Updated: 2nd August 2019
Your great idea for a new website is an itch you’re dying to scratch! Firstly, you have a bunch of high quality content ready to go. Secondly, you’ve chosen a platform to use for the site. Lastly, you’ve got a stunning theme that showcases you, your skills and your knowledge. Hold on… you’ve not yet thought about choosing domain name.
Don’t worry! This post is here to help give you some pointers so that you can choose a domain name quickly.
The Domain Name Lottery
There’s no doubt about it. Just as exciting as starting an offline business is setting yourself up with a website to start an online business.
Whatever your choice of online niche and how you monetize it, the potential for committed webtrepreneurs appears to be limitless.
Now of course, you may not be as far down the line as the scenario that introduces this post. You might instead be right at the start of your journey, albeit with the idea of a niche.
Whatever stage you’re at in planning your empire, at some point you will need to register a domain name.
If you have thought of a name for you business, you might need to be flexible if the domain that relates to it is unavailable. We’ll look at that shortly.
So let’s say for now that you are stuck and need to choose a name for your site. It’s time to put your thinking cap on as there are things to consider. Some of these require serious thought.
What follows are my top 11 tips for creating a killer idea for a domain name in order for you to think through the process of choosing.
Branding in Your Domain Name Choice
The first thing to consider is what you want your visitors to think and understand about you from your name.
Since your domain is your identity, visitors to your site need to understand how it represents you and your business. This is where branding comes in.
Do you want people to understand what you do because of your name? Or do you want to choose a name that sounds like a brand?
Descriptive vs. Brandable Domains
Creating a “self-explanatory” name has benefits since it’s your site will do what it says on the tin! However, a choosing a brandable domain name can allow you to suggest character and be extremely memorable at the same time. For an example of both types, think of Pizza Hut vs. Amazon.
Brandable names can be playful, imaginative or even completely invented and meaningless. For evidence of this we have Google, Bing and Trivago, all names that at one time had no meaning to anyone.
The main benefit of choosing a descriptive domain name is that it is self-explanatory to visitors. Visitors can understand what the business does up front. This is extremely useful and therefore effective in getting the message across.
The downside can be that such names sound quite ordinary and make it difficult to build a brand around. They also make it difficult for a business to extend its services or offer a more diverse product inventory.
Conversely, a brandable name faces a different challenge upfront. People may not be able to understand what the business is, which can play against it. Furthermore, it can take a long time to understand a brand name and how it relates to a specific market.
That said, successfully branded names win in spades when it comes to shaping perceptions of what a business is.
Personally, I try to use both descriptive and brand elements when choosing a domain name. I hope that SideGains is an example of this.
Thinking about your domain as a brand will force you to think about what your name says about you.
Is it Easy to Pronounce and is it Spelt as You Say it?
If you told someone about your domain name would you have to spell it to them so they got it right? Would it sound different to how it is spelt?
If your answer is yes to both, you’ve possibly got a domain name that could cause problems. There are exceptions, but in general you want a pronounceable name that translates easily to typing. You want people to search for your domain and find it in a search engine.
It’s possible that people won’t find your site in the search results if your domain is pronounced differently from how it’s spelt.
There are of course exceptions to this, for example Flickr. In Flickr’s case, their branding success has outweighed the pronounceability vs. spelling issue.
Domain Names are Better if they are Short, Simple & Memorable
There’s no argument against this. Choosing a domain name that is short is better than choosing a one that is long. How so? I guess it’s obvious really, but here’s my take. Shorter domain names:
- are easier to remember
- can be typed more quickly (for searches and sharing)
- are more memorable and easier to spell
- are easier to tell people about
- and do not need to be shortened on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
Long domain names can be more difficult to remember and as a result risk losing all the benefits outlined above. They can be overwhelming to read and risk misspelling.
So let’s be clear in all senses and try to keep it it short!
Choose a .com Extension… if You Can
There is some debate about the best domain extension to use. Many arguments for and against .com extensions are totally valid. For me though it depends on the purpose and objective of the site.
For example, there is a strong reason why you might use a .fr extension if your target local market is France. This local domain extension marks it as a French site and this may be more appealing people living in France.
But for me in most cases, choosing a .com domain extension has too many advantages to consider any other. I’ll emphasise this… for me.
It has long been believed that search engines like Google look more favourably upon them and give them more prominence in their results. Moz.com advises this explicitly:
In order to maximize the direct traffic to a domain, bias towards purchasing the .comMoz.com
So .com domains may then also provide your site with an automatic SEO benefit.
Conversely others may harm you. In the past, some domain extensions have been associated with spam sites (.info, .biz, .name) and so are likely seen in a dimmer light by search engines.
In terms of real people’s perceptions, .com domain names are the default when thinking about websites. There is an assumption that .com sites have more credibility and they are more brandable.
Because of this, they are more desirable. As a result it can be more difficult to find the .com domain that you want. Since .com extension has existed since the Internet began, many people have taken the best and most logical ones. However, you can always be creative to secure something similar to your ideal name if it’s not available though.
For example, let’s say you wanted the domain name mytravel.com. This is currently owned by the Thomas Cook travel group (mytravel.com redirects to thomascook.com). You can add or extend the mytravel part to turn it into something new that is available. For example, mytravelpush.com or seekmytravel.com. These are both presently available today but of course may become unavailable at some point in the future!
Whatever you decide, though you have to be sure to…
Choose a Domain Name that Avoids Trademark Infringement
Above I have mentioned extending your domain name idea. However, if you do this you have to be careful to avoid upsetting an existing brand. If you register a domain name for a brand that already exists you run the risk of trademark infringement.
I would not recommend registering names like mygoogle.com or bingtoday.com. Registering domain names like these can confuse consumers and may be seen as a deliberate attempt to pass off.
