free from here:
If you’re choosing your domain name and brand for the first time, I strongly recommend you download this handout as I cover the most important elements that makes it easier for people to remember you and your domain.
That in the end is the most important thing – will people think of you when they have need for what you offer?
As I go all-in on my personal brand, at least for my coaching business, I do so knowing that so much of my success has come from people trusting me as a person.
My companies with independent domain names like InboxDone.com are not meant to be an extension of the Yaro personal brand, BUT so many of our customers choose to work with us because of the relationship they have with me.
It’s hard to beat the power of building trust online using your personal brand. The ‘Influencer economy’ is alive and well, with individuals enjoying access to massive audiences who trust them, and thus can influence purchasing decisions.
Whether this is your path is very much up to you.