Picking the perfect domain name is one of the most critical steps in setting your business up for success. Among other functions, your domain name affects your Google ranking and is often what gives potential customers the first impression of your brand. And while choosing a domain name isn’t exactly rocket science, there are some must-follow rules if you’re going to end up with something that accurately reflects what your business is all about.
When choosing a domain name, you’ll want to stick with the .com extension initially and secure other main TDLs soon after, use relevant keywords, keep it short and simple, ensure the name is brandable, and avoid trademark infringements.
Read on for a detailed explanation of each of these must-follow guidelines.
Initially, Stick With the .com Extension
Nowadays, there’s a ton of domain name extensions. In addition to the classic and more familiar Top Level Domains (TDLs) like .com, .net, .org, and perhaps .edu, we now have niche extensions such as .blog, .photography, .biz and even .pizza cropping up everywhere.
But while you may be tempted to use these new extensions to stand out, .com remains the most credible and established TDL for several reasons:
Domain Names With This Type of Extension Are More Memorable
That’s particularly true for the older generation and individuals who aren’t tech-savvy. More often than not, this group will automatically complete every domain name with the .com extension without even thinking about it. That means if your domain name is something like Becky.photography, and someone looking to access your website keys in Becky.photography.com, they may get an error page or even end up on another site.
While a domain name with newer extensions such as .photography or .ninja may have pure intentions, people are likely to have reservations about entrusting the website it represents with sensitive information. There’s something about the .com extension that evokes trust.
It’s More Familiar
There’s a reason why most smartphone keyboards come with the .com button: it’s the most commonly used extension. Familiarity can translate to trust and more traffic, especially if you’re targeting the older generation.
But what if the perfect .com domain name for your business is already taken?
In such a case, you may be better off coming up with another domain name. Alternatively, you can try buying it from the current owner, although this might be expensive.
Understand that there are situations when you may be better off with a different TDL. Among these is when your website is meant strictly for a local audience. For instance, if you’re only targeting the German market, a .de TDL may be a better fit because it may work in your favor having your users know that you’re in their country.
But before you settle for such an extension, it might be a good idea to think about the long term implications. If you’re looking to expand your target market beyond your locale in the future, .com would be a better choice than a local TDL.
Consider Securing Other Main Extensions Later On
After securing your perfect .com extension (or any other local TDL of your choice), it might also be a good idea to get hold of all other popular extensions and then redirect them to your primary domain. If your main domain name is Janebeautytips.com, for instance, you’ll also want to secure the likes of Janebeautytips.org, Janebeautytips.co, Janebeautytips.co.uk, Janebeautytips.net, and so on.
While doing this may add to your domain name’s overall cost, it’ll help you avoid competing with other sites that may use your domain name but a different TDL. It can also be a great way to prevent other people from creating impostor websites or trademarking some of the other TDLs you haven’t secured and then selling them to you down the line at a much higher price.
Incorporate Relevant Keywords in Your Domain Name
Including relevant keywords in your domain name can be great for your website’s search engine rankings. Put bluntly, having relevant keywords in your domain makes it easier for Google to determine what your site is all about. If combined with the right SEO practices, this can help your site rank higher for your target keywords.
But while choosing a domain name that captures your target keywords is highly recommended, it’s easier said than done, mainly when there are many competing websites in your niche. Likely, many of the good domain names with your main keywords will already be taken, so you might need a bit of creativity to make yours stand out. It might help to incorporate other relevant words alongside your main keyword to create a unique, highly targeted domain name.
For illustration, suppose you provide mold removal services, and most of your potential customers are in Miami. Sure, there may be many other similar businesses in the country, and most will likely have worked the keyword “mold removal” into their domain name. But if you include the word “Miami” in your domain, you’ll have a better chance of ranking higher than the competition when someone from that location searches for mold removal experts.
Choose a Brandable Domain Name
You probably know that branding is critical to any business’s long-term success, whether it has an online presence or not. But what exactly are the makings of a brandable domain name?
