Why did we choose AffiliatePrograms.com? What were the intentions behind Wirecutter, Forbes, or Reddit? How is it that you easily remember Buzzfeed or Facebook?
Domain names are more than a website address – it’s a brands, it’s a strategy, it’s a missions.
Coming up with a good domain name is tough. There are some 334-million+ domain registrations already with thousands of TLDs overseen by ICANN. There’s a high chance someone has the domain name you want.
What can you do if a domain is taken? How can you create something unique? Read on.
Domain Names 101: Answers to Your Questions
Let’s get a few things out of the way before we start brainstorming domain name ideas.
Q: What is a domain name?
A domain name is an easy-to-remember identifier attached to an IP address. Web servers match IP addresses with domain names with DNS.
Q: What is an example of a domain name?
Well… really any website/server you’re finding whether it uses a top-level domain like .com or .net to those using global TLDs like .blog or .company. Some choose to register domain names to protect their brand, and online registrations, or create branded emails without creating a website.
Q: What’s the difference between a domain and a website?
The domain/URL is what people enter to visit your website. The website is what’s displayed to the visitor whether it’s a page (like the one you’re on now), a directory, or some form of a backend. A website is whatever you make since it’s a collection of data.
Q: How do I buy a domain name?
Domain name registrars, like GoDaddy, broker the registration with ICANN. You’d use domain registrar services to “buy” a domain name.
Q: Can you own a domain forever?
Domain registrars let you register domains for long periods, but you cannot outright buy domains. You’re free to renew domains. There have been instances where organizations, the government, and registrars take back domains if their owner infringes copyright, abuses policies, or breaks the law.
Q: Are there free domain names?
Yes and no. Some services, like WordPress.com, let you register using sub-domains freely. Some hosting providers will include free domain registration when subscribing to their service (as a signup incentive).
Q: Are domain names expensive?
Not really, unless you’re trying to buy an in-demand domain name. Your typical costs range from $2.99 to $14.99 with most registrars (for .com’s). Of course, some in-demand domains can fetch millions at auction or through private domain brokerage.
The Qualities of a Good Domain Name
The domain is part of the URL, it’s important to think hard about your selection. The domain is the first exposure with a visitor. You’ll want to choose a domain name that’s easy to remember while factoring other benefits like branding, SEO, and possibly exit strategy.
Consider these qualities when brainstorming a name:
- Branded. The domain typically mirrors your business but you’re free to craft one befitting the brand voice and image. Think of how it evokes the emotion or first thoughts. Think of the domain as your elevator pitch.
- Memorable. Wirecutter is easy to remember because it’s a movement and unique. Something like cut-the-cord.net isn’t as much. If the name continues going through your mind days later then it’s probably a good fit.
- SEO-Friendly. This is optional (exact match domains aren’t as valued) but you may want keywords in the domain. This is helpful if creating a local business site or if you’re opportunistic when building niche sites.
- Flexibility. Consider if you pivot the site’s direction, content, and brand. Will the name make sense and continue representing its image? Think of it 5 years from now, whether it’s still relevant to your goals.
- Valuable. Domaining and site flipping is a cool ways to make money with domains. Perhaps you’ll choose one because of trends. Or, have people approach you to buy. Speculate this possibility when deciding on a name.
Of course, there are always outliers with domains. A hyped brand could create microsites with an oddball name. Or, you see sites using strictly numbers becoming popular. Don’t count on it though, start with the qualities especially if this is the first one you’re registering.
How to Choose a Memorable Domain Name (10 Tips)
We’re not here to tell you what to pick – that’ll depend on your project, business, or intentions. What we do want to include are some tips and tricks for choosing domain names.
1. Use a .com, always
The .com extension is what people think of when entering a URL. There’s no reason to justify odd-ball extensions like .me and the like. Just go with it.
There are a few exceptions:
- You don’t intend to build a site
- You’re an organization preferring .org
- You’re building a niche site reliant on organic search vs branding
Keep brainstorming if it isn’t available.
