How to choose a domain name is an incredibly important decision, as this is the first thing that anyone who comes across your website will encounter, so it needs to be memorable: and above all, professional.
That’s why it’s important to invest the time to get it right from the get-go. Along with choosing the best web hosting service, it’s pretty much the most important decision you can make about your site.
With a domain name, you can also get domain email addresses. A professional email like this instantly makes your website appear more authoritative than it would if you were using an equivalent Hotmail or Gmail address.
Essentially, what you need is a name that’s easily discoverable and won’t be forgotten if customers wish to pay it repeat visits. However, choosing the right name isn’t always easy. Once you've read this guide, make sure to read our article outlining how to register a domain name and what small businesses need to consider.
1. Make it concise
Our top tip is to keep your domain name short. The more you ask people to remember, the more likely they are to type in the wrong characters, and if they can’t get your domain name correct, they won’t find you. As a rule of thumb, six letters are optimum, but as long as your domain name is below eight, you’re doing well.
2. Choose the right domain extension
In the early days of the internet, there were only limited options for extensions—the letters at the end of a URL—with the majority of websites deciding on .com, and some choosing .org instead.
Today, things are very different. Every country in the world has a specific code and there are other options to choose from too.
The most popular are:
- .info - Sites that focus on providing information
- .me - Personal sites, like blogs
- .co - In most cases, an abbreviation for company, commerce, or community
- .org- Community organizations and not-for-profits
- .biz - An alternative to .com for businesses and commerical enterprises
- .net - Usually internet infrastructure sites
In many cases, the above extensions will be combined with country codes. For example, a business in the UK might use the domain extension .co.uk.
Larger organizations tend to buy up all the most popular subdomains for their primary domain name and redirect them, preventing copycat sites from trading off their success and making their site easier to locate.
The key point here is ensuring that your site is easily discoverable, but if you struggle to decide, go with .com as a default option. Even after all this time, this extension still commands respect and makes your business appear more professional.
3. Check existing domain names
The last thing you want to do is decide on a name for your site and start the branding process, only to find out the name you chose has already been taken by another organization.
You can try GoDaddy’s domain name search tool. It’s an easy way to learn if the name you want has already been registered elsewhere.
It’s also worth searching for misspellings of your chosen domain name and buying them up if available.
Don’t however, pick misspellings of popular sites–like fcebook.com or twiter.com. Doing so could result in a legal challenge from the website you appear to be imitating.
4. Run a language check
It might seem odd to search for the meaning of your domain name in multiple languages, but there are many examples of words that mean nothing of note in English, but are considered odd or even offensive in other languages.
In one famous case, Ford discovered it had made a mistake marketing its Kuga in the Balkans. In that region, ‘Kuga’ means Black Death, the devastating plague that killed close to 200 million people in Europe between 1347 and 1351. This is one example, but there are many more.
5. Do a trademark search
Copyright law is notoriously hard to define. As a result, if your domain name includes even part of a word trademarked by another organization, you could find yourself facing a legal battle.
You should be particularly cautious if using a made-up word, as it’s impossible to use the defense that it’s a commonly used word or phrase.
Visit knowem.com and run a trademark search before committing to a name. You’ll discover if it’s in use as a trademark or domain name, or if it is common on social media.
6. Don't use hyphens or numbers
It’s best practice to avoid using hyphens and underscores in your domain name, as it’s relatively easy for users to confuse them. The same rule applies to numbers.
If possible, we would advise against including a number in your domain name. Zero is particularly problematic, as it can easily be confused with the letter ‘o’.
7. Consider geography
If you create a website for a local business, then it’s good to have a name that emphasizes this locality. For example, a hat repair service based in Boston, Massachusetts would do well to choose the domain BostonHatRepair.com.
The trouble is, there is more than one Boston in the world. Of course, there’s Boston in Lincolnshire, UK—the original Boston. But there are 15 more in the US, and others in Jamaica, Cuba, Peru, Bolivia, Andorra, Italy, Ireland, South Africa, Uzbekistan, Columbia, and Costa Rica too.
It’s an extreme example, but geography is an important consideration in any circumstance.
8. Make it memorable
Websites with memorable names are far more likely to be discovered.
They are also easier to recommend via word of mouth, which is why it’s beneficial to use a name that’s easy to say.
Depending on where you expect your web traffic to originate from, it might be worth choosing a name that’s easy to say in non-English speaking countries too.
It can be tough to decide on a name that rolls off the tongue like this, but it’s worth the effort, as you will probably receive a lot more traffic in the long run. You can also read our feature looking at 10 quick ways to improve your website branding to help grow your site's coverage.
9. Experiment with a word generator
There are a number of word generation tools out there, like TextFixer, which enable you to select certain keywords associated with your business and trial them in different configurations. This is a good option if you really are stuck for inspiration—but don’t forget the other essential tips we’ve mentioned above.