Several traits make a domain name brandable:
- Having no specific meaning. Think about some of the biggest brands; most have domain names that wouldn’t make sense as independent words. Google, for instance, isn’t a word, and neither is Youtube. If you can’t incorporate your target keyword into your domain name, this can be an alternative.
- Uniqueness. It’s easier to make a brand out of a domain name that’s nothing like what the competition is using. Netflix is a perfect example.
- Easy to memorize. Avoid domain names that are too wordy or those with weird and complex vowel combinations. These are hard to memorize, which isn’t what you want for branding.
- Easy to pronounce and spell. Whenever possible, choose a domain name that spells precisely as it sounds. Otherwise, potential website visitors may struggle to key it into their address bar or find it using voice search, which may steer them into the hands of your competition.
- Sounding trustworthy. For illustration, consider these two domain names: WinTheLotteryToday.com and Lotterio.com. If you were looking to buy lottery tickets, which of the two sites would you use? Probably Lotterio.com, because it sounds more trustworthy. While the former site may have pure intentions, it just sounds too bold and a bit shady. You get the point.
One of the crafty ways to develop a brandable domain name is to experiment with combinations of real words and random suffixes. The lotterio.com domain name we’ve just used for illustration is a perfect example of that.
Better yet, try adding random suffixes to some of your main keywords as part of your brainstorming process. When doing this, focus on coming up with something short and snappy (think Uber). It also helps with branding if your domain name has a good ring to it because it’ll be easier to memorize.
Keep Your Domain Name Short and Simple
When it comes to domain names, short and straightforward is the way to go. For the length, aim for between 12 and 15 characters, excluding the “.com” or any other extension you may be using.
For simplicity purposes, avoid using words that can be spelled in multiple ways as your domain name. These can make it more difficult for users to find your website, defeating a domain name’s primary purpose.
For instance, if you’re a blogger named Myke and would like that to reflect in your domain name, Mykeblogs.com might seem like a viable option. However, users will often misspell it as Mikeblogs.com, which might leave them with an error page or even on a different site with that domain name.
If you insist on using a name that can be spelled in multiple ways, buy its common spelling variations, too, and redirect those to your primary domain. In the scenario we’ve just used for the illustration above, that would mean buying the domain “Mikeblogs.com” and then redirecting it to Mykeblog.com. This way, any users who misspell the domain name will still end up on your website, and you won’t lose any traffic.
Lastly, steer off hyphens, underscores, and other punctuation marks when crafting a domain name. Numbers are a no-go, too, unless they’re part of your brand name (like 9gag.com). The same goes for misspellings. In addition to making it difficult for people to find your website, a misspelled domain name may reduce its perceived credibility, leaving users mistaking it for a phishing site.
Watch Out for Trademark Infringement
Choosing a trademarked domain name can cause all kinds of legal issues. While you may not mean to infringe on someone else’s trademark rights when choosing a domain name, accidents do happen, and in this case, they can be costly.
Understand that trademark infringement doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve copied someone’s domain name word for word. Using a name so similar to a trademarked domain such that it causes users to reasonably think that the two sites belong to the same person/business can amount to infringement. So while there’s nothing wrong with being “inspired” by another brand’s domain name, you need to be careful not to cross the line.
For illustration, let’s say you’re looking to launch a site that offers legal advice. A few google searches later, you come across a site named “Creative Genius Law” (this is an actual site, by the way). You like the name. But since you can’t copy it word for word, you decide to name your site” Creative Genius Legal Advice.”
This is a prime example of when being “inspired” by another domain name can mean an awful day in court. Sure, you didn’t exactly duplicate the other site’s name. However, you intentionally used a domain name so close to it that anyone would reasonably assume that both websites belong to the same person/business entity. Legally, this is known as causing the “likelihood of confusion,” and it can amount to trademark infringement.
