How to Choose a Domain Name for Your Website

Choosing a domain name for your website is often one of the first things you’ll do for a new business or website, but it’s not something to rush into. It takes time to find a domain name that reflects your business, is easy to remember, and one that’s available to register.

In this article, I’ll share some important things to consider before you choose a domain name for your website.

Where to Start on Your Domain Name Search

Before you spend much time searching for domain names, start with a list of the main benefits of your website. Benefits are different than features. Features are things a user can do on your website; benefits are the reasons they’ll use your website instead of someone else’s.

Sit down and brainstorm at least three to five major benefits. Write them down and then underline the keywords in the list. This will give you a good starting point for your domain name quest.

Using Your Legal Company Name as Your Domain Name

When you’re deciding on a domain name, you may want to use your company name if it’s available, or come up with something different.

Having the same domain name as the company name works well for highly focused businesses. For example, everything Apple does is based around their core brand. They don’t sell their phones under a different brand name than their computers. Everything they make is an “Apple” and every customer they have is a potential buyer of every product they sell, so using Apple.com as their primary domain name just makes sense.

However, some businesses, by their nature, have multiple brands so they need multiple domain names. For example, a company called Spark Networks owns several different dating websites. Most people have never heard of Spark Networks, but most people have heard of JDate and ChristianMingle since each has its own TV commercials.

Spark Networks owns both of these dating sites and several others. By using a different, and highly specialized domain name for each type of dating site, they’re able to provide functionality and content that appeals specifically to each target market. In addition, by separating the focus of each site, their highly relevant content greatly improves their SEO ranking.

Your legal company name may be the best domain name for your business, or you might want to pick something that’s more relevant to your target market, or something that will rank better for SEO.

What Makes a Good Domain Name

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of research on what makes a good domain name. What I found is mostly common sense. The best domain names are short and easy (e.g. Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.).

Good Domain Name Length

Way back in 2009, a study conducted by Gaebler looked at 1 million of the most popular websites (based on stats provided by online metrics company Alexa). Gaebler found that the top 50 most visited websites averaged 6 characters in their domain name (they only counted the characters before the dot). For the entire million, the average length was only 10.1 characters. The longest domain name in the top 100 belonged to AdultFriendFinder, with 17 characters.

80% of the top 500 domain names have one or two words and fewer than eight characters. Try to keep yours simple, easy to pronounce, relevant to what your site is about, and spelled correctly, if at all possible.

Misspelling Your Domain Name

Spelling a word in the domain name incorrectly for effect (e.g. BriteGoldJewelry.com) might make it look neat, but people will type it in wrong (or right, depending on your point of view) and go to someone else’s website. Don’t try to be too clever or you could lose customers.

With that said, there is a trend among some very popular websites that have missing vowels, extra consonants or phonetic spellings in their domain names. If your perfect name isn’t available, you, too, can get creative with the spelling.

Using a misspelled word isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, according to Abhimanyu Ghoshal over at TheNextWeb.com, “While alternative spellings help companies secure dot-com domains easily, they can also add character and help a product or service stand out, particularly when operating in a typically straight-laced ecosystem.”

For example, Fiverr, Flickr, Digg and Tumblr all use misspellings for their domains. When Fiverr launched , Fiver.com (with one “r”) wasn’t available so they just added an extra “r” to keep their name short and still relevant. In recent years, they purchased the correct spelling for $80,000 so both domains go to the same website.

Flickr and Tumblr also bought their correctly spelled “.com” domains for a healthy sum. Tumblr went to court over ownership of Tumbler.com and won. Digg is the only one of these examples that probably won’t ever own the correct spelling of their domain. Dig.com is owned by Disney, which uses it for their Disney Interactive Media Group website.

Hyphens In Your Domain Name

You should try to avoid hyphens in your domain name, though, such as Bright-Gold-Jewelry.com. Some people don’t know what a hyphen is and it can be hard to explain.

