The thought of choosing a domain name can have you bursting with excitement—or hiding under your desk in fear. A good domain name can set you up for years of success, while choosing a dud can seriously hurt your business.
You can tell your fear to stuff it, because in this article, I’m sharing every tool and tip in my playbook on picking the right domain name.
In this article, we’re going to share our top tips to generate domain name ideas, the worst mistakes almost EVERY newbie domain buyer makes, and exactly where you can register one affordably.
Why The Right Domain Name Matters
Is there a reason for all the angst when it comes to picking out a domain name? It’s just a web address, right? Does it really matter that much?
Yes. Without question. If you care about your online brand, your domain name is incredibly important.
Think of picking your domain name like choosing a car color.
Wanna cruise around for years in a sports car painted “Puke Green with Bits of Oatmeal?”
Most likely not.
This is why choosing your domain name carefully is vital.
Your domain name is your online billboard. It’s your identity, your pièce de résistance, your mug on that prom photo you wish would never see the light of day.
In a nutshell, your domain name can determine whether or not a person clicks to see what you’re about.
SexyDoorRiceTables.com is not going to attract serious customers (it’s not a real site…trust me).
If you care about your business, your domain name deserves deep thought and attention. So let’s ditch the “Puke Green” and get you off on the right foot.
Use these strategies to pick the best domain name from the outset.
17 Strategies For Choosing The Perfect Domain Name
1. Be Brandable
Keep your domain name short, snappy, and memorable. It should roll off the tongue without being generic or awkward to say.
The sign of a strong brand is when it takes on a more generic meaning. Kleenex is a prime example of this. People will ask for a Kleenex (a brand), when what they really mean is just a tissue. Google is another perfect example. To Google something is now an action, not just a website.
You want your domain name to have that kind of power. Ideally it will be synonymous with its function, meaning it’s congruent with what you’re trying to communicate or sell. The opposite of being congruent would be selling sushi when your business owns BurgerBarn.com.
Keep in mind, brandability is memorability! If you choose your phone number as your domain name, no one will remember your site name, let alone want to visit it.
Don’t feel like you have to pigeonhole yourself into specific meanings either.
You don’t necessarily need to be understood to be memorable. Most don’t know the folk tale referenced by Alibaba.com. In fact, it’s not a stretch for a person to think they used baby talk to decide their business name. But here’s the key point: Alibaba is extremely memorable and brandable. It rolls off the tongue nicely.
A brandable domain name is also one that stands out from the competition. McDonalds doesn’t sound like Subway, and Starbucks sure doesn’t sound like Dunkin Donuts.
If you’re stuck on creating brandable domain name ideas, pick up a thesaurus or use one of the many domain name generators out there (we’ll list our favorite tools at the end of this article).
Also, don’t forget to ask friends and family what they think or feel about a domain name you’ve come up with. Ask them for their honest opinion and whether they think they could remember it.
We’ll cover more later on formatting, but if possible, skip unnecessary words like “a” or “the” or anything which feels tacked on. Facebook.com was TheFacebook.com, which definitely doesn’t have the same snap.
In line with ditching extra words, generally speaking you should avoid being generic, meaning bland, ordinary, hard to remember, and generally underwhelming.
I can see the torches and pitchforks lining up on the SEO front. There was a time (and to some degree still is) when you wanted to match your domain name exactly to your search term. Think WoodWatches.com for JORD wood watches.
This has worked in the past but doesn’t matter quite as much any more. You also need to realize that SEO can change pretty quickly. Do you really want to stake your brand’s future on something that could change completely with a few algorithm tweaks?
Here’s a rapid fire checklist for the brandable domain name points we’ve covered so far:
- Keep it short, snappy and easy to say.
- Be congruent with your messaging.
- Feel free to drop specific meanings.
- Use a thesaurus to look up synonyms to great words.
- Ask for people’s opinions.
- Get rid of extra letters like “a” “the” “that” and so on.
- Take the long view and avoid being generic.
Be brandable with your domain name and you’ll be miles ahead of most.
