Are you wondering how to choose a domain name?
I’ve found the process both joyful and frustrating!
As someone who has purchased around 100 domains over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching, chasing and thinking about them (and yes, they’ve given me nightmares too!).
At the start of a new project, choosing the best and most appropriate domain is all-consuming. You want to get it right. You don’t want to change it further down the line after realising you made the wrong choice, for whatever reason.
In my previous life as head of a 15-strong SEO team, we’d buy keyword rich domain names for our clients’ mini-sites as they helped with search rankings.
You might remember seeing sites like locksmithlondon.co.uk or pianolessonsnewyork.com as you searched for service providers in your area.
Nowadays, these (exact match) domains are not quite so useful, but they still exist around the web. And they do a good job of letting you know EXACTLY what a site is about.
What is a domain name?
You probably know this already, but as this is a beginner’s guide to choosing a domain name, I’m saying it anyway – A domain name denotes where your website or blog lives on the internet.
It makes it easy for people to find you. All they have to do is type in your web address and they’re on your site.
Ideally, domain names are easy to remember and often reflect the nature of the business or the topic of the website/blog.
Sometimes people opt for the branded approach and choose a domain that’s a little more random or offbeat, but still memorable.
Chances are, the domain name you really want isn’t available to buy at the price you want to pay. It’s probably in use on another site, or owned by a domainer (someone who buys and sells domains for profit), who wants silly money for it.
However, despite the gloomy outlook, with some sharp and creative thinking, it is possible to come up with a domain worthy of your business or project.
Here’s a few tips to help you choose the ideal domain name…
How to choose a domain name?
First, let’s look at a typical domain name and the options available to you:
(The ‘tld‘ part in the following list refers to ‘top-level domain‘. The most popular extensions are .com, .net and .org.)
- Niche keywords – keepingfit.tld
- Keyword rich (for SEO) – businesscity.tld (joinermanchester, plumbersandiego, solicitorsysdney – this type of domain also works the other way around: sysdneysolicitor, sandiegoplumber, manchesterjoiner)
- Your real name – joebloggs.tld
- What the blog/site is about – mountainbikingblog.tld
- A made up word – chumittzel.tld
- Words/letters and numbers – 123abc.tld
- Numbers – 54321.tld
Country specific domain name extensions
One important factor to consider when researching domain names is your target audience.
I live in the UK so I will use that as my example.
If I were to set up a blog or website and wanted to reach a UK audience, the domain at the top of my list would end .co.uk, and not .com. I would probably buy .com if it was available, but I wouldn’t worry too much if it wasn’t.
The reason for this is search engines and branding.
Google, other search engines and people, know a website with a .co.uk extension is primarily for people living in the UK, even if the content is relevant to people living in other parts of the world. Using the .co.uk extension helps Google and people recognise this.
Country specific domain extensions. Click here for the full list.
Will a country specific extension stop your site showing in global search results? No, not if your content is relevant to the searcher and the page considered good enough.
Will your .co.uk site automatically show in searches on Google.co.uk? That depends on the search phrase used, the searcher’s location (identified by their IP address) and the quality of your site/page.
For example, a search for ‘wordpress tutorials’ on Google UK shows global pages (mostly .com), unless I change the filter to show UK pages only.
Change the phrase to ‘web design services’, and Google shows UK pages because the phrase shows buying intent.
Change the phrase slightly, to ‘web design tutorials‘, and Google is once again showing global results (because I’m looking for information).
With all of that said, you can use a .com or a .net extension to target a UK audience.
The best ways to do it is to:
- Use relevant language (UK spellings and terminology)
- Host the site on a UK-based server
- Use geographical terms on your site (mention places local to you, if relevant)
- Verify your business on Google Plus and include your business address on your site
- Specify your target audience in Google Webmaster Tools
All of these factors help Google find your target market.
New top-level domain extensions
Recently, a whole new choice of top-level domain extensions became available. They’re not as cheap as .com or .co.uk though.
This list is not definitive, but it gives you an idea of the available options.
Choosing a domain name
In an ideal world choosing a domain name should be a lot of fun. In the real world, it’s a pain in the rear, and the reason at the top of the list is availability, or lack of…
The chances of the domain name at the top of your list being available are pretty slim. Trust me. I have bought a few domains over the years and I’ve often had to settle for a domain that wasn’t quite what I wanted. When this happens I usually think of words that add further meaning without compromising the rest of the domain – blog, guide, book, online.
A domain name with a .com extension is what most people looking for global-reach search for first.
If the .com option is unavailable, the next best option is .net. This extension doesn’t have the same kudos as .com, but .net and other gTLDs are no less effective when it comes to search rankings.
If you can’t get an exact match, try adding further words to the start or the end. I’ve already given you some suggestions, here’s a few more:
Check out this page for a much more comprehensive list.
Here’s a sample of what you’ll find.