So when you have an excellent idea for a domain name, you’ll want to check whether you can legally own it. To do that, google the name and check if it comes up on the first and second pages of search results.
If it doesn’t, you’ve got your green light to register it. If it does, someone already owns that name, and you can either forget about the name or try to buy it. Should you choose to pursue the latter option, you’ll want to determine whether the website bearing the domain name is active. Two things are likely:
- The site with your desired domain name is active. In such a case, look around for the owner’s contact and try convincing them to sell the domain: a long shot, but still worth a try.
- There isn’t a functional website using the domain name, but it’s “parked” (it only contains ads). If this is the case, you’re in luck; the owner is likely holding onto the domain name, waiting for a buyer. To confirm, check the parked website for the owner’s contact info and see if they’re looking to sell. If that info isn’t readily available, use an email finder tool such as Who.is to look up the owner’s email and connect from there.
If the domain name you’re eyeing is taken and the owner isn’t looking to sell, that’s just about it for that option: it’s back to the drawing board. But should you find a willing seller, there’s something else to think about if the domain you’re buying has been used before: its history.
When buying an existing domain name, the nature of its history can either be an advantage or a disadvantage. If it’s positive, that might give you a boost on Google rankings since the search engine is already familiar with the domain. On the other end of the spectrum, a domain name with a bad history, such as spamming, may already be facing a ban from Google, among other potential drawbacks.
There are two ways to determine the nature of a domain’s history:
- Doing a manual Google check
- Using online domain search tools such as Bannedcheck, Is My Website Penalized, and the Wayback Machine
Let’s review each option in greater detail below:
Doing a Manual Google Check
Google can be a handy tool for checking a domain’s history provided you know how to use it. To do that, search the following phrase, “site:yourdomain.com.” Doing this will reveal whether Google has indexed any pages from the domain in question.
In this particular case, finding results is a good sign because it means that the domain hasn’t been banned. If there’s nothing to be found, chances are the domain is blank, or the website with that name has been banned. To find out the specifics, you’ll further research, which brings us to the next method of checking a domain’s history.
Using Online Domain Search Tools
Tools like Bannedcheck and Is My Website Penalized can help you determine whether a domain name has been banned by Google. The Wayback Machine, however, lets you find out much more than that.
First of its kind, the Wayback Machine allows you to turn back the clock on any domain to determine what exactly was on it. This tool is convenient when you’re buying a domain name that was previously registered but abandoned. That’s because domain names can sometimes be used for shady stuff before being abandoned and sold off, and the Wayback Machine provides a way to determine if that was the case with the domain you’re eyeing.
Thus, it’s always worth checking a domain name with this tool before making a purchase, even if you’re buying what’s being marketed as brand new. While you may not find the history of all websites on this tool, you can expect to get that of any site that enjoyed significant traffic at any given period.
A Few Tools to Help You Choose the Perfect Domain Name
Even with the above tips, there’s no denying that choosing the perfect domain name can be a daunting task. To help make things easier, here are some of the tools you can use:
As you sift through the tens (if not hundreds) of potential domain names looking for the perfect fit, there are times when nothing seems good enough. In such cases, good old Thesaurus may come in handy.
It’ll give you common synonyms of the words you may be looking to use, helping you avoid building a brand around a name that you don’t know its meaning. It can also be a great way to find a better-sounding version of a potential domain name, which you can then experiment with by adding a suffix or a few modifiers to create an original domain name.
Online Domain Name Generators
Online domain name generators can be quite helpful when you’re struggling to develop a unique domain name. All you need is to enter your desired keyword, and they’ll provide several suggestions of available domain names.
In case you don’t know any domain generators off the top of your head, here are a few options to get you started:
That does it for today’s topic. Now that you’re armed with the essential guidelines for choosing a domain name, all there is to do is lots of brainstorming and a bit of research to determine what’s legally available. All the best!
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- Google Domains: How to come up with a good domain name – Google Domains
- Creative Genius Law: Are You Infringing On Someone’s Trademark?