It’s also hard to say when asked,“What’s your website address?” “It’s Bright Hyphen Gold Hyphen Jewelry.com.” See what a pain that is?! You don’t want to force users to overcome obstacles in order to find your website, and a hyphen is an obstacle.

Also, according to the inbound marketing experts over at Moz.com, “use of hyphens also correlates highly with spammy behavior—and more than one hyphen should not be used in a domain name.”

Domain Name Relevancy and SEO

From a search engine perspective, your domain will rank higher in search results if it’s relevant to the content of your site.

For example, if you’re selling jewelry, it’s better from an SEO perspective if your domain name has the word jewelry or a related term in it. BrightGoldJewelry.com will rank better than ThingsThatShine.com when people are searching for jewelry.

How to Choose a TLD or Top Level Domain

The next thing to think about is your top level domain, or TLD.

A TLD refers to the extension after the domain name. Most domains use the “.com” TLD, and this is the best choice because that’s what people are accustomed to seeing and typing. Most non-profit organizations use the “.org” TLD.

Using .net or .biz in Your Domain Name

Avoid “.net” or “.biz” because people won’t remember that when they’re typing your domain name. If your domain is FancyPens.net and someone else owns the FancyPens.com TLD, most people will go there instead.

Plus, if the website is live and actively selling the same types of things you are, you’ll be in violation of their trademark and they may send you a cease and desist letter. That would really suck if you’ve already spent a lot of time or money building your brand.

Creative Use of Country TLD’s

While using a “.com” TLD is the best choice, you may not find anything that works well using it. In that case, you have some other options if you want to think WAY outside the box.

Another creative option you have is to use the TLD as part of the name. In addition to the TLD’s most people know, like “.com” and “.org,” there are several others that most people don’t know. Del.icio.us, Circl.es, Insight.ly,  and theComplete.me use four of these rarely known TLD’s.

Each country has its own TLD and some of them can be used to end words. Here’s a list of several that you can register if you live in the United States: .com .org .net .biz .info .xxx .mobi .tv .am .fm .us .es .me .be .co .de .gs .tc .la .ms .vg .ws .bz .ly.

There are dozens of other available TLD’s, but for most of those, you need to reside in the respective country to register a domain using their TLD.

Newly Released Generic TLD’s

In addition to country TLD’s, a bunch of generic top level domains have been released, such as .pro, .travel, .beer, .clothing and hundreds more. While these may seem cool, they have a few downsides.

First, they’re more expensive to register…in the $40/year range. If you need to register misspellings, that can add up fast.

Second, they’re still very new and unproven. A lot of online forms validate email addresses by comparing the TLD to the list of known TLD’s. Since these are so new, most older websites will flag an email address with one of these generic TLD’s as invalid so you won’t be able to submit the form.

Third, you could run into the same problem I discussed when using .net if another company is already using .com for the same domain name. If I launch AcmePlumbing.construction, I’m probably going to lose my direct traffic to AcmePlumbing.com, or worse, have to change it for trademark infringement.

And finally, most of them are much longer than 3 characters, and as you know, shorter is better when it comes to domain names. By tacking on one of these generic TLD’s, you could easily end up with a very long domain name, like this 25 character ridiculousness: AcmePlumbing.construction.

There’s simply no substitute for using a .com TLD if you can find something that works.

How to Search for Domain Names

Registrars provide domain name search and recommendation tools that you can use to research and register your domain name.

What’s a Registrar?

Registrars are companies that maintain the giant list of domain names. Think of them like a Yellow Pages for websites. GoDaddy is the most recognizable registrar, but there are dozens of others to choose from, including most webhosts.

Don’t get discouraged if your first one or two or ten names aren’t available. That’s an unfortunate reality of domain names these days. Most of the best domains are taken, which means you’ll need to try several different combinations of words, and maybe even think outside the box for some new ideas. This process is both fun and frustrating so try to stay positive.

