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Guide to Choosing a Domain Name

How to Pick a Good Domain Name

We have touched on this subject before about choosing domain names but I've been thinking about it more again lately. There are definitely ways to do it wrong - or should I say there are ways that aren't optimal instead so that I don't sound so harsh? If not done right, you can choose a domain name that will give you problems in the future and the problem is you might already have time and money invested in that domain name. If that's you, don't worry, there are ways to fix it and go with a better one but here's a guide with tips on how to choose a domain name for your website and business.

Your Business Name

The first thought when choosing a domain name is to go with your business name. When you do this, you strengthen your brand. The problem is when your business name doesn't have anything to do with what good search terms would be. If you're selling hats online and your business is called "Awesome, Inc." then there's a disconnect. Your brand isn't strong enough to equate the two. People searching for "awesome" are not looking for hats - they're looking for something else and you don't want to compete with the wrong thing - it's more expensive to do that.

Make it Unique

If you're in the phase of business development where you're still choosing your business name, then you're reading this article at a good time. Ideally, you want to name your business a new word. We did this with Webstix. There was no "webstix" word before we came around (actually, there were two products that came out since that we had to deal with but we overcame that). This is a huge advantage because tracking your business online gets really easy when it's a new word. When you can easily track your business online, marketing is much easier and almost kind of fun.

And when choosing a business name, don't send up the white flag of surrender and use your own initials. That's completely lame. It's sending that message that you gave up creativity and just went with your initials because you didn't want to spend the energy. Yes, there are some big brands out there that have done it but I'm sure they found that the road was much more difficult. Just please don't go with your initials... get some help before filing that paperwork.

Look for Bad Words

We have a client that has the word "sex" in their domain name. Yeah. Their business has nothing to do with sex but one word ends with "s" and the next word starts with "ex" so that domain name can be read with "sex" in it. I think that's a disadvantage. I'm sure they're not penalized too much for that but why even put that in the equation? Definitely avoid it if you can.

Break up your domain name into as many linear words as you can and then run those words through UrbanDictionary to find out if those words mean anything bad. The most famous example is a law firm that went with "mofo.com." Oops. And they're still using it, actually.

Is it Easy to Remember?

Choose a domain name that's not difficult to remember. If you have to explain it, then it's not good. If you have to say "dash" or "hyphen" when telling someone your domain name, then you might be a redneck... no, then it might not be good (couldn't resist that one).

For Webstix, we ran into the problem of people thinking that it was "web sticks" so we promptly bought websticks.com and redirected it to webstix.com. We knew this might happen but we put a workaround in place. You can do that - just don't forget to do it or your competition might.

Also, keeping a domain name short is a good idea. The shorter, the better, typically.

Is it Easy to Type In?

Don't choose words for your domain name that people often misspell. Also, don't make it so long or close to some other phrase that people might easily get it mixed up or wrong. It shouldn't sound like anything else or be easily mistaken / have another spelling. Ask people you know about the domain names you're considering.

Don't Go With Numbers and Don't Go With an Ampersand in Your Brand Name

And if you get a domain name with a number in it, just know that you'll need to buy several versions of that domain name. You'll need domains with the number spelled out and so forth. The best advice here is to just avoid that if possible.

Know that the number zero (0) can be mistaken with the letter "o" so definitely don't get a domain name with a zero in it. If you do, buy the other versions, too.

Oh, and if you have the word "and" in your name, think about using the ampersand (&) or not. I'd suggest not using it for a few reasons. Mainly, it's a special character (non-alphabet). That's going to give you some issues. You won't be able to use it some places online. Sometimes, it'll show up as & because that is how it looks in HTML. I'd say just skip this from happening and do not use an ampersand in your brand name but go with the word "and" instead. Yes, it's more characters but it's still a lot less trouble to deal with.

Does it Meet Expectations?

When people just see your domain name, is it clear what you offer or provide? Would people mistake it with something else?

If you don't do this, then you'll have to end up spending a lot more money on branding and advertising. Sure, we all know what Amazon.com is but shouldn't that domain name be about the Amazon Jungle instead?

Consider a Phrase or Tag Line for Your Domain Name

One strategy out there is to buy a domain name that's a tag line. I can think of many, local examples of this. These companies do quite a bit of radio and TV advertising usually. Phrases as domain names can work well if they're catchy and easy to remember.

Maybe the only danger of using a phrase or tag line for a domain name is that you become more well known for that phrase instead of the business name. I guess that's not the worst thing but it's something to think about.

Purchase the Plural Version

In order to protect your brand and your business, you may want to consider purchasing the plural version of your domain name. Domains are cheap and this will help you protect your brand.

Buy the "Sucks" Version

Along with protecting yourself with the plural version, you should think about buying the "sucks" version of your domain name. If you're Amazon, maybe you buy amazonsucks.com so that nobody else can.

Check for Copyright Infringement

You may want to consider doing a copyright check on the domain name you're purchasing. A lawyer can help with this. At the very least, do some Google searches on it and make sure it's not being used.

Check the Domain's History

Along with checking that there's no copyright owner on a domain, know that you might be purchasing a domain name that has a history. It might have been used already, then nobody renewed it and it was returned to the market. Maybe they let that domain name go for a reason. Maybe it has a bad history. Go check out Archive.org and find out if there is some kind of history with that domain name. You're best going with one that has no history at all.

Go for the .com!

The rule still is to buy the .com version of your domain name as your main website. They are the easiest to remember.

Should We Buy the .net and .org Versions?

Yes, we still suggest buying the .net and .org versions of your domain name. At least get those to help protect your brand. We have a client that was a non-profit and just bought the .org version and had a disgruntled employee buy the .com version and put up a website against the company. Don't be that company and protect yourself.

Then there are the .us, .biz and .co versions and so forth... getting those is up to you. I think they're a waste of money.

Don't Just Buy a Keyword Domain Name

There's a debate still whether exact match search domain names have any value any more. I still think they have some value but today I'd say don't buy a domain name just based on a hot search phrase. Think about your brand instead.

Once You Buy the Domain Name

Once you've purchased your domain name - or as you purchase it (we suggest Webstix Domains, of course), there are some important things to think about.

  1. Which email address are you using to register it? Make sure this is an email account that you'll have access to in say, 5 or 10 years. You can maybe use a GMail.com or Yahoo.com account but you don't own those domains and if you get your account closed, you may lose access to your domain name. What's smart is to register it and then go back in and change the Administrative Contact to your own domain name... use webmaster@yourdomain.com or info@yourdomain.com and then have that email address redirected to someone.
  2. Write down your login. Don't trust yourself to remember it for 5-10 years or have it be a file on your computer. So often, we have people calling or emailing us for passwords because they "got a new computer" or "the old computer crashed" and they didn't have any backups. Simply write it down on paper and then store that paper in a safe or somewhere that's fire/water proof. Better yet, put this info right next to your business incorporation papers - yeah, it's that important.
  3. Buy the domain for at least 5 years. Google and other search engines look at how long you're registering the domain name for. The longer, the better. They know that website is going ot be around for a while if it's registered for a long time. It's cheap anyway.
  4. Make sure all the domain names you buy get set up. If you buy some domains to help protect your brand, then make sure there's either aa web page set up for that domain or that it redirects to your main website.


Hopefully you've found these tips helpful and hopefully you're seeing how important a good domain name is. Right now, you might be starting a small business and not thinking too big but what if your company does really take off and grow. Start that success off with a good business name and good domain name that's as old as your business. Your brand is huge! Don't treat it lightly.


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