Learn how to choose a good domain name, what to avoid when registering a domain name, and what to do if the domain name you want is taken.
When starting a business, one of the first things you must do is secure your domain name. A domain name is a plain-language, easy-to-read address that references a location on a web server. This means that your domain name is the address of your digital home. A good domain name adds credibility to your business and makes it easier for people to find your business online and remember you.
I’ve owned a lot of domains and helped many clients secure their own domain names.
I admit that I’m a recovering domain name hoarder. At one point, I owned more than 300 domain names and didn’t think it was unusual. I actually didn’t think the number was very big because I had clients who owned 700+ and friends with 1,000+ domains.
The thing is, owning that many domain names is just another version of digital hoarding and it’s expensive. Many who work on the internet, in digital client services and digital products, collect domain names like other people collect stamps, coins, Christmas ornaments, and key chains. It’s far too easy to do a quick domain search every time a new idea pops into your head. And, it’s hard to resist the availability of a good domain name — especially a .com TLD (top-level domain) — because as more sites are launched, there are far fewer domain names available.
Realities of Domain Name Ownership
Today, I own 63 domain names.
While the number still sounds high, each one I still own has a purpose or serious future intent. Some domains I will keep forever, others I reevaluate when I receive the 1-year renewal notice. If my intention has changed, I let it go. Over the years, I got really honest with myself about the amount of time I had available to do anything with the hundreds of domains I owned and let go of many as they expired. The bonus? Thousands of dollars back into my bank account.
What domain names have I kept?
- Domains directly related to my brand, business, services, courses, products, and programs
- Domains using my own name, my last name, and my family members’ names
- Domains related to fun personal projects and hobbies
- Domains for ideas I am serious about taking action on
- Domains that are geo-specific (i.e. my services in my city)
The majority of the domain names I own use the .com TLD because it’s the most common and many people automatically assume a website uses the .com TLD until they learn otherwise. The rest are the .biz, .net, .org, .co, or .me versions of the same .com domains. I hold onto these simply to prevent someone else from using them.
Nearly 20 of the domains I own are related to my own name, my husband’s name, my kids’ names, and family names. I also own a few domains that sound like things associated with my name or brand but are spelled differently.
How To Choose The Best Domain Name
It is so frustrating when you are struck with inspiration, come up with a killer new idea, and rush to grab the domain name, only to find out it’s already taken. Ugh. When starting something new, it can often feel like every good domain name is already taken — especially if you’re looking for something short. Luckily, with a little bit of creativity, you can still snag a great domain name.
Things to consider when searching for the perfect domain name:
- Keep it short. Shorter domain names are easier to remember and less prone to mistakes and errors so try to keep it to 2-3 words.
- Make it simple. Your website address needs to be easy to say, easy to understand, easy to spell, easy to type, and easy to remember.
- Consider voice search. When someone speaks your website address, it needs to translate to text easily and accurately.
- Use your brand. Matching your website address to your brand name reduces confusion and increases recognition. If you are unable to secure your brand name, consider options that align with your offers or location.
- Stay local. Local businesses with brick and mortar locations or those that only serve customers in a specific geographic region can use a location-specific domain name like [city][service].com to better connect with local customers.
- Use keywords. While there is no ranking benefit from using keywords in a domain name, keywords can help others better understand what your website is about and what your business offers or specializes in.
- Do a Google search. Performing a quick Google search can tell you if there are unsavory websites with domain names that are similar — maybe too similar. It can also highlight other companies already using the name for taglines, products, programs, courses, or other offerings.
- Look at the history. Pop the domain name into the Wayback Machine to see if the domain name has been registered previously and view previous versions of the website. The goal is to make sure it wasn’t used for unsavory or malicious activity in the past.
- Check social media. Check your preferred social media sites — Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok — to confirm the brand name or handle you want is available. Aim to use the same handle across all platforms for brand consistency and secure them right away.
- Make it easy to pronounce and understand. If people have a hard time pronouncing your domain name, they are going to have a hard time telling other people about it and referring your site to friends.
Things to avoid when choosing a domain name:
When brainstorming domain names, certain choices can negatively impact how your brand and domain name are perceived. Always remember that clear is better than cute or clever and avoid:
- Numbers or dashes. These characters are awkward to say and harder to type. They can also lower the perceived credibility of a website.
- Funny or unusual spellings. Skip domains with words that will always require clarification. Being forced to spell it out, explain it, or repeat it over and over for life of your business will cause regret.
- Homophones. Skip words that can be spelled multiple ways like too, two, and to).
- Misspellings. Securing a misspelled domain name and forwarding it to your main domain can be a smart tactic to recapture lost traffic. But using a misspelling can make your site look untrustworthy or dangerous.
- Shorthand. Not everyone understands shorthand and it isn’t obvious. For example, don’t use “u” instead of “you.”
- Embarrassing words. Run your prospective brand name and URL by friends to make sure there are any hidden words in it that weren’t obvious to you! For example, Pen Island might have sounded like a great name for a company selling pens, but its website (penisland.com) has a hidden naughty word!
- A narrow focus. Be careful picking a domain name that may pigeonhole your brand or limit future growth.
- Other companies’ brand names and trademarks. Avoid legal action and future suspension of your domain name by searching the trademark database to see if anyone registered a similar name.
What If The Domain Name You Want Is Already Taken?
Unfortunately, it’s more common to find a domain name you want already taken than it is to find it available to register. If this happens to you, there are options:
- Use the thesaurus. Brainstorm the primary feelings and meaning of your brand and the most common words associated, then hit the thesaurus to find alternative words with the same meaning.
- Words that start with… If you’re looking for a word that begins with a specific letter, there are websites that provide lists of words and adjectives that start with a specific letter of the alphabet.
- Words that end with… Similarly, if you’re looking for a word that rhymes with another, you can search for words that end with specific letters. For example, a search for words that end in “ivity” will return lists of words like positivity, creativity, productivity, connectivity, sensitivity, etc.
- Add a keyword. Pair your brand name with a related or descriptive keyword.
- Use a different TLD. While a .com is almost always preferred, there are a variety of other TLDs to choose from, including newer options like .academy, .rocks, .coffee, and .design, .agency, and .photography.
- Make a tweak. Look for ways to use your brand in a creative way. If you wanted to use your name but someone is already using it, consider options like “hey[name]” or “meet[name]” or “I am[name]”
- Add an action verb. Adding an action verb to the front of a domain name turns your website address into a call to action!
- Buy the domain. Just because a domain name is taken doesn’t mean it’s not available to purchase. Find out who owns the domain and reach out to see if they would be willing to sell it to you.
- Wait for the registration to expire. If someone owns the domain but isn’t actively using it, there is a chance they could opt to let the registration expire. Check the WHOIS database to discover the expiration date and either wait to see if it becomes available, put a reminder on your calendar to check back later, or pay a service to watch the domain for you.
One Domain Name Requirement
When it comes to choosing a domain name, there is no one silver bullet that will guarantee high search engine rankings or that you’ll get found online. The magic of a good domain name is in its alignment with your brand and the experience people have when visiting your website.
There is, however, one best practice that every business owner should always adhere to when buying a domain name: always purchase your domain name directly and never have someone else register it on your behalf. You must control your own domain name at all times. This means that the registration is tied to your credit card, you are the primary contact, and you have access to the domain name settings.
Remember, your domain name is how everyone online will find you online. It is the address for your digital home base and it will support all of your lead generation and digital marketing efforts. Be smart about the domain name you choose and keep it safe and in your control.