Select a Domain Name
|The freeze on issuing new .gov domains for Executive Branch agencies, implemented on June 13, 2011, was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2011 (see OMB Guidance on Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service [PDF, 2.3 MB, 6 pages, June 2011]). Effective January 1, the Federal CIO has extended the freeze while OMB reviews plans to issue new guidance related to .gov domain approval that will formalize the “no new .gov domains” policy. Additional guidance will be released soon in consultation with the .gov Reform Task Force.|
Review the policies and regulations on the use of approved domain names and domain registration. The .gov domain registration process is being updated to encourage agencies to streamline and consolidate content onto a few main websites, instead of creating a new site for every program or project—less is more!
Domain Naming Convention Checklist
Incorporate new content into existing sites, using subdirectories or third-level names in a domain you already own (e.g., breastcancer.hhs.gov or ed.gov/afterschool). Follow this same practice even for cross–agency efforts, since customers don't care which agency hosts the content, as long as they can see it's on a .gov domain.
Use a short, simple name that is easy to remember and easy to type
Use a name that reflects the content on the site, and contains keywords the target audience is likely to type into a search engine to find this information or service
Use a name that reflects the customer, as opposed to the agency, viewpoint. For example, "getajob.gov" is better than "federalemploymentprogram.gov," since the public is more likely to type "get a job" into search engines.
Test the name with a few members of the target audience (see details below)
Review the list of current .gov domains on data.gov to check for similar .gov names which could be confused with yours
Check for similar names that might compete with yours in the .com, .net, .org or other domains. Don't create new .gov domains that would conflict with existing copyrights and trademarks, or directly compete with well-known non-government brands (e.g., don't create amazon.gov, since it would be in direct competition for search rankings with amazon.com)
Choose names that will help the public understand the context of the site, especially in relation to government policy. For example, consider the domain "clubdrugs.gov," owned by HHS. Does the name imply government endorsement of, or opposition to, drug use? Consider what the words mean in other fields of interest, or in different parts of the country or the world.
Is the name too broad? Will the site include everything in government on that topic across different fields? Does it have other meanings outside of government? For example, "pop" could relate to a soft drink, a lollipop, a type of music, how to pop something, fathers, or even a type of email
Don't be clever—plays on words or numbers will make the name difficult to convey orally. For example, "info4children.gov" could be typed infoforchildren.gov, infofourchildren.gov, or infoforechildren.gov
Watch out for names where the ending and beginning letters in the words are the same, such as homeeconomics.gov or trainnames.gov, since it may result in misspellings
Avoid special characters such as hyphens
- Don't invent acronyms, or use acronyms that are hard to remember or pronounce. If you do use an acronym, it should be a well-known, established brand that your target audience can easily recognize and understand
Test The Name
Ask a few people what they would expect to find at a site with that domain name. If possible, test the name with members of the target audience, provided they are not "too close" to the project to remain objective. Friends and family often make good testers, especially with content aimed at a general audience. If their expectations of what they would find do not come close to the content you are planning to present, select a different name.
Consider asking test participants:
- What web address (URL) would you give this site? (open ended)
- On which website would you expect to find this information? domainA.gov, domainB.gov, or domainC.gov (multiple choice)
- Which name do you prefer—the one you recommended or the one you picked from the choices presented?
Reserving the Name in Other Domains
OMB policies require federal government public websites to use domain names ending in .gov, .mil, or .fed.us (unless the agency head “explicitly determines another domain is necessary for the proper performance of an agency function,” which should happen VERY rarely, if at all). If your agency determines it's necessary, you should follow the same naming conventions outlined above.
You may consider buying the same domain names ending in .com, .org, .net, etc., to protect them from inappropriate use by other parties. If you do, you should only market the official .gov domain name, and redirect those alternate domains to your official government site. You probably can't protect the domain name in all the available domains, so consider which are most relevant, or the most susceptible to spoofing or other competition. If you choose not to invest in buying those domains, you still may be able to take legal action against others who spoof your domain.
Note that, in the past, many agencies registered multiple spelling variants of .gov domains to prevent confusion. With the proliferation of suggested search ("Did you mean ... ?), this practice is no longer necessary.
- .GOV Domain Name Registration Service
- Final Rule - 41 CFR Part 102-173 - policy for the registration of Internet .gov domain names
- Common questions about .gov domain registration