Strange, made up or misspelled domain names
No doubt you will have noticed the internet is full of websites that have strange, made up or misspelled domain names – Google and Digg spring to mind without thinking too hard.
And although the meaning isn’t immediately clear, once you know what the sites are about, the meanings behind the domain names becomes very obvious.
Let’s look at Google. It comes from the word ‘googol’, which was originally coined in 1938 by Milton Sirotta and means ‘the number 1 followed by 100 zeros‘.
Digg has two meanings for me. The first is to dig something as in like, and the second is to dig something as in find through the act of digging. Digg is probably the perfect name for a site like Digg.
Here’s a few more for you:
If you want your site to stand out from the crowd, making up a word is a good place to start.
Creative companies are particularly fond of this type of domain name and they work very well for sites with global aspirations.
If you’re a local Bob the builder or Joe the plumber, you might prefer to think about something much more practical describing what you do and where you do it.
Do you really need keywords in your domain name?
In September 2012, Google updated its algorithm to target low-quality but high-ranking websites that relied far too heavily on what’s known as an ‘exact match domain‘ – think weightlosstips.tld, buy-cheap-domain-names.tld and makemoneyfast.tld – to boost rankings and bring in traffic.
Google’s results pages were littered with thin sites offering little or no value to visitors. The sites, typically loaded with AdSense or affiliate ads, generated cash for site owners but left searchers unsatisfied.
The EMD update wiped out a lot of the dross and deterred people from buying and using exact match domains.
However, there’s nothing wrong with using an exact match domain, as long as the site has ‘quality content’ (read: is useful and satisfies the searcher).
Looking at it from a user’s perspective, the domain name ‘treesurgeonliverpool.tld’ makes more sense than ‘mkdservices.tld’, and you will be more tempted to click on the keyword rich domain over the branded domain.
So, don’t discount an exact match domain if you can deliver on user expectations.
Despite all the Google updates it still seems keywords in a domain name can improve search engine rankings. They won’t work on their own, pages still need optimising and Google must trust the site/page for it to rank, but overall, using a keyword rich domain is not harmful as long as the site is useful.
As most of the best domain names have already been snapped up, the next best alternative could be the hyphenated alternative (blue-widgets.com).
Whilst these domain names can serve a purpose with search engines, the long, hyphenated name can also look unpleasant and suggest a lack of quality.
They are often used on websites created to rank well in search engines for the words within the domain name (see the exact match domain paragraph above).
For example www.pick-a-trade-and-location.com (www.cheap-locksmith-new-york.com).
You have to decide whether you like the idea of hyphens in your domain name. Personally, I don’t. I would rather have a .net domain than a hyphenated .com.
But it has done digital-photography-school.com any harm.
Numbers in domain names
Some people have issues with numbers in domain names. Again, personally, I’m not very keen on them, but I do understand why people use them.
As it becomes harder to buy good quality domain names, the likelihood of domains including numbers becoming popular, increases.
Choose a domain name that is easy to remember
Try to choose a domain name that is easy to remember. The reasons for this are obvious.
Not everyone will find your website through a link and you will have to tell people you meet in the offline world what your domain name is.
If you want those people to visit your website, they will have to remember the domain.
Avoid trademarks in your domain name
If you don’t want to have dealings with company lawyers, you should check if your potential domain name will infringe any registered trademarks.
Some companies are heavy-handed when it comes to using trademarks in domain names. I suggest you steer well clear from doing so whenever possible.
A company happy to have their trademarks used in a domain today may not have the same outlook in a couple of years.
If I haven’t convinced you about this, try performing a search for something like “domain name trademark infringement” to see what others have to say.
The choice is yours
Now that I have given you advice on how to choose a domain name, I hope you manage to find the name you want.
A couple of related topics that I have not discussed here are buying expired domains and buying a domain from a speculator. These are viable options, but cost could be prohibitive.
The next step is to do some availability research, then buy the domain.
Is it available?
This is the search box at UKReg:
The easiest way to use this tool is to enter the domain that interests you, and not keywords (you don’t need the domain extension at this stage). After a few seconds, the system returns the results and shows you a list of domains, identifying each as ‘registered’ or ‘available’.
Here’s the results for this domain:
If you want to go ahead and buy one of the available domains, click on the tick-box on the right and follow the steps.
If you don’t want to use UKReg to register the domain, you can use one of the many alternatives (more on this process in another post).
Lean Domain Search is the site I use when looking for domain ideas. All you do is enter one or two words, then review the suggestions LDS throws back.
You can change the order of the results based upon popularity, length and alphabetical order, you can also switch it so the domain suggestions start or finish with the keyword you entered.
The only downside to this tool is that it only suggests .com domains. Even so, it’s still a great way to find inspiration when your ideas hit a brick wall.
Now, it’s over to you. It’s time to start looking around for ideas and researching availability.
I hope you have found this post useful, and if you have any suggestions you’d like to share, please leave a comment.