Choosing the best possible domain name for your website is absolutely critical. Your domain name is something that deserves hours, if not days, of thought, and it’s no exaggeration to say that, in some circumstances, making the wrong choice can break a business. In short: Choosing a domain name is something every website owner needs to ensure they get right — ideally before they do anything else, and ESPECIALLY if the website will be serving a commercial purpose.
We’re no strangers to domain names here at WinningWP. In fact, we’ve been talking domains quite a bit these past few months, which just goes to show how pressing an issue they are for would-be website owners.
So far, we’ve talked about what a domain name is and what the difference is between a domain name and web hosting, and a website. And we’ve also listed the nine best website domain name registrars in 2020 — ie where to go to actually register and buy a domain name.
However, we haven’t yet gone into any depth on things to consider when choosing your ideal domain name — in other words, how to actually go about choosing! Let’s change that today. Here are 20-plus essential tips for choosing and registering a domain name (in no particular order).
- Always Go for the .com
Let me say this again: Wherever possible, always go for a .com domain. Exhibit A: This site.
Technically speaking, the .com is just one of many domain name extensions (TLDs) that are available (more on TLDs and other components of a domain name here). Some of the other popular options include, .net, .org, .co, .edu, .biz, or even things such as .shop, or .blog.
And while all those fancy TLDs are tempting, getting the classic .com is nearly always the right thing to do. Two reasons:
People are more familiar with .com domains than with anything else; they will default to typing ‘.com’ into the browser address bar, and are unlikely to remember your extension if it’s too weird. Everyone will always assume a website is a .com.
The .com TLD is used by ~47% of all websites, data says. Can they all be wrong?
What all of this means is that if your perfect .com is taken, then perhaps you should either forget about that name entirely or try contacting the current owner to see if they’re willing to sell the domain to you. Warning! This could be expensive. (We’ll talk about this in No. 13.)
- Sometimes Don’t Go for the .com
Sorry. I know I’m making things confusing, but please bear with me.
There are some exceptions to the .com rule:
Chiefly, if your website is meant to cater to a local audience, consider going for a local TLD. For example, building a blog for the German market? How about getting a .de address?
Doing this will give your users that little bit of additional awareness and boost your trustworthiness by making it clear you’re in their country (via the local TLD).
But even with that, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just that local domain name. You may still want to expand your brand in the future, and, if that happens, you don’t want to find out that someone has already taken your .com.
So, at the end of the day, even if you want to cater to a local market, you can still benefit in the long run by getting the .com version as well. And, in the meantime, you can link the .com to your local domain, so, no matter which address someone visits, they still end up at the same website.
- Consider Experimenting with Non-Traditional TLDs
As mentioned in No. 1, these days you can get yourself a multitude of different TLDs that weren’t available just a couple of years ago.
For example, you can get domain extensions such as: .shop, .club, .store, .blog, .design, .xyz, and so on. Also, you can experiment with some of the TLDs that were originally intended to be local TLDs, but, because of their unique appearance, can be used for various other purposes as well. These are domain extensions such as .is, .io, .fm, .it, .ly, .cc and others.
Just to give you an example of the latter, if it makes sense for your brand and intended name, you can try making it seem as though the whole domain, including the TLD, is one complete expression. You can achieve that by choosing your TLD creatively. For example, Microsoft Translator is available under translate.it — that’s the whole domain name and quite a creative use of the Italian TLD, .it.
However, the thing with these TLDs is that not every domain registrar offers them. Currently, GoDaddy gives you access to the largest catalogue.
GoDaddy domain auctions
Nevertheless, if you’re after some specific TLD, it’s still smart to shop around with other registrars, too. Here’s our other resource, where we talk about the top registrars in the market, plus some of the TLDs they offer.
- Consider Buying the Other Main TLDs as Well
Having your main domain name extension secured — be it a .com or a local TLD — is only step one. Step two is getting all of the other popular TLDs, and then setting them to redirect to your main TLD.
For example, if your desired address is SeeMeBloggin.com, also consider getting the likes of:
While this will contribute to your overall domain name bill at the end of the year, you’re also preventing possible trouble further down the line. Mainly, you wouldn’t want to end up competing with another site with the same domain name but ending in a different TLD.