Most registrars offer recommendation tools that will give you a list of alternate domains using some of the keywords in the domain you’re searching. These can be very helpful in your brainstorming efforts.

Domain Name Search Tools

If you’re not making any progress on your domain search, or you just want some fresh ideas, one website that might help is DomainNameSoup.com. They have many different tools for domain searches and recommendations. My personal favorite is called “Domain Name Mangle.” It’ll give you other ways of spelling a word. For example, “flicker” becomes “flickr.”

Keep a Domain Name Research Log

As you’re conducting your search, take the time to document all the domains you’ve thought of and searched for. I use an Excel spreadsheet called the Domain Research Log (download it) for this process to store the domain name, the status (Available, Taken or Premium), and comments for anything important that I might want to remember about the domain.

Recording your findings will save you a lot of time, especially if your search spans several days. If you try to rely on your memory, you could waste time searching for the same domain names multiple times. Plus, looking over what you’ve already considered might spark some new ideas. You might even change your mind about one you previously rejected.

The domain name research log for one of my business ideas has 723 domain names in the list! Hopefully, yours won’t be that large or take as long to compile!

Ask Your Friends What They Think of Your Domain Name

Once you have your list narrowed down to one or a few domain names, ask some of your friends what they think of them. Getting feedback can help you spot things like unintentional misspellings, hard to say words or alternate meanings.

Hard to Understand Domain Names

For example, you might totally love the domain FineJewelry.com, but when you run it by your best friend, she might say, “Is it FINE or FIND?”

This may not be a deal breaker, especially if you can register both domains. However, if you can’t get both domains, you could lose business to a competitor who owns FindJewelry.com.

The web startup that I sold back in 2008, QuoteCatcher.com, seemed like an easy enough name when we chose it. It was relevant to what we were selling (requests for quotes) and it was relatively short.

However, it was hard to pronounce and understand over the phone. I can’t tell you how many times I called a client or prospective client and the response was, “You’re from GoatCatcher?”

Now, before I choose a domain name, I pick my favorites and ask several people to provide feedback. Someone more objective may be able to spot a flaw that I missed, and prevent me from saying a million times, “No…QUOTECatcher. Not GOATCatcher.”

You can also ask your friends the next day if they remember the name(s) to gauge memorability. Liking the name isn’t very important, but being memorable is.

Ill-conceived Domain Names

Here are a few examples of domains that were not very well thought out. ExpertsExchange.com used to be a popular developer forum that’s no longer in business. Software developers used it to get answers to coding questions, but it’s kind of a joke in the developer community because by changing the capital letters a bit, you get ExpertSexChange.com.

TherapistFinder.com is another example. They changed their domain to CouncelingCalifornia.com because the original domain also spells TheRapistFinder.com.

My final example, SpeedOfArt.com is no longer in business, either. Is it because their domain also spells SpeedoFart.com? Maybe…. Regardless, a good friend would point that out if they noticed it.

Get It Right the First Time

It’s important to choose a good name first because it’s not a good idea to change it once your site is launched.

Search engines start ranking your site as soon as it’s live on the web. If you decide to change your domain name in three months because of something you missed, you’ll lose at least some of your search engine positioning, and you’ll have to continue to maintain the old domain name indefinitely.

Adding 301 Permanent Redirects from your old domain to your new domain will make the search engines mostly happy, and you’ll need to tell Google what you’ve done to make them happy, but overall, it’s much easier to get it right the first time.

In the end, it’s your decision. Spend some time on it and don’t make your decision rashly, but don’t spend so much time that your business comes to a screeching halt.

How to Register Your Domain Name

You’ve chosen a domain name and you’ve run it past a few people and they like it. Now it’s time to buy it from a registrar such as GoDaddy.com.

This process is simple. Just search for your domain name and if it’s available, you’ll be able to add it to your shopping cart and purchase it just like anything else you buy online.

