Last updated on September 24th, 2020 at 11:12 pm
So you have decided to start a website. That is awesome!
How do you choose a domain name?
Coming up with a great domain name is the first thing you need to do. A domain name is the internet address where your website can be found, it is the URL. It is what people will type into their web browser to find your site.
Google.com is a domain name, expatexperiment.com is our travel website and is the domain name for that site, as is daemontown.com for this site.
There are some best practices when it comes to choosing a good domain name. Not only from a personal standpoint but a from a business standpoint as well. Following these best practices can help with Google rankings and make is easy for people to find and remember your website.
The first thing you need to consider is whether the name is brandable not just some generic name. It does not need to be a specific word or phrase, Google was not a word, nor was YouTube or Facebook.
Your name should be unique and to be easy to remember. Using generic keywords in your name might accurately describe your site but it will do nothing to make it memorable or for it to stand out.
For example “digitalphotosonline.com” is not brandable and does nothing for you as a website owner. It may accurately describe what you will find on the website but it is not unique or memorable.
Unsplash.com has digital photos online as does Pixabay.com, these types of names are far more brandable than the generic phrase. They are memorable and unique.
Keep it Short and Simple
Your domain name should be short and simple. Shorter names are easier to remember, and they are less likely to be misspelled and are easier to type into the address bar. They are also easier to read when there are no spaces. (like in a domain name)
Shorter names matter in social media, Twitter for example has a character restriction of 280, so if your name takes up 50 characters you have less space for your message. Shorter names are also easier to share on social media.
Long domains names may not fully display in search results, they may get truncated in social media sharing.
Try to keep your name to 15-16 characters or less. Fewer words also make a difference. I would try to keep your name to 3 words or less.
Do not get creative with spelling. Do not use LyfeofMyke when it should be LifeofMike. Your users will be confused and it will make your site hard to find in search and harder for people to remember.
Make sure your name is pronounceable. If your domain is hard to pronounce it is less likely to be remembered and less likely to be typed in correctly.
This also means avoiding hyphens, numbers and acronyms. All of these make it hard to say and even harder to remember. When you tell people your domain name you shouldn’t have to explain it. For example, say your site is ring-of-9.com but you need to tell people that it is ring hyphen of hyphen nine dot com, but it is the number 9 not nine spelled n i n e.
It should be ringofnine.com no explanations are needed and you don’t need to explain to people how to find your site.
This should go without saying make sure your name is not infringing on someone’s else’s business or trademark.
You can do a simple Google search of the name you like to see if there is someone else doing the same thing with a similar name. Don’t choose something like Uberfood when Ubereats is already taken. Don’t just change the extension, like airbnb.apartments, that would not go over well with Airbnb.com and they would most likely take you to court.
Top Level Domain Extensions
Even with the release of huge amounts of new TLD’s (top level domains) you should still try to get a .com extension.
A .com is still the most common extension, it is what people know around the world. It is the most common extension for domain names.
Google says that it treats all TLD’s the same and has no preference for .com but a quick search shows that almost all of Google’s listing on the first few pages are .com.
There is a second reason to choose a .com instead of another extension and that is competition, lets say you want travel.com but it is taken so you get travel.net, and again lets say travel.com is a well established, well run website.
Both sites will obviously be about travel and trying to get your travel.net into the search ranking above travel.com will be next to impossible. It also may be an infringement on their name even if the TDL is different.
HOWEVER there is an exception to this, if you find a name that you absolutely love but the .com is taken, type it in your search bar to see if it actually in use, just because it is owned by somebody doesn’t mean there is an actual website.
If there is no website then go out and buy the .co or .net or .org if your website is out first then whoever has the .com will be at a disadvantage, as well they may decide not to renew the .com or they may try to sell it to you.
This happen to me, I found a name I want to use but the .com was taken. I checked and there was no site. So I bought the .co and put up a site with in a few days I received an email and the owner offered to sell me the .com. He was reasonable so I bought it and now have the .com that I wanted in the first place.
As well, there are reasons and times to use something else. If your site is technology focused you could consider a .io extension. Or if your audience is country specific then you can use your countries extension. For example .ca for Canada, .co.uk for the United Kingdom, .au for Australia and so on.
Ideally when you tell someone what your website name is, they know intuitively what to expect on your site.
For example if you are starting a travel blog with a name like travello.com people would most likely expect a travel website, it is intuitive.
How do you start? Brainstorming the perfect domain name.
Write down your thoughts on your website, names that you may have already thought of. Describe what your website is going to be about in a few short words. Think about your name first and last of where you are from. Do not analyze at this point.
If you are having trouble brainstorming, try this technique.
1. Write down a list of words that are related to your blogs subject matter or focus, try to come up with at least 10 but the more the better 20-30 would be perfect.
If you are having trouble getting started go to Wikipedia and search what your blog is about.
For example if you are thinking about a travel blog, search “Travel” in Wikipedia and read the article, writing down words that you find in the article.
Here are a few words I found in one of the paragraphs:
There are maybe another 20 on that page that would help stimulate ideas, each one if these words can lead you to new words for example “tour” might lead you to “voyage”, “voyage” might lead to “cruise”.
3. Put any possibility into a list with each name on a separate line then head over to the NameCheap bulk name checker and check to see if any of your possibilities are available using their bulk domain search. Copy and paste your list into the window and NameCheap will search for all of them at once.
If all of your possibilities are taken go to the next step.
If you’re already an established business and your business name online is already taken try adding prefixes or suffixes or get creative with the name or change the TLD (if your business is already established having TLD that is not a .com is fine).
Use a Name Generator
My favorite name generator is Wordoid. With Wordoid you enter language, pattern and length and it will generate a made up word. Give it a try see what you can come up with.
There are other name generators that you can try:
Buying your domain
Once you have found a domain name you will need to buy it and you will need to renew it every year.
I have used a couple of different places to buy my domains.
My new favorite is NameCheap.
I also have domains at Netfirms and at Godaddy. Since I first wrote this article I have moved all of my domains to Namecheap.
They offer the best pricing and free privacy for all of my domains so there was no reason for me to keep domains elsewhere.
If this is your first time registering a domain I would recommend NameCheap, just follow the video below to see how easy it is.
Namecheap is Easy to Use
I would not recommend GoDaddy the last time I bought a domain from them I got a ton of emails from their “partners” I still get crap from them a 2 years later, so avoid them.
You can choose to register your domain anywhere, at any company, you do not need to buy your domain from your hosting provider in fact I tend to stay away from registering my domains where I host my websites. If you have to change hosting it is less complicated when your domains are separate.
Also almost every registrar has a bunch of add-ons, you DO NOT need email add-ons, or hosting add-ons or website builder add-ons, or SSL cert add-ons, nothing like that, do not buy them.
The only add-on to consider are the privacy add on, most domain registrars make you pay for this, up to $19.99 a year! (It is free at Namecheap) When you buy a domain name, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) registers that name to you and makes the information public via WHOIS, so if you would prefer that your info is not public get the privacy feature and that info remains private.
The only downside to this is that it is rumored that Google is not fond of privately registered domains, as it is a spam/scam flag. Scammers use privately registered names 100% of the time.
Half of my sites are private and half are not, so I really don’t know if there is a difference. All of my sites are now private, I was getting way too many spammy emails that were taken from the public Whois.
That’s it that is all you have to do to choose a domain name. Once you have paid for it you will need to get web hosting. Check out my post on finding the perfect web host and my top pick for hosting.