A domain name is your address on the internet, which is why it’s important it is memorable, clearly reflects your brand, builds trust in your brand, and—whenever possible—conveys your company’s overarching purpose. To help you pick the right one, we surveyed 32 marketing experts to gather tips on how to choose a domain name.
Before you can register the right domain name, however, you need a reliable and affordable domain registrar and a site host for building your business website—both of which can be difficult to find. Fortunately, Bluehost offers a free domain name when you purchase a shared web hosting plan for just $2.95 per month. Start by searching for your ideal domain name below.
Here are 32 tips from the experts on choosing a domain name:
Rand Fishkin, Co-founder, Moz.com
If you believe that a member of your target audience could immediately associate the domain name with a good guess of what they think you do, that is a big positive. In other words, they could look at your domain name and say, “Oh, I’m guessing they probably do this. This is probably what that company is up to.”
You can view more tips from Rand in his article, How to Choose a Domain Name.
2. Aim for a Top Level Domain Name
Michael Edelberg, SVP, Arsec Digital
We source many domains for our clients and most seek a TLD (Top Level Domain) for good reason. A .org will immediately tell the user they are looking at a nonprofit. Others need to be closer to the company name or type of business—that also includes redirects for regional or other business lines. We’ve also dealt with people looking to buy and sell and domain squatters, too. There are SEO issues to take into account as well.
3. Avoid Using Hyphens & Acronyms
David Alexander, Designer, Developer & Digital Marketer, Maze Press
I often have clients come to me for design help and wish they had asked for my input before going ahead and purchasing a domain. One good tip to remember is to avoid hyphenated domain names. Explaining to people that they need to put a dash between two words—or, heaven forbid, three or more—is a painful process. You are better off with something original if the non-hyphenated version is already taken and in use. You should also avoid acronyms like “abc-this” or “abc-that.” They won’t help you rank for your brand name if the “abc” stands for something like Apex Building Consultants. Instead, you will end up competing with all of the other unoriginal companies using an acronym as one of their brand identities.
4. Choose a Domain That’s Available on Social Media
Carolyn Wilman, Sweepstakes Marketing Strategist, ContestQueen.com
Come up with something catchy that reflects what you do and can be remembered easily, plus one that is available across all social channels. I bought “Contest Queen” off a “squatter” for $500. It was worth every penny, as I have built an entire brand around it. 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.
Marc Prosser, Co-founder, Fit Small Business
“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.
6. Conduct a Trademark Search
P. Betty Tufariello, Esq., Founder & CEO, Intellectulaw™
The use of a domain name that is confusingly similar to a trademark—i.e., one form of intellectual property—can cause a tremendous number of problems for the owners of a new business with a new website. It is not unusual for a person or a business entity to adopt a domain name deemed available by the domain name registrar, start using the domain, and suddenly receive a cease and desist demand. This leads to having to contend with a shutdown of the website because the domain name is considered a trademark infringement. Thus, prior to adopting a domain name, it is very important to conduct a trademark search by someone who does trademark searches and can offer an opinion as to the availability of the domain name.
7. Keep Your Domain Name Short
Safa Mahzari, Founder & CEO, Alluxo Inc.
I like to think of a domain name like a piece of digital real estate. For one, shorter is better. I find that shorter domain names are easier to remember and to stay on top of the mind. If your brand name.com is taken, look at adding a word before it. For example, Dropbox recently filed for their initial public offering (IPO), but started out as a company with the domain getdropbox.com. This URL now redirects to their dropbox.com, so users don’t have to remember a new domain name. Common words are “get,” “try,” “join,” and so on.
8. Make Sure the Domain You Want Isn’t Blacklisted or Penalized
David Mercer, Founder, SME Pals
One of the most important considerations when choosing a new domain name (that most webmasters don’t think about) is to first check whether or not the domain is blacklisted or potentially penalized by Google. Spammers use a technique called “churn and burn,” which involves sending spam through their domain and then dumping the site once Google catches them. In this way, they can profit for a few months (or years, depending on how and when Google catches it), and get rid of the domain once it’s penalized.