Register Similar Domain Names

In addition to your primary domain name, you also want to buy the related names, too. For the FineJewelry.com example above, you’d also want FindJewelry.com, with a “d” if it’s available.

You can buy the “.net” and “.biz” TLD’s to protect them from being snatched up by someone else, but it’s not necessary unless you have a specific reason for it. Personally, I think both of those extensions are revenue generators for registrar’s more than useful domain extensions.

If you own FineJewelry.com and someone launches a jewelry site called FineJewelry.net, you can send them a “cease and desist” letter for trademark infringement. Besides, it doesn’t make sense for a legitimate business to use a domain name that’s the same as an existing business that already uses the “.com” TLD. They would consistently lose business to your “.com” domain because that’s what people are used to typing.

Register Misspelled Versions, Too

You should also consider registering versions that are spelled wrong, such as FineJewlry.com and FineJewlery.com (notice jewelry is misspelled). You can point these to your primary domain name, but when someone types the name incorrectly in the browser, it will still go to your website.

In fact, unless you have a reason not to, all the related domains you purchase should be pointed to your primary domain name. Once your website is launched, your webhost or website developer can do this for you.

It’s Really a Lease

Most people refer to this process as “buying” a domain name; however, you’re actually “leasing” a domain name from the registrar and the lease must be renewed every year, or at the end of your term. A one year “lease” on a domain will usually run you around $10.

Additional Domain Services

When you go through the purchase process, you’ll be prompted to buy a bunch of other services for the domain, such as Private Registrations or International Domain Names.

In my opinion, you don’t need these for a new website unless you have a specific reason for them. To keep your costs down, you can opt out of these additional services, at least for the first year.

Good Domain Registration Term Length

You can choose to lease the domain for multiple years, which will sometimes give you a discount, but will cost you more upfront.

If you’re on a tight budget, lease the domains for one year and see how it goes. You may decide after three months to toss the idea and do something different, or you may think of an even better domain name.

It would be a waste of money to spend $40 on a 5 year lease when you could have spent $10 for one year. Multiply that by 2 or 4 related or misspelled domain names and you could save $120 or more.

Domain Length of Registration & SEO

You may have heard (like I did) that registering your domain name for multiple years will help your SEO. The thought being that a domain name with a 5 or 10 year term might mean you’re more serious about your business.

However, according to Matt Cutts, one of Google’s search experts who often neither confirms nor denies the web’s crackpot theories about Google’s search algorithms, “To the best of my knowledge, no search engine has ever confirmed that they use length-of-registration as a factor in scoring.”

Length of registration is different than the age of your website. If your website has been around for 10 years and has good content, I’m pretty sure you’ll get ranked higher than a website that’s been around for 6 months, even if it has better content.

Register Your Own Domain!

My last piece of advice on this topic is to register your own domain name! Don’t let your web developer or webhost do it for you, because then it will be registered to them.

If you decide to part ways, they could give you a difficult time transferring the domain into your name, or worse, they could charge you a hefty sum for it.

One of our website design clients had this exact problem with an SEO company. She allowed them to register her domain name and then they held it hostage when she canceled their SEO service.

Instead of transferring the domain to her, which she paid them to register, they shut her domain off until she agreed to pay them several hundred dollars to transfer it into her name. While they negotiated the transfer, her website and email were offline for more than a week.

Registering a domain name is a simple process. Don’t delegate that responsibility.

Domain Name Selection Checklist

I’m a big fan of checklists, so here’s your domain name selection checklist:

  • Short as Possible (< 10 characters before the dot is ideal)
  • Misspellings are Intentional
  • Relevant to Your Business
  • Good SEO Value (especially for landing pages)
  • Easy to Say and Understand
  • Doesn’t Have Unintentional Alternative Meanings
  • Changing a Capital Letter Doesn’t Change the Meaning
  • Isn’t Too Similar to an Existing Business that Sells the Same Things
  • Registered Common Misspellings (Jewlry, Jewlery…not just Jewelry)
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