A rose by any other name… would be much less likely to come up in Google for the search “rose.” *
Names matter. Your domain name is the nucleus, the big bang of your website. It determines where everything will go from there.
If you want your seed to bear fruit (or roses), make sure you follow these guidelines when choosing a domain name.
Keep it short.
More popular websites tend to have shorter domains, as seen in Gaebler’s analysis of the top 100,000 websites as ranked by Alexa.
It’s up for grabs whether the shorter name CAUSES the popularity or whether it just CORRELATES with popularity. There may be a separate factor which is influencing both the popularity and the domain name length. For example, shorter domain names tend to be more expensive (demand is higher, considering almost all the good ones are taken). So anyone who has the money for a short domain name may have more money to put into promoting their site. Or they bought it early on in the history of the web, and have had lots of time to build it and its following.
There are other pragmatic reasons for a short domain, even if it’s not a direct cause of popularity.
- Short names fit onto printed material more easily.
- In the age of mobile, the less letters there are to type in, the better.
- Short tends to be easier to remember.
Which brings us to the next domain-name-must-have:
Make it memorable.
You tell someone you meet at a cocktail party about your website. Will they remember the name to find you the next day? Will they at least remember enough of it to find it by searching in Google? If your website name is supercalifragilisticexpialidocio.us (and they’ve never seen Mary Poppins), then no. Any made up word will automatically have a disadvantage. So too with any string of real words that’s too long.
That’s not to eliminate made-up or longer domains. Just take the memorability factor into account. As Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, puts it: “You don’t want to be the company with the terrific website that no one can ever remember to tell their friends about because they can’t remember the domain name.”
How do you know?
Before you settle on a name, try telling 10 people your top candidate. Come back to them the next day and see if they remember what it was. (Just don’t tell them you’ll be quizzing them, otherwise you’ll skew the results.)
Do you need to be a spelling bee champ to spell it?
If so, even if it’s highly memorable (like supercalifragilisticexpialidocio.us if Mary Poppins was your favorite movie as a child), your domain is going to be in trouble.
How do you know?
Use the 10 people spell/pronounce test. Tell 10 people the name and ask them to write it down. Then show 10 other people the name written out, and ask them to pronounce it. If more than one or two in each group get it wrong, it’s a red light.
If it’s a regular word with a strange spelling, make sure you buy the regularly spelled domain and redirect it to yours. Flickr.com was losing traffic to Flicker.com until they finally acquired it. The only reason Fiverr.com doesn’t have that issue is that they own and redirect Fiver.com.
And if you’re considering an unconventional spelling BECAUSE you were set on the conventional one, but it’s taken – we’re sorry, but you need to grieve the loss and move on. Otherwise you’ll risk losing lots of traffic to the site which sounds just like yours but is spelled way more intuitively.
Give trademarks their space.
Piggybacking on another entity’s popularity can turn into a ride on a bucking bronco.
Even if you sell Disney products, don’t use Disney in your domain name. And don’t put WordPress in your domain name either (although you can use WP). If you’re unsure, and a Google search about “can I use XYZ in my domain name” doesn’t turn up anything concrete, be in touch with the entity’s legal department. And if you’re still in doubt – do without.
While it’s not directly related to the name, when you’re buying a domain, you should also make sure all the other legal issues are sorted out. If it’s a domain with a history, make sure it’s not a shady one. A great domain name with a Google penalty attached will leave you high and dry. And even if it’s a new domain, make sure YOU are registered as the owner and admin, and not your web dev company. Domains have been held hostage in the past.
Avoid basing your domain name on that of another company (even if it’s not considered copyright infringement), or that company will end up infringing on your customer base when searchers end up there instead.
If you’re pining away for a domain name that is taken, use these 10 tips to try and get the owner to sell it to you.
Dot-com is da bomb.
1300 new TLDs (TLD = top level domain = “what comes after the dot”) are being ushered onto the internet stage by ICANN. While it’s great that the dot is making new friends, and I’m sure you’ve always wanted to own your very own dot-republican or dot-democrat domain, put a hold on it until dot-everything-under-the-sun becomes commonplace.
Most people still assume all domains end in .com. Even if you tell them your website is facebook.net, they’ll likely hear facebook.com, and the next day they’ll certainly remember facebook.com. Or they’ll remember that “it had a weird ending but I can’t recall what it was.” There goes your traffic.
Even if you want to use a different ending, like .org or .net, you should still own and redirect the .com version, like Slideshare does. And if you ask why they use the .net at all, the .com wasn’t available when they first started. They purchased it in 2009. Probably for a lot of money. You probably don’t have that kind of money. Make sure you have the .com from the outset.
One possible exception to not having the .com is when the TLD is relatively well known and fits into the name of the company. For example, the site of the business coaching company Love Your Biz is loveyour.biz. Although it’s never a bad idea to own the .com, if possible.
Consider going local.
Another exception to not choosing the .com (although still good to own it, so you don’t lose traffic) is when you’re targeting a country outside the United States. A country-code TLD (like .co.uk, .fr, .com.au) has two main advantages:
- SEO – country-specific Google (e.g. Google.co.uk) will tend to give more weight to TLDs specific to that country
- customer trust – people in Australia (for example) will be more inclined to click a .com.au domain when it comes up in search results than a generic .com domain.
There are disadvantages, however. If you only own the country specific TLD, your odds of ranking in other countries drop. And if you have the .com also, to target the other countries, you will run into a duplicate content issue if both sites are in the same language. There are ways to deal with that, but you need to look into the matter and figure out what to do.