Unwary and legitimate webmasters then purchase the newly available domain—oblivious to the fact that it will be next to impossible to generate any sort of organic traffic because of existing penalties. It can put you at a serious disadvantage to start out with a penalized domain.
To check if your domain is potentially penalized, use the Wayback Machine to see what the domain was used for in the past.
9. Don’t Get Married to One Domain Name Generator
Oleg Korneitchouk, Director of Digital Marketing, SmartSites
The perfect domain name really depends on the purpose of the website. Are you building a brand? Bringing awareness to an issue? Creating a personal blog or resume? Depending on the intent, you are either looking for a catchy, brandable, or informative domain (a great domain will be all of them, but they are diamonds in the rough). I like to play around with the countless domain name generators that are available online. These make it easy to mix and match your keywords, add common internet prefixes and suffixes, and see which domains are still available. After you have a list of three to five solid domains, ask others which they like best.
10. Make a List of Multiple Potential Names Instead of Just One
Maggie Aland, Marketing & Review Editor, Fit Small Business
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. Then use a tool like the Bluehost domain search tool to check if your website names are available. If your name is not free, Bluehost will offer some similar sounding names for you to consider.
11. Consider Using Geographic Terms in Your Domain
Donald E. Petersen, Owner, Law Office of Donald E. Petersen
Choosing a domain name involves a choice between marketing a brand and emphasizing the product or service provided. For many service providers, including law firms, this can be a difficult choice. For companies with an established product line, it’s usually a less difficult choice at the initial fork in the decision tree. One tricky choice is to decide whether to include a geographic term, such as the city or state that the business is located in. It’s wise to include a geographic term if the business’ customer base is local, especially if the business does not maintain brick-and-mortar facilities in other cities. Google’s local search appears to be increasingly geocentric, but sites whose URL includes a geographic descriptor appear to still dominate in competitive search terms (such as most fields of law).
12. Purchase Common Misspellings & AKAs of Your Domain Name as Well
Lindsay Duggan Martinez, Corporate Marketing Manager, Etna Interactive
It’s important to not only purchase your decided domain, but to also purchase common misspellings of that domain and any “AKAs” you may have. You will want these to then redirect to your intended site. For example, do you remember when it was “thefacebook.com” and not “facebook.com”? It didn’t even redirect if you excluded the “the” from the domain—you would get a 404 page! You want to be sure to purchase any domain that a user may assume is your address or may visit by an accidental slip of the finger on the keyboard.
13. Name Your Business & Your Website Together
Matthew Ross, Co-owner & COO, Slumber Yard
I’d advise small business owners to think about domains before actually settling on a company name (rather than vice-versa). That’s one mistake my business partner and I 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.
14. Buy a Domain Name That Fits Your Business’ Maturity Level
Michael Cyger, Publisher, DNAcademy
There are generally three stages for businesses: bootstrapped startup, profitable small to medium-sized businesses (SMB), and well-funded startup or large company—and the key is to match your domain name to your business’ current maturity level. The bootstrapped startup hasn’t proven their product or service market fits, nor that their business model will work, so they should go with an affordable and already available domain name to get up and running and minimize expenses and risk.
The SMB is (roughly) a $100,000 to $10 million business, and a domain name should be a thoughtful part of your marketing activities. You have proven your business works, so now is the time to upgrade your domain name to a shorter, broader, and more memorable option. The well-funded startup or large company is likely only limited by their aspirations and vision. DoorBot.com, a doorbell with video camera that lets you see who’s at your door on your phone, upgraded to Ring.com for $1 million over time—a domain name that was shorter, broader (“rings” of security including front door, property, and neighborhood), and much more memorable.
For anyone who’s in the process of choosing a domain name, you’ll certainly come across the term “brandable domain name” more than once. This is a big factor that business owners have to consider if they want to make the most out of a long-term investment like a brand name. Click the article link above to find out from Jason Halstead at Brand Strategist about what makes a domain name “brandable.”