2. Think Local (Sometimes)
Ok, you’ve got your brandability mindset ready to rock and roll, but what if you own a business which resides in a specific country? Does that change things?
If your new domain is intended for a specific country, you’re going to want to consider using an address extension relevant to that country. For instance, Amazon is known for using local top level domains (TLDs) for multiple countries it operates in.
Even if you live in the United States, you’ve probably landed on an Amazon.co.uk page at some point.
That co.uk TLD emphasizes the site’s focus on servicing areas around the United Kingdom with goods. Buyers instantly know if they are on the right site from that single bit of information.
If you’re starting a BMW fan site specifically for Germans, the .de TLD could really come in handy. At the root of all this is your site’s “trust factor” in how it’s perceived. Rather than just being a random site amongst millions, a local domain can show you clearly operate in their country.
You can run into a few tough spots with local domains however, such as running the risk of competing with a .com now or in the future. That’s why the next section is very important.
3. Keep a Bias Towards .com TLDs
When it comes to choosing a domain name, it’s often better to be old-school. Like, baggy pants, a loose hoodie and Wu-Tang Clan blasting out your boombox old-school.
The old school .com TLD is still the most widely known (and recognized) domain available. It’s burned into our common lexicon and expectations.
According to Rand Fishkin of Moz.com, a .com TLD is vital for superior brandability. For most people choosing a domain name, it makes sense to lean towards that extension.
Rand isn’t just speculating either. Recent research performed by Registrar Stats showed that 75% of all existing domains use the .com extension, with .net and .org coming in second and third.
You’re in this for the long-haul aren’t you? If so, you don’t have much to lose by choosing a .com domain name.
Plus, it’s much harder for people to remember domain name extensions other than .com. Almost everyone will assume that your name ends in .com, and if it doesn’t they might have trouble getting to your site.
4. Choose A Name That Is Easily Shareable
When considering your domain name, picture how you’d share it in spoken word format. Imagine how a podcast you sponsor might mention it or how you’d share it yourself in video content.
When choosing your name, say out loud how you’d tell someone to visit your website.
Here’s a REALLY BAD example of how that could go: “Go visit my website WWW, dot, rad, underscore, cat, dash – a dash not spelling dash – scratchers, underscore, lucky, forty-two – spelled out not the numbers – dot, com.”
Here’s how that monster domain looks: www.rad_cat-scratchers_luckyfortytwo.com
Leave the hyphens, underscores, and numbers (if you can) at home. If it can be a cause for confusion when reciting or when typing, skip it. Pass on it like gas station egg-salad sandwich.
You also want to avoid situations where letters double up on each other (if it’s practical). Something like Redssandwichessaucesandmore.com is really hard to read and type. The chance for error is huge.
So talk it out and think hard about how to help those searching for your site!
5. Keep It Short
It goes without saying that using a word like antidisestablishmentarianism in your domain name is a ticket to having a lonely website.
If you can shorten up your domain name while still maintaining your brandability, you’re golden. Noah Kagan of SumoMe reportedly spent 1.5 million dollars on shortening his domain by two characters.
What was the big transformation?
His site transformed from Sumome.com to Sumo.com.
That’s $750,000 per character.
Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Coffee fame took a similar approach, axing “coffee” from his domain name BulletproofCoffee.com, instead going to Bulletproof.com.
Why did they do this?
Because generally speaking, when it comes to choosing your domain name, shorter is better. Shorter domain names are simply easier to remember, type, and share.
And rather than spending a million bucks later to shorten things up, why not keep it short to begin with?
Think of your favorite sites. Amazon. Google. Facebook. Twitter. They’re all short domain names that are easy to remember and type.
When choosing your domain name, keep it short and sweet.
6. Research Domain Copyright and Trademarks
You’ve gone through the paces and your super-epic-awesome-sauce domain name checks all the boxes. It’s brandable, it’s short, you left the underscores home, and you even see a .com available.
What else could you want?
Now it’s time to make sure you don’t get sued.
