Choosing a domain name for your business is one of the first decisions you have to make when starting a business. The right domain name can increase traffic, while a bad domain name can cause confusion and unnecessary headaches. We’ll provide tips from the pros designed to help your domain stand out, and walk you through the selection process in five steps.
1. Consider Phrases That Describe What You Do
A domain name is your address on the internet, which is why it’s important it is memorable, builds trust in your brand, and—whenever possible—conveys your company’s overarching purpose. Start by thinking about terms and phrases that clearly describe what you do or who you help.
An example, before even seeing her website, you can get a good idea of what Susie at Start A Mom Blog does. This is a great domain because Susie doesn’t have to waste time describing what she offers. Instead, she can start communicating why this helps her audience.
Other tips to keep in mind when coming up with potential domain names:
Keep It Short
When you’re figuring out how to choose a domain name, make memorability a high priority. Studies have shown that the human brain, on average, can hold about seven items, whether they be a string of words or characters. By keeping your domain short, potential clients and customers will be better able to remember it with ease, even if they’ve only seen or heard your domain name once.
Pro tip: If your brand name is taken, you can try adding a word before it, like “get,” “try,” “join,” or “the.” For example, The Knot is a very popular website that uses this strategy. Even though they use “the,” their domain is still short, related to their niche, and easy to remember.
Verify the Name Is Easy to Spell
Choosing a domain name that is easy to spell is an important factor in making sure your name is easy to find. The last thing you want to do is give potential customers a reason to click on copy-cat search results that may lead to your competition when they are in a position to buy.
The other reason you want to pick a domain that is easy to spell is to control costs. If your domain is easily misspelled, you’ll want to consider purchasing the domain’s variations because this stops your competitors from piggybacking off your brand.
Consider How Your Domain Might Be Pronounced
Word of mouth is a great form of free advertising. You want your customers to be comfortable telling their friends and family about your site, which they won’t be if they don’t know how to say it. This is why you want to pick a domain name that is easy to pronounce. Before officially registering for a domain, ask someone not intimately familiar with your business how they would say it based on how it is written.
If you need more help coming up with potential domain names, check out the following articles:
2. Create a List of Alternatives
It can be challenging to find an available domain name, and many businesses will find that their business name is not available as a domain. There’s nothing more frustrating than coming up with the “perfect” domain name, only to discover that someone else is using it. To solve this problem, make a list of 10 to 15 domain name ideas first.
Things to avoid when coming up with alternatives:
Avoid Using Hyphens & Acronyms
If your ideal domain name isn’t available, don’t try to make it work by adding a hyphen or a creative acronym, like “maze-press.com” or “mzpress.com.” This is because it takes more time to explain your domain name, which makes it harder to remember, and if you have a name that’s difficult to remember, you’ll more likely to end up giving free traffic to your competitor.
In addition to being more difficult to explain and less memorable, an acronym is also less likely to be used as a search term when people are looking for you online. The exception to this tip is when your sales agents and customers might be expected to refer to your business by its initials more often than its full name. An example is KFC, also known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, which owns the domain www.kfc.com.
Avoid ‘Exact Match’ Domains Whenever Possible
Exact match domains, or EMDs, are domain names that match a common keyword word for word. Examples of EMDs are maidsinNYC.com, which matches “maids in NYC” or cleanersinNewYork.com, which matches “cleaners in New York.” While these domains may seem like a good idea on the surface, in reality, EMDs are not favored by Google, which means a website using them is unlikely to appear high in search results.
However, you can choose a partial match domain like Empire Maids NYC, which includes part of a keyword or location. While this can help you establish relevance, Michael Hayes at Empire Maids does not suggest tying your business to the whims of an algorithm that may or may not favor exact or partial match domains in the future.
Pro tip: Keep in mind that your domain will be seen by people who speak multiple languages. Darren Cottingham at TR Group says since half of their visitors are overseas, “It’s important that we don’t pick a name that is inadvertently a swear word in another language.” He suggests using Wordsafety.com to check a word or phrase in 19 languages. Eliminate any alternative domain names that might reflect poorly on your brand.
If you are still “spinning your wheels” when it comes to thinking up a great name, sometimes it helps to let someone on the “outside” take a crack at it. Brainstorm with creative minds at Fiverr and you can get a whole list of potential business names for as little as $5—then all you have to do is choose your favorite. Click here to get started.
3. Determine Which Extension Best Reflects Your Business
There are a number of domain extensions available, such as .com, .org, .net, .io, and location-based extensions such as .us. The most common is .com, which also means it’s the least likely to be available. For some business types, other domain extensions might actually be more relevant. For example, many tech businesses use the .io extension, whereas an organization such as a nonprofit generally opts for the .org extension.