16. Aim for a Unique Name That Sums Up Your Business Market
Steve James, Marketing Lead, Opus Consulting Group Ltd.
Google’s strides in becoming more semantic (using human turns of phrase and understanding) means that your website name has to be found easily in a search. If you can’t get www.ABCCompany.com, then aim for a unique name that sums up that businesses market—such as www.getmoresales.com—rather than simply getting a title that is “close” to your own name. Unlike a physical business address, you have the opportunity to choose your own online business name, so make sure it is both specific and unique. If you are looking for walk-in traffic and the obvious names are taken, try something built on your physical address, like www.cornerof4thandmain.com.
17. Choose an Easy-to-Pronounce Domain
Joann Doan, Marketing Manager, CountingWorks
This might be easier said than done in cases where you are using your name as your domain name. However, in other cases, try to choose a name that is easy to remember, pronounce, and spell. This makes it easier for word-of-mouth referrals or when visitors try to type it in. The bottom line is: Your domain name is often the first thing prospective clients see, hear, say, and type, so your choice of words should be a good trade-off between good branding and good search engine optimization.
18. Make Use of Domain Search Tools
Kevin Tash, President & CEO, Tack Media
A great tool to use from GoDaddy is Justdropped.com, which shows you domain names that just became available. You can actually type in keywords that “begin,” “contain,” or “end” with a certain word, and it helps you find a domain extension of your choice.
19. Avoid “Exact Match” Domains for Your Mothership
Michael Hayes, Chief Marketing Officer, Empire Maids NYC
“Exact Match Domains,” or EMDs, are domain names that exactly match a popular keyword that people search for. For example, if you ran a florist shop in New York City, “FloristNYC.com” might look like an attractive option. I recently saw a pizzeria on First Avenue called “Best Pizza on 1st Avenue,” and I’m sure that they had search engines in mind when they picked that name. While this is an effective tactic, it doesn’t extend to an effective strategy for long-term success. These exact match domains rarely make for recognizable brands, so they violate marketing’s best practices. Furthermore, don’t tie your business’ future to the whims of an algorithm, which may or may not favor exact match domains in the future.
If you do want to garner some SEO benefit, consider “partial match” domains, which include part of a keyword or location and help establish relevance. Then again, if you are in it for the long haul, these eventually become minor enough factors that you can succeed without them.
20. Always Purchase Your Domain in Your Own Name
Krista Baroncelli, Account Manager, Efferent Media, Inc.
When purchasing your business domain name, always be sure to purchase it yourself in your own name. If you don’t understand how to, have your developer help you make the purchase, but never in their name. This can get ugly upon a split from that company. I’ve had this happen several times with clients of ours, and typically, when leaving a company, opinions are not always nice. 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.
21. Do NOT Make an Emotional Decision About a Domain Name
Tressa Sanders, Founder, Stack English
This was my number one mistake. I would get inspired, instantly come up with a domain name based on my inspiration, and I would buy it. Then, about 15 to 20 minutes later, when I came down from my inspiration high, I would realize I just bought a bad domain name. Sometimes realizing the mistake came as soon as I hit the “purchase” button. A domain name should be carefully considered, just as one would do for the title of a book. It needs to be evaluated for its usefulness to your business and your brand, so you should start with a little brainstorming first.
22. Consider Purchasing Your Domain From Its Current Owner
Jeff Morin, Owner, Uber Signal
Sometimes it’s worth purchasing a domain from the person or organization that owns it. It may cost some cash up front, but the long-term value of a “brandable” domain name can be huge. While it may seem intimidating and the initial prices that are quoted can be high, many times that can be negotiated down to a reasonable rate that works for both parties.
Choose your domain name carefully by performing due diligence checks on its history. It’s important to make sure that you are able to legally own a domain name before you purchase it. Read the tips from WordPress above on how to check the history of domain names.
Purchasing a domain name and extension is one of the most important choices you will ever make for your business, so it’s important to know which factors to consider. Not all domain extensions are equal, and putting enough time and attention to your decision can help you come up with the most suitable one for your business. If you’re having trouble deciding on domain extensions, check out blogger Matt Banner’s article above on how to make the right choice.