Even though it’s (hopefully) not your intent to infringe on another person’s trademark, you want to do your research ahead of time to make sure your site isn’t really close to another well-established company. The closer your domain name is to an established brand, the greater the chance you’ll get a cease-and-desist letter ordering you to shut your site down.
A Google search is a start, but if you really want to dig deep, search your trademark authorities to see if anything comes up.
If you’re concerned that your chosen name is too close to a trademark, you have two options:
- Choose a different name
- Consult an attorney to ensure you’re safe
7. Check Social Media for Availability
You’re not ready to purchase that domain name yet, although you’re getting close.
Somewhat in line with brandability, it can be extremely useful to align your social network profiles with your domain name. This increases familiarity with your site and helps your followers and customers find you more easily online.
If you want to check the availability of your domain name across multiple social networks, you can use a tool like Knowem.com. This tool will search through the top 25 social networks for you, saving you a ton of time.
While it’s not the end of the world if your social handles are taken, you stand to benefit more if you can align yourself across platforms.
Alternatively, you can add words like “Official” at the end of your social media handles if you can’t let your domain name go.
8. Don’t Panic If Your Domain Name Is Taken
If you’re domain name has already been purchased by someone else, you still have a few options:
- If the domain is “parked” and not in use (meaning it only has ads and has no real website), then it’s very likely a squatter bought the domain just to sell it. If there’s no contact information immediately apparent, you can normally use the who.is database to pull up the owner’s email.
- If there’s an established site on the domain, there’s a small chance you can still purchase it. That said, often the owners are very invested in the properties they’ve built. It’s a snowball’s chance in a sauna they’ll let it go, but there’s still a chance. Again, you can use the who.is database again if no contact info is readily apparent.
- If the domain is a total ghosttown where it doesn’t even seem parked, or being used, you can search domain-flipping hotspots for potential leads. Places like Flippa, Sedo, SnapNames or even GoDaddy’s domain marketplace are all possibilities.
Be prepared to shell out some serious cash to get your hands on a domain owned by someone else. It’s not uncommon for wouldbe purchasers to spend upwards of $1,000 in locking down a domain from an auction house.
And if you’re going for a big fish, you’ll need some seriously deep pockets like the ones which funded Sumo.com’s $1.5 million dollar domain acquisition.
9. Be Cautious in Buying Old Domains
Like buying a used car, when buying an old domain name you can sometimes get an awesome deal and other times you can be left stranded on the side of the road with a check engine light.
If they haven’t been sitting parked on an auction site forever, then old domains have a past. Sometimes this past is good, while other times it’s not and the domain could actually hurt your business. If the previous owners of the domain tried to use shady techniques to boost their Google rankings, there’s a chance that Google penalized the domain or even removed it totally from their listings.
For lack of a better term, this means the domain was basically blacklisted depending on the degree of the offense.
Ismywebsitepenalized.com is a popular tool for checking a domain’s penalty status, but it’s not entirely foolproof. You also might consider getting a $10 report from who.is to determine who the past owners of the site were.
Alternatively, you might also use Waybackmachine.com to get a sneak peek into past iterations of the site. You’ll have access to any snapshots the Wayback Machine took of the site, giving you a little bit of context as to what sorts of content existed on that domain.
You’ll be a regular Sherlock Holmes, but if you’re investing in paying for a premium domain, you may as well do your due diligence.
10. Buy Other TLDs
Once you lock down your main TLD extension, you might want to look at landing the other popular TLDs related to your site. This will up your yearly costs but will prevent others from snagging up relevant domains to your brand.
These can include .org, .net, .co, .co.uk, and many others depending on what your budget allows. This will also prevent people from hijacking those URLs and then attempting to sell them back to you at an exorbitant rate.
You’ll also prevent scammers from creating lookalike sites with very similar looking domains.
11. Buy the Commonly Misspelled Versions
This is a luxury purchase, but if your budget allows you might consider purchasing the commonly misspelled versions of your chosen domain. This will ensure that someone will end up on your site even if they misspell your domain name.
