Today we’ll be talking about one of the least technical pieces of planning your new website, and one of the most important to get right: choosing a domain name.
Your goals, in the order I’d put them in, are:
- Succinct and typeable.
We’ll be going backwards through this list, to show how we brainstorm memorable and succinct domains until the right one that’s available comes up.
Brevity: It’s Good
You want your domain name to be as short as possible. “cars.com” would be a great domain name if you sell cars and have a billion dollars to spend on a domain name.
Be on the lookout for parts of your business name you can chop off.
Failing that, try to stay as short as you can. Be on the lookout for parts of your business name you can chop off: is your business name “Boston Candle Emporium”? “Emporium” can go: “bostoncandle.com” is better than “bostoncandleemporium.com.” Similarly, “nolacandles.com” is better than “neworleanscandles.com”: “New Orleans” is too long and everyone who lives there knows the abbreviation to “Nola.”
You and the people you do business with will be using your domain name dozens of times a day.
To get a sense for brevity, realize that you and the people you do business with will be using your domain name dozens of times a day—in emails, on business cards, in conversations that require you to spell the domain out verbally. You’ll want it to be short.
A related consideration is how easy your domain is to type. You might notice how easy “yahoo.com” and, especially, “google.com” are to type on a qwerty keyboard. This is a secondary consideration, but it might give you pause before registering, say, freedeerfeed.ca.
Finding a Memorable Domain Name
Some URL phrases are easier to remember than others, for a number of reasons. If you’ve ever fumbled around trying to remember a domain name like “michaelsullivanlawofficesllc.com,” you’ll understand this. Memorable domain names usually have a number of qualities:
The first and most important key is brevity. It’s really easy to remember one-word phrases like “ask.com” or “boston.com,” and shorter phrases like “bostonlaw.com” obviously win out over “greaterbostonlawprofessionals.com.” Your site name may have to be longer than either “boston.com” or “bostonlaw.com,” but favor brevity.
Makes You Think
If possible, you’d like your domain name to communicate on multiple levels.
Brevity’s not the only key to a memorable domain name. If possible, you’d like the name to communicate on multiple levels—to have an element of humor or metaphor that wakes up the reader. “kickstarter.com” is a great domain name because it presents a succinct and memorable metaphor for what the business does. Similarly, “Your Precious Furs” could be a cool name for a dog grooming business, since it’s funny and sticks in mind, and “yourpreciousfurs.com” would make a good domain name. If your name’s Candi and you sell real estate, how about “getcandi.com” rather than “candiosullivanrealestateoffices.com”?
If possible, your domain name should avoid things people can mistype or misremember. “getcandi.com” would almost certainly need to also register “getcandy.com” because of the possibility of misspellings. Similarly, don’t name your site “bostonlawyercollc.com”: visitors will be constantly forgetting whether it’s “lawyer” or “law,” “company” or “co,” and whether your site had both “co” and “llc” in the title. “pressupinc.com” is the best we could do for our consulting site (pressup.com was taken), and people constantly forget the “inc.”
This is also why your domain shouldn’t have punctuation. If “bostonlaw.com” is taken, you probably shouldn’t just register “boston-law.com” even if it’s available: Your visitors will forget the hyphen (and end up at your competitor’s site), or, at the very least, you’ll be constantly reminding them of it.
Optimized for Humans
Your domain name should resemble the way people use language.
Also, you want your domain name to resemble the way people use language. thesandalshop.com is a good domain name, but theshopsandal.com is not. This is a pretty obvious example, but others may be more subtle. freeinsurancequotes.com is better than either insurancequotesfree.com or insurancefreequotes.com, because most people say “I want free insurance quotes” and not either of the alternatives.
By the way, having key phrases in your domain name does matter for SEO. So thesandalshop.com is a great place to start selling sandals (and “airplanes.com” isn’t). But don’t overthink the SEO side: getting that right is, generally, simply part of the process of “optimizing for humans.” In other words, if a human being can look at your domain name and know what you do, you’re probably good to go.
The .com Extension: Discerning Website Owners Insist
Maybe the .com extension is taken for your dream domain. But .co, .net, and .us are all available! This can be tempting, but your best bet is usually to stick with the .com extension, for at least two reasons:
People are conditioned to expect a .com extension, and will have to be retrained otherwise if your site isn’t a .com.
- Adding in a custom extension is one more thing for people to get wrong. People are conditioned to expect a .com extension, and will have to be retrained otherwise if your site isn’t a .com. Even nonprofits like Wikipedia (wikipedia.org) generally have to correct for this tendency by registering the related .com.
- If the .com version of your domain name is taken by another company, you’ll be sending at least some of your traffic there.
The main exception to this rule is if you’re a technology startup. Tech startups operate by their own rules, driven largely by a (misguided?) sense of cool. There are a lot of quickly growing companies with names like “quobble.io,” but these exist in their own universe (complete with fairly short lifespans on average), and come with users who are more likely than an average site’s visitors to remember complex domain names. So unless you’re trying to start an obscure web app that syncs people’s dental records to their electric toothbrushes, stick to the .com extension—and don’t make up Dr. Seuss nouns for your company name itself, either.
If you have big plans for your business, you may want to buy up some of the most prominent domains around the example.com address, like example.org, example.net, and example.co. But don’t start with any of them—start with .com, and expand from there.
Finding What’s Available
So you’ve got your rules and requirements. How do you go about finding what domains are available that meet your needs?
Look up every decent domain you can think of until something is available and feels right.
This trial-and-error process is probably a topic for a whole new walkthrough post, but the short answer is: “Look up every decent domain you can think of until something is available and feels right.”
We also can recommend one resource right off the bat: instantdomainsearch.com. It lets you see what domains are registered, and shows synonyms, in real time. It’s a lot more efficient than submitting a name to name.com and getting back simply, “Sorry, that .com is taken! Did you want the .biz.co.ru version?”
Now you know what to look for in a domain name, and we’ve given you a bit of a head start on doing the trial-and-error search process as well. Good luck!