You may be tempted to use your own name as your domain name, but as a rule, you should put careful consideration into the idea. If your website is a blog, a podcast, or a personal website, your name can be a good choice for a domain. The Fizzle article linked to above lists eight great examples of personal domain names in action that you can check out.
26. Double-check Your Domain Name’s Meaning Before Using It
Darren Cottingham, General Manager of Online Ventures, TR Group
When choosing a domain name, we’re really conscious of international traffic, as half our visitors are from overseas. It’s important that we don’t pick a name which is inadvertently a swear word in another language, and for that we use Wordsafety.com. You can type in a word (or parts of a word) and check in 19 languages if it’s a homonym or exact spelling of a word that might be less than desirable for your business.
Wes O’Donnell, Marketing Professor & Speaker, WesODonnell.com
It is a good idea to buy up all of the domain extensions related to your name, like .net, .info, .biz, .co, and even .org. The reason for this is that once you grow, some competitors may buy up domain names with your company name, followed by an extension that’s available, and use them to redirect people to their websites.
If this happens to you, the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) provides for damages ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 if a party registers a domain in bad faith with the intent to profit from a brand’s goodwill. However, don’t forget that litigating, even when you’re in the right, is expensive.
28. Check Your Domain’s Backlink History
Chris Love, Founder, Love2Dev
Sometimes you can find a domain with a good backlink and content history profile that can give your business an instant boost. One tactic I like for improving organic search exposure is finding expired domains with a decent, clean backlink profile for my target keywords. This can be a time-consuming process, so be prepared to invest what is required to get the best domain possible. Remember: This is an investment, not just an expense. When purchasing a domain that is already registered or expired, you should always do research. This involves having access to and knowledge of how to use tools like Ahrefs and Archive.org, where you can see what sort of backlink profile and content the domain has.
29. Protect the Name You’ve Chosen
Lewis Peters, Digital Marketing Specialist, Online Turf
Protect your brand by auto-renewing and locking your domain name. This is a simple setting found with most registrars that prevents the domain being transferred until switched off. Buying multiple variations of your domain and domain extension is also a great way to protect your brand, as it prevents competitors from snapping them up in an attempt to impersonate your business.
30. Take a Cue From Your Competitors
Brock Wackerle, Corporate Brand Manager, DaySmart Software
In an ideal digital world, your domain name should be the same as your company name, since this is the universal way consumers recognize and search for your business online. Unfortunately, with so many internet users vying for a domain name applicable to their site, this is not always attainable.
While searching for an alternative domain, you should always be taking a look at the digital footprint of your competitive landscape. Each industry, business, and geographic region has nuanced language associated with their digital presence. By seeing what your competitors’ domains are, you can best decide whether your strategy will be to align with the existing format or choose a route of disruption.
31. Pre-order Your Ideal Domain
Christian Carere, Owner, Digital Ducats Inc.
Preregister or backorder a domain name when the ideal domain name is not available because it is in use or is a new generic top-level domain (gTLD). If your ideal name has expired, there is a 90-day wait period before anyone can touch it. This would be an ideal time to hire a backorder service that will buy it for you the moment it is available.
32. Acquire the Domain Extensions of Regional Markets
James Boston, Co-founder & Head of Marketing, Paperlust
If you are going to conduct business across borders, then you should acquire as many of the regional domains as possible. For example, our main domain is www.paperlust.co, but we also own .com, .co.uk, .com.au, .co.nz, and more, which redirect to the main domain. We have regional domains in all of our major export markets. This is mainly to stop people piggybacking off your brand in regional markets.
Bottom Line: How to Choose a Domain Name
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.
If you need more help deciding on a domain name, check out the following articles:
When you’re ready to register your domain name, Bluehost can help. They offer a free domain name with the purchase of any $2.95 per month web hosting package. Plus, hosting packages include free email and a free SSL certificate. You can try them risk-free with their 30-day money back guarantee.