Keywords could be the key.
What this doesn’t mean: best-birmingham-alabama-lawyer-ever.com
What this does mean: if you can get your keyword in your domain without it looking cheesy, it could be a boost for your ranking in Google for that keyword. Having a domain name that exactly matches your keyword (birminghamlawyer.com for the search “birmingham lawyer”) correlates with higher rankings. Now whether this directly influences the search engines or only indirectly (e.g. any link which uses your domain name as the text is giving you natural anchor text with your keywords) is up for debate, but the bottom line is: it seems to help.
When you do appear in the search results, Google highlights words in your title and snippet – and URL – that match the keyword searched. So having any part of your keywords in your domain is also helpful in drawing the eye of searcher,
It’s a question whether having your keyword in one of the new TLDs (like .blackfriday or .cars) will make a difference for search engine ranking. Experienced search marketers say it won’t help too much, but it’s too early to actually analyze any data.
Steer clear of hyphens and numbers.
Was it i8acupcake.com? Or i-ate-a-cupcake.com? Or i-eight-a-cupcake.com? Or…
Remember to make it easy to remember. Numbers throw too much uncertainty into the mix. So do hyphens. And they have the additional downside of looking a bit spammy. Not to say there aren’t any hyphenated high-quality sites, but they’re in the minority.
15 Domain Name Suggestion Tools
Now that you have the principles, your brain might be overflowing with ideas for the perfect domain name. Or you might feel like you’ve hit a dead end. To help get the juices flowing, here are 15 tools for coming up with domain names,roughly grouped into categories. All tools tell you whether the domain name idea is available for registration, unless noted otherwise.
Tools like these tend to go in and out. When researching this article, I found many tools referenced that no longer exist. These 15 are current as of October 2015, so they should be good for at least the next few months.
Adding to Your Keywords
Enter a keyword or two and DomainsBot will give you lots of ideas by adding other words onto the beginning and end, using synonyms in place of one of your keywords, and generally fiddling around.
Put in one word and choose if you want verbs, adjectives or nouns appended to the beginning or to the end (and how many characters the added word should be). It gives you a list, and may inspire ideas you never would have thought of. For .com domains only.
Similar to Impossibility!, LeanDomainSearch adds random words to the beginning or end of your keyword. You can’t specify what type or length of word, however. Also only deals with .com domains.
From the creator of Impossibility!, this is a generator specifically for very short domains (5-10 characters for the entire domain, including the TLD). No .com extensions – just the domains above
Also adds words to the beginning or end of your keywords, and you can specify the type of word from a large range of categories (everything from “adjectives” to “common words ending in ing”). One big downside is that you can’t check domain availability right in the application. You need to copy and paste the list of domain ideas you like into a domain registration site like GoDaddy and check it that way.
Domain Hole will add different prefixes or suffixes to your starting keyword. The tool is supposed to tell you whether the domains they come up with are available or not, but it doesn’t appear to be working (according to them, basically every domain is taken – even crazy-sounding ones). Maybe they’ll fix it soon.
A pretty standard name checker, similar to the above. Put in the words and it gives you different options on what and how to add. One nice feature: the ability to limit length of the domain to a certain number of characters.
Merging Your Keywords
Put in two words. Panabee will give you lots of ideas combining those two into new words, and/or adding prefixes and suffixes.
Put in 2-3 words. Name Mesh will give you ideas corresponding to different categories (e.g. using all the words, meshing the words, adding prefixes and suffixes)
Put in a word or combination of words. Domainr will show you related domains that can get you as close as possible to that word combination. Domainr has less variety than many other of the name generation sites, but it may have a few ideas the other ones didn’t cover, especially when you play around with the TLD and use that as part of what you’re looking to convey.
Bust a Name combines any number of words you type in, with the TLDs you specify. Cool feature: it has an automatically updating domain checker. As you type a word in, it shows you letter by letter if that is available as a .com, .net and .org
Not Keyword Based
With Dot-o-mator you don’t have to enter the words to base your domain name checking on. Just choose from their pre-populated lists like “primary colors”, “types of bugs”, “words starting in V”. They’ll put the words together in permutations. It can open up your brain to concepts you may not have been thinking about.
A unique tool for unique domain names. Wordoid creates random words that aren’t real, but sound like they are. You can pick the language or combination of languages you want your wordoids to be based on, maximum length, and starting or ending word fragment (like if you really want your word to start with “red”). See if any of the words generated catch your fancy.
Crowdsource Domain Names
Namestation has a domain suggestion tool similar to the above add to keyword/merge keywords tools, but their big draw is their domain name contests. You can run a domain naming contest for free and get lots of ideas from the site users.
Picky Domains is kind of like a 99designs for domain names. If you’ve exhausted all the other options, and still haven’t found the domain name of your dreams, you might want to try this one. Hey, they say it’s risk free – why not?
Phewww! Choosing the ultimate domain name is hard work. But once you’ve found it, stop and smell the roses, sit back and relax, and enjoy the brief interlude of quiet… until you have to choose a web designer.
But that’s another guide.
* Yes, Google is getting MUCH better at identifying synonyms using Latent Semantic Indexing. So using synonyms for “rose” on your rose page would certainly help it rank. That said, if all you use is synonyms and you forget to mention “rose”, it will likely hold your page back. Names matter.