How to choose a good domain name
Choosing the right domain name for your blog from the outset will set you up for success; choosing the wrong domain could end up wasting years of your life! In this article I answer the following questions:
- What makes a great domain name?
- Which domain name registrar should you use?
- How to successfully brainstorm a name for your blog
- How to check the availability and register your domain name?
- Insider’s Tips & Tricks: Fast-tracking the entire process of brainstorming great domain names (that are 100% available)
Your domain name is pretty darn important. It’s the first impression many people will have of your blog, whether it be through its appearance in Search Engine results, in conversation, or within online communities such as forums or social media posts.
For this reason, your domain needs to be equal parts:
It may sound obvious to some, but I’m going to say it anyway. Your blog name and your domain name should be EXACTLY the same. What I mean by this, is if your blog is called ‘Digital SLR for Dummies’, then you should most certainly not rely on ‘DSLR4Dummies.com’ as your primary domain name, despite its similarities.
Why? Because if you tell one of your friends to check out the ‘Digital SLR for Dummies’ blog, that’s exactly what they are going to look for. They may see DSLR4dummies.com in Google search results and think it’s a dodgy rip-off or may not even notice it all because they are so focussed on the name you told them. Either way, they may never end up finding what you were looking for, because your domain name doesn’t fit the description you gave.
No acronyms, or extra words added or deleted just because it made it easier to find a domain name in a rush. If you want to take your blog seriously, you need to come up with a name for your blog that has a matching domain available to purchase.
TAKEOUT: Your blog name must be replicated letter-for-letter in your domain name. If this is not possible due to domain unavailability, move on to another name, or perhaps even another niche all together. It’s that important.
What makes a great domain name?
If I asked you to list the world’s most successful online companies, who would you include?
You’d probably start with Google. Most likely Facebook would also spring to mind. And of course, then there’s the retail behemoth Amazon.
Learning from the masters
The most successful online businesses all have one thing in common. They were founded on simple, intuitive domain names. Let’s take a look.
Google.com – The name originated from a misspelling of ‘googol’ which refers to the number represented by a 1 followed by one-hundred zeros. Larry Page revealed in one of his early papers about Google that “We chose our systems name, Google, because it is a common spelling of googol…and fits well with our goal of building very large-scale search engines”
Booking.com – In the year 2000, the decision was made to merge several companies (including booking.org) into a newly formed brand called booking.com. This act of business naming simplification turned out to be a very good idea; fast forward to the current day, and booking.com is synonymous with booking accommodation, and books 1.2M Room Nights every single day.
Amazon.com – Founded in 1994 as an online bookstore by Jeff Bezos, the origin of the Amazon domain name is one of my favourites from this list. Bezos first incorporated his now hugely successful company Amazon as ‘Cadabra’, of all things, on July 5 in 1994. He changed the name to Amazon.com a year later in 1995 after a lawyer misheard its original name as ‘cadaver’.
But that wasn’t the only potential blunder Bezos experienced when establishing his empire; in September 1994, Bezos purchased the URL relentless.com and considered naming his online store Relentless. Thankfully his close friends talked him out of it, commenting that the name sounded a bit sinister. In an act of ongoing attachment to this name, Bezos still owns this domain today, and funnily enough, it still redirects to Amazon.com right now.
Why did Bezos arrive at the name Amazon.com? After looking through the dictionary he settled on Amazon, because it was a place that was exotic and different just as he envisioned for his Internet enterprise; not to mention that the Amazon river, he noted was by far the biggest river in the world and he planned to make his store the biggest in the world.
Bezos was also once quoted as saying “Brand names are more important online than they are in the physical world.” Additionally, he established that a name beginning with “A” was preferential due to the probability it would occur at the top of any list that was alphabetized.
Bezos was, in my humble opinion, a very thoughtful and wise man.
Facebook.com – The story of Facebook’s evolution from the ground up is more well known than most, thanks to the Hollywood film The Social Network released in 2010. While this film covers the origins and challenges of the business itself as it evolved and grew, it doesn’t focus much on one particular aspect that I simply cannot ignore; the domain name! On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched “The Facebook”, located at thefacebook.com. Of course, fast forward to the hugely successful facebook.com of the current day, and there is one thing missing…. the word ‘the’! In fact, it was way back in 2005 that, the company dropped “the” from its name after purchasing the domain name facebook.com for US$200,000 (the domain facebook.com belonged to AboutFace Corporation before the purchase).
Alibaba.com – In 2006, Jack Ma had a vision to create a global marketplace originating from China. He came up with the name Alibaba and took it to the streets…actually…his local coffee shop, to see what it meant to others.