When to Use .Org vs .Com
The .org extension represents organizations, such as a nonprofit, although it can be used by anyone. In fact, .org top-level domains (TLDs) have more availability than others. However, .com is the most trusted top-level domain and carries the most credibility. If you think a .org many suit your business, but aren’t sure, learn more about .org and .com domain extensions and their differences.
When to Use .Net vs .Com
While .com is short for “commercial,” .net is short for “network.” .net is most frequently used by online service providers, network services, database providers, and online technology companies. To learn more, visit our article on the differences between .net and .com.
4. Check to See Which Potential Domains Are Available
Even if you think of the perfect business name, you will need to make sure it’s available before you start designing your site around it as it can be surprisingly difficult to find an available domain. If someone else has already purchased your ideal domain, you’ll have to find another name. There may be cases when your ideal domain isn’t available, but isn’t currently being used. You may be able to purchase the domain from the owner, but the cost will likely be higher.
Check If Your Desired Domain Name Is Available
Pro tip: When you are searching for available domain names, be sure to also check each name’s availability on all the social media channels you plan on using in the future. Ideally, you can get a domain name and social media handles that match. If not, you can add short words to make your handles as close as possible.
For example, Carolyn Wilman, the creator of the Contest Queen, was looking for a catchy domain name that reflected what she does. “The mistake I did make was not grabbing my name on every social channel the moment it launched. On some, I am @ContestQueen and others @TheContestQueen.”
5. Check the Domain’s History
When you are choosing a domain, don’t forget that you might not be its first owner. Before you purchase, you should check into your preferred domain’s search engine optimization (SEO) and backlink history. If there was another website on your domain in the past, there may be positive or negative SEO consequences. You can use the backlink checker from Ahrefs or Niel Patel to find those results.
The most valuable backlinks will be from trustworthy, recognizable websites that are closely related to yours. On the other hand, backlinks that may have a negative impact on your website can come from extremely unrelated sources, be on spammy websites, or come from websites with low domain authority. If your domain is linked along with many other links to spam, you may be penalized for it.
If you find that your ideal domain has a few bad backlinks, you may still be able to utilize it. You can try contacting the owner of the site to remove your link. If that doesn’t work, you can disavow the link, which basically tells Google that you don’t want these links taken into account for your domain.
Pro tip: Even if you use a third-party service to design and host your website, when the time comes to register for your domain, always insist that the domain name is purchased under your business’ name. This is important because you will still be in control of the use of the domain even if your partnership with the third-party service changes.
Krista Baroncelli at Efferent Media suggests, “Think of your domain name like your Social Security number on the web. Your emails and website are directly affected by it, and if someone else has access to it, it can mean trouble.”
Why Choosing Your Domain Early Matters
The best thing you can do is to choose your domain name before even determining your business name. It may be easy for small business owners to think of a business name, but it will be very helpful to make sure that domain is available. Having a separate business name and domain name can complicate things and potentially lose customers or clients.
That’s one mistake Matthew Ross and his business partner at Slumber Yard made. “We settled on a name first and even got logos and media finalized before we even thought about the actual domain. It turned out the domain we wanted was actually gone, so we had to settle for putting a ‘my’ in front of the actual name of our business (e.g., myslumberyard.com instead of just slumberyard.com). We’re obviously still kicking ourselves over this gaffe, but it was a good lesson to learn.”
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I register a domain name?
The process of registering a domain name is actually very simple and can be done in as little as three simple steps. First, create a list of your desired domain names and then go to a domain name registrar, such as a GoDaddy, and search for your desired domain names. Complete the registration prompts, complete your payment, and connect your domain to your site. Learn more about domain name registration, including ways to get a free domain name.
Should I build my own small business website?
For most, building a professional website is a daunting task, though building your own not only saves you money, but also gives you complete control. With all-in-one site builders such as Squarespace and Wix, and drag-and-drop page builder plugins for WordPress such as Elementor, anyone can build a professional website. Get all of the information you need to know about building your small business website, including step-by-step instructions.
What is domain name privacy?
If you’re in the process of registering a domain name, you’ll notice that you have the option to pay more to register your domain name privately. This can be a worthwhile investment as it keeps your information private. Otherwise, the information (such as your name and contact information) used to register your domain will be available to the public, making you susceptible to spam.
While it may be tempting to just purchase the first domain name that comes to mind, these experts show us that choosing a domain name requires careful thought. Domain names should be intuitive, memorable, have a good history, build trust, and speak to your target markets. These experts know the tricks because they’ve learned from experience; they know what works and what doesn’t.