Some other things you don’t want:
People creating imposter sites — sites that look like yours but aren’t (meant to trick people).
People registering some of those missing TLDs and then trying to sell them back to you at a much higher rate.
Genuine visitors mixing up your TLD and not being able to access your website.
- Choose a Brandable Name
We all know that branding is crucial to long-term success, but what exactly makes a domain name brandable? There are many factors that come into play here, but the most important ones are as follows:
A brandable name has no specific meaning (eg ‘Google’ is not a word, ‘YouTube isn’t one either).
It’s unique — your competition doesn’t use anything similar.
It’s easy to memorize — not too wordy, no complex vowel combinations.
It’s easy to pronounce and dictate over the phone.
It sounds trustworthy — some names can be a little shady by definition, for instance, WinTheLotteryToday.com may be too bold, but Lotterio.com sounds way better.
To make the brainstorming process easier, you can experiment with some combinations of actual words and random suffixes, like I did with the Lotterio.com example above. The main goal here is to create a potential for the domain name to build brand value over time.
In other words, as much as possible, try making sure the name has a good ring to it. It should be fun to say out loud, and not difficult to memorize immediately. Think about the likes of Uber: It’s short and snappy, and there’s no confusion as to how to spell it — even when mentioned in passing in a conversation.
- Keep It Short, Simple, and Predictable
So, we already talked about brandability (if that’s a word), but there are also some other, more general, characteristics of a quality domain name. The big four being:
short — preferably with fewer than 15(-ish) characters, excluding the TLD
simple — no hyphens, no underscores, no complicated words as part of the domain, or any other punctuation
just words — avoid using numbers unless absolutely necessary (for example, if it’s part of your brand name, such as 9gag.com)
predictable — no weird spellings (for example, if your name is Myke and you want to make it part of your domain — such as MykeBlogs.com — every single time people will mistype it as MikeBlogs.com.
Also, you can:
- Buy the Common Misspellings of Your Domain
This, however, can grow your annual domain bill even further, so it’s your call.
In general, you’re going to be pretty safe if you just focus on a couple of the most likely misspellings of the domain.
Looking at my earlier example, Lotterio.com could be misspelled as Loterio.com – single ‘T‘.
Once you have those, redirect them back to your main domain name.
- Use a Thesaurus for Domain Name Ideas
Okay, so no matter what I say about picking a domain name that’s brandable, simple, has a good ring to it, is easy to memorize, and so on and so forth, the fact of the matter is that coming up with a truly good name is hard.
Sometimes, you’ll easily go through tens of different terms before you settle on that perfect one, while other times nothing will seem good enough. In that case, Thesaurus.com can be the secret weapon in your arsenal.
The site will help you find synonyms and also provide quick definitions to help you not to make a silly mistake by building your domain name around a word with a meaning you’ve misunderstood.
Note: As I mentioned above, it’s not advisable to just go with a standard, dictionary word as your domain name, even if it comes from a thesaurus. Always add some modifiers to it, or turn it into something original by changing a few letters here and there.
- Help Yourself to Some Domain Name Generators
This is another kind of helper that you can use if you’re finding it hard to come up with a cool domain name, and thus, by extension, your business name as well.
These tools are very simple to use, but also surprisingly helpful. All they need is one keyword from you — a seed keyword (or a seed key-phrase) — and, in return, they give you tens or even hundreds of suggestions, full of valid and available domain names that you can register right away.
The best such tools include:
LeanDomainSearch, created by the guys at Automattic (also known for WordPress.com). For example, this is what you get when looking up ‘coffee’:
Business name generator by Shopify works similarly to the above, and also helps you build a Shopify store with the domain name of your choice.
Nameboy is a bit more old-school — especially in its design — but it’s still useful. This one needs more specific input, and does a better job once you have a general direction you want to follow with your name.
- Choose a Domain Name You Can Actually Legally Own
Infringing on a trademark can mean a really bad day. And, while I realize hardly anyone registers a domain name with the intent to infringe on anything, those things do happen every once in a while.
Therefore, as a rule of thumb, whenever you have a nice domain name idea and you’re just about to register it, simply google the name and look through all of the first and second-page results. What you’re looking for are businesses that already use this name and (seemingly) operate in a similar market or niche.