2. Think of the “flow”
Think of the name’s “flow” when brainstorming:
- Try typing this: Handkerchief
- Now try typing this: Huffpo
See how the latter is easier to type? Your fingers flow.
This is one of those subtle things many don’t think about when choosing domains. Generally, if it’s hard typing the word then they’ll probably type it wrong. That defeats the purpose of the name.
3. Keep it short and sweet
Don’t expect people to search for a long domain. Nor should you expect them to add dashes. Keep the domain short and sweet (around 6-8 characters) for optimal impact. Or, use two easily-remembered words like “Affiliate Programs” “Coming Soon” or “Business Insider”.
Keeping it short also cuts down the misspellings.
4. Think of the brand
Does the name represent the business? Is it a new brand you’re launching? Always search for the name before you commit to the brand else you may shell big bucks buying it from a domainer.
- Represented your vision, goals, and voice
- Unique so it doesn’t appear alongside generic searches
- Future-proofed if you decide to pivot
Don’t fluff the domain like “JimsAwesomeCarShop”, either. Think more like “JGCustoms”.
5. Grab a variety of domains
Found a great .com? Cool!
You may want to buy the others like .net and .org. This helps protect your brand from scalpers who want to later sell them back (once you’ve taken off). Or, competitors trying to snipe business by redirecting traffic to their site.
6. Think about its perception
Could your domain stir controversy because someone read it wrong? Or, maybe you chose one without realizing a term had a negative connotation? Do your research – learn its etymology and society’s perspective of the terms you choose to use.
7. Check the other platforms
Just because the domain is available doesn’t mean it’s free on social channels. A visitor jumping to social media could become confused if the branded names don’t match. Worse, they could think that’s your official profile and have a negative reaction!
Check the main channels:
You could add a “com” to satisfy the account name. Or, use terms like “Official” or “Domain + Initials” for the individuals behind the site/business.
8. Don’t mess with copyrights
Big organizations and corporations will come down on you hard. You don’t want to be targeted with legal action, cease-and-desist letters, or domain seizures.
This also involves:
- Scalping recently expired domains from businesses and corps
- Domain squatting people’s names in anticipation of their public work
You might fly by for a little while until their legal teams take notice but what’s the point of building something if it’s taken away?
9. Look up the domain before you buy
Someone may have “burned” the domain from previous projects and let it expire. This tends to involve nasty backlinks still pointing to the domain. You can try using the disavow tool, but ultimately your new site is hit with this negative image because of the backlinks.
- Check if there was a site using The Internet Archive
- Check the Whois information using ICANN’s site
- Check Google using a “site:domain” search
- Check backlink profiles using SEO tools
Is everything squeaky clean? Great! Go for it.
10. Use a good domain registrar
Do your due diligence when buying domains – look for reputable, proven registrars you can trust. This includes your ownership of the domain. And, if you have control of the domain backend.
We recommend a couple different registrars but the tl;dr is:
We’ve used both for our personal and business projects without hassles and fuss.
A Note about Domain Name Generators
We see the appeal of a domain name generator… but it’s a bit lazy.
These generators have their place if, for example, you’re creating microsites or maybe you need something quick for a project. But using a domain generator doesn’t really factor in the qualities we’re looking for when choosing a name.
They’re definitely cool and can help kickstart a brainstorming session, but the domain is a big part of all this. Put some effort into it especially if you’re investing a lot of time and money.
It’s up to you, though.
You’re Never Really Stuck with a Domain: The Conclusion
Here’s the beauty of the Web: It’s always changing.
There’s no written rule you can’t change domains especially if you understand redirects. Or, if you have a community that’ll jump with you. There are times when you may shutter a project into another, telling people to go to the new site (which happens a lot when businesses are acquired).
It certainly helps if you brainstorm one you’ll stick with for years to come but don’t feel like your domain name choice is stuck in stone.
Good luck with your discovery!