Typing in www.faceebook.com is just one example of how companies purchase misspellings to redirect traffic which had a few fat-fingered mishaps.
If you can afford the expense and plan on getting a sizeable amount of traffic, this is certainly an option to look into.
12. Take Security Seriously
While it doesn’t happen to everyone, enough domains get hacked that it’s worth investing in security. This typically happens by hackers obtaining your password through nefarious means; either a direct hack or a phishing scam designed to lure you into giving information.
From there, they’ll attempt to transfer your domain out of your hands. A few registrars offer protections which will keep your domain in a Registrar-lock status. This stops would-be thieves in their tracks, offering some level of protection from unauthorized attempts to transfer and steal your domain.
Be conscious of your password management and consider using encrypted password protectors like LastPass.com instead of the defaults available on your web browser.
13. Register it Yourself
Imagine purchasing a brand new car. You’re at the dealership, you paid in cash, they’re bringing out the contracts, but you decide to put someone else’s name on the paper.
Depending on how much you trust this other person with their name on your car’s documentation, you could be making a serious mistake.
Letting someone else register your domain for you is like putting someone else’s name on the title of a car. It’s giving them complete power over the future of your site.
This can lead to extortion, or headaches of all kinds and it’s really not worth all the potential hassle and exposure.
Save yourself the trouble and always register your domains yourself under your name.
14. Purchase Auto Renewal
Unfortunately, purchasing a domain name isn’t a permanent transaction. Rather, it’s something that must be renewed on a regular basis depending on the length of time you choose for your initial purchase. This initial length can range from 12 months all the way to 10 years depending on the registrar’s available options.
The catch is, once your registration period expires, your domain name will need to be renewed. If you miss this renewal period, it’ll become available for public purchase.
A domain squatter or broker might then swoop in and purchase it with the intent of making money off of you should you try to purchase it back. Additionally, there’s intrinsic valued in domains which are aged versus those that are brand new. So there is incentive to purchase domains out from under people who miss their renewals.
To prevent this possibility, you can opt for your domain to renew itself automatically when the time comes. Just make sure you continually update your payment method with a current credit card or valid method.
15. Use WHOIS Protection
ICANN is the organization in charge of domain regulations, and their rules dictate all domains must have publically viewable contact information. Unfortunately, this includes your name, address, phone number, and email used to purchase during the domain’s registration.
This means that once you register your domain name, your information is accessible to people who may want to solicit you for services or who want to steal your login credentials to transfer the account.
Different registrars have different names for it, but generally speaking, there’s always the option to purchase Who.is protection, which will give you some level of anonymity with your purchase.
The registrar effectively puts their information in your place on the Who.is listing, insulating you from solicitors and more.
Costs vary, but expect to pay upwards of one dollar per month for this service.
16. Use a Reputable Registrar
Because so much is riding on this domain, you don’t want to use a disreputable registrar to fulfill your order.
Some mainstay domain registrars are:
Just realize that prices fluctuate and may not be consistent between providers, especially once you start factoring in things like Who.is protection.
Shop around and compare prices. If you really want to get a good deal, search for seasonal coupon offers, which could save you a pretty penny.
17. Use Domain Name Tools and Generators
If your head is swimming after learning all of the considerations that go into choosing a domain name, you’re not alone.
Even with a thesaurus and all the tactics we mentioned, it can still be challenging to come up with the right domain. To help you in your domain choosing quest, here are a few tools that might help you narrow things down:
- Lean Domain Search from the crew at Automattic lets you enter a “seed” keyword from which it will propagate a serious amount of ideas.
- The Shopify Business Name Generator works similarly though it’ll steer you towards starting an ecommerce site on their platform.
Go Forth and Use Thine Domain Choosing Powers
Congratulations! You made it through this ultimate guide. Choosing a domain name can feel overwhelming with all of the considerations brought to bear, but if you take things slowly and follow this guide step-by-step you’ll be on the right track!
I’m glad you chose to do things the right way and I’m excited for you to do great with your new domain! Go forth and use thine domain choosing powers!