Brands defend their protected marks with vigour. Therefore, registering a domain name that infringes upon intellectual property marks can lead you into trouble. At worst there might be legal action taken against you. At best you could lose your domain name. Imagine losing your domain after spending years building up your site.
Regardless, the main reason you don’t want to infringe on another brand is that your brand should stand on its own. The confusion caused by trademark infringement will not help you establish your site’s individuality.
It is very difficult nowadays to find a domain that someone has not already picked up. It quite possible for you to register a domain that accidentally infringes on a trademark you didn’t know about.
The best you can do when you find a name you like is to research it as much as possible. This gives you the best chance of finding out if there is a potential trademark infringement that could cause problems down the line.
Keywords in Domains
It’s common knowledge that keywords are important and including a juicy one in your domain name can be useful. If you do this though you need to be careful.
A well-chosen keyword in your name can definitely help you as it:
- may help you to rank for your target search terms;
- could add value to your brand;
- could help to explain what you do;
- may put that keyword into links that people share about you, resulting in a backlink that contains it.
However, adding keywords to your domain has to be done delicately. Stuffing your domain name with keywords to try to game the search results may actually harm your SEO efforts. It can also impact how visitors understand your brand.
Over-stuffed, keyword-rich domain names look spammy and may damage your credibility. For example, domains such as cheapestloaninsurance.com look dodgy! I’m sure you get the picture.
Include broad keywords if they add value to your name, otherwise don’t… and certainly avoid using long keyword phrases as they won’t help you at all.
Exclude Numbers and Symbols
Following on from the ideas of short, simple and memorable, numbers and symbols can cause confusion here.
As an example, mydomain.com and my-domain.com are different domains. But if someone verbally recommend my-domain.com, it is quite possible I would end up checking mydomain.com.
Numbers too pose a similar problem… do you spell out the number or use the numeric value itself? Is it fivedomains.com or 5domains.com?
The only time I would recommend purchasing domains with these characters would be to protect your main name. Let’s say you own fivedomains.com it might make sense for you to also register 5domains.com to cover your bases.
Double-Check Your Domain Name to Avoid Embarrassment
There are many comic examples online of domain registrations that have not been fully thought through. Some of the best (or worst depending on how you look at it) are:
- Mole Station Nursery: Molestationnursery.com
- Therapist Finder: Therapistfinder.com
- Hire at Ease: Hireatease.com
- Dickson Web: Dicksonweb.com
- Coose Spain: Choosespain.com
- IT Scrap: Itscrap.com
- Pen Island: Penisland.net
- Teachers Talking: Teacherstalking.org
- Speed of Art: Speedofart.com
This is all quite self-explanatory. But just to be certain, double check before you register your name. Make sure yours doesn’t end up the subject of a comic blog post like the above examples!
Domain Name Versions
Something you might want to consider is purchasing multiple versions of your domain name. This can help you to protect your name and make it easier for people to find your site.
So for example, such versions might include:
- common misspellings (fviedomains.com)
- alternative spellings (5ivedomains.com)
- other extensions (fivedomains.co, fivedomains.net, fivedomains.co.uk)
The added advantage of doing this is that it protects you against people who would seek to benefit from your domain for themselves. Such people might register a similar name to profit from it somehow. They might divert traffic from you to them based on your brand, or attempt to sell the domain to you for an inflated price.
Purchasing multiple versions of a domain might not be useful to you, and it can obviously drive up costs. That said it’s something you might want to think about, even if not in the short-term.
Earlier I touched upon using domain names to target a local market. But what about drilling down to a more exact location such as a city or district?
You could consider adding the name of a location in your domain name if your website is advertises your business in a particular geographical area.
This is particularly useful for tradespersons or businesses that have a fixed location who carry out most of their work in specific areas within a country.
Of course you can register a domain with the most appropriate country extension (fr, .de, .ch, .ru). However you can also include in the name a city or area you want to highlight.
So for example if you’re a plumber working out of Walnut Creek, you might register walnutcreekplumbers.com. This will likely help push your domain up the search results for people needing a plumber based in Walnut Creek.
As with using any keyword in your domain though, don’t overdo it and risk the negative effects of keyword stuffing. For example, I’d say cheapestplumbersinwalnutcreek.com would be over-egging to say the least.
Don’t Wait Too Long
I guess the final thing to say revolves around moving quickly once you’ve decided on a name.
After all the work you’ve put in brainstorming, checking, rethinking and making a decision, you don’t want to miss out on the name you’re set on because someone else snagged it.
When you’ve done your work and ticked all the boxes, don’t wait around for a good time. Register it as soon as possible.
Find out how to get your domain here: How to Register a Domain Name.
Tools for Choosing a Domain Name
The Internet is an incredible resource for practically anything you need help with… and domain names are no exception.
Below are a few tools I have used in the past. They may not have created definitive names for me, but they have certainly proved useful as a part of the branding and ideas phases.
The name is the starting point to getting your website up and running. Choosing a domain name for your website that is truly suitable for it does involve many factors.
As your domain is potentially the first point of contact for your visitors it’s important to get it right… and getting it right can absolutely help your site become successful.
Remember the 11 tips I laid out above. Try to factor all of them in your domain name choice and this can help you to achieve your goals.
- Make your domain brandable
- Make it easy to pronounce
- Keep it simple and memorable
- Register a .com if you can
- Be careful of trademarks
- Keywords in the name can help but don’t overuse
- Check how domain names look to save embarrassment
- Exclude symbols and numbers
- Protect your domain from cybersquatters
- Don’t leave it too late to register!
That’s it for now. Thanks for Reading!
Please share your own experiences in the comments section below or feel free to ask me a question.