“And then a waitress came, and I said do you know about Alibaba? And she said yes,” Ma told CNN’s Talk Asia show in 2006. “I said what do you know about Alibaba, and she said, ‘Open Sesame.’ And I said yes, this is the name! Then I went onto the street and found 30 people and asked them, ‘Do you know Alibaba’? People from India, people from Germany, people from Tokyo and China… They all knew about Alibaba.”
“Alibaba — open sesame. Alibaba — 40 thieves,” Ma said. “Alibaba is not a thief. Alibaba is a kind, smart businessperson, and he helped the village. So…easy to spell, and global know. Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies. We also registered the name AliMama, in case someone wants to marry us!”
Cute story huh? Well these days Jack Ma’s bank balance is more than cute.
Domain Suffix (the gTLD)
Looking at the list of successful brands above it seems that simple, intuitive, brandable domain names are the basis of successful 21st century brands. Oh, and there’s one other thing – they all have .com domain suffixes (which are one of the most common forms of gTLDs, which stands for Generic Top Level Domains).
There are a multitude of gTLDs available, and the list of options continues to grow each month. In fact, there are over 1500 gTLDs available and growing, approximately 250 of which are country code gTLDs such as .com.au or .co.uk.
Besides .com, the most common gTLDs include:
Within certain communities and certain applications, some gTLDs tend to be more common and favoured than others. For example, in the ‘start-up scene’, gTLDs which are currently trending include:
Regardless of the fads and trends, 75% of all websites in existence have a .com domain. It’s a fact that simply cannot be ignored.
Why is this a big deal? Because if you choose any other gTLD besides a .com (which is a natural consideration when you find that the .com you desire is unavailable), you must remember that you are likely to lose up to 20% of your natural website traffic in the long run, simply because your potential visitors may either:
- Habitually type a .com gTLD into their web browser
- Trust a .com domain more in Search engine results pages
For example, if you registered bamboocutlerystore.net because bamboocutlerystore.com was already taken by a competitor, when a potential customer hears about you through their friend who had a positive experience with your online store, the potential customer may easily end up your competitors’ site without even knowing.
8 secrets of a great domain name
1.Must be a .com
2.Must be brandable (your domain name is how users will find, remember, share and identify your company online)
3.Easy to spell (no hyphens, no numbers, no commonly misspelled words) 4.Sounds authoritative.
5.Shorter domains are better (The top 100 sites in the world have 9 characters on average. One word is best; two words is ok)
6.Avoid short, uninspiring adjectives (e.g. topx, bestx)*
7.Create & fulfil expectations (when someone hears your domain name for the first time, they should be able to accurately guess what will be on that website)
8.Unique and distinctive (stands out from competitors)
Searchers are demonstrating a clear preference now for credibility and trustworthiness in a domain name now, over simple ranking on a search result page.
Which domain registrar should you use?
What is a domain registrar?
A domain registrar acts as an intermediary between the domain registry operator (the governing body of domains), and the domain name registrant (in other words, the person who is seeking to register the domain).
A domain name registrar acts as a manager of domain names and makes them available on the Internet in accordance with the guidelines of ICANN for standard domain suffixes such as .com (and in the case of country suffixes such as .com.au domains in Australia, there are also local bodies such as auDA).
There are hundreds of domain registrars vying for your attention on the web. Some domain registrars focus on specific countries (such as Crazydomains.com.au, which focuses on Australia); and some registrars are more general like Godaddy.com and Namecheap.com.
How much does a domain name cost?
This may come as a surprise to you, but no one actually ‘buys’ a domain name, just the rights to lease it. Using the metaphor of real estate in the physical world, the domain registrant (‘buyer’) can be likened to the tenant of a rental property, the domain registrar the property caretaker. The domain owner is actually the domain registry, which is a governing body such as ICANN or auDA.
Prices for domains vary significantly based on the type of domain, and the registrar. You can purchase .com domains for as little as $0.99, up to $15.99 per year, for what is essentially the same product (but be careful, as some registrars lure you in the first year with cheap prices, only to end up costing you more in subsequent years). It can also be a real pain to transfer your domain from one registrar to another if you change your mind later, so it’s important that you read on to find out how to save yourself a few bucks in the long run.
Domain rules and regulations
It’s worth highlighting that there are rules and regulations governing the registration of specific domains. These include:
- Country-specific rules
With regards to trademarks, it is important for you to be aware that registering a domain that coincides with someone’s trademark may cause you problems down the line. Technically you can register any domain a registrar allows you to register, however if you choose to use a trademarked domain name the owner of the trademark is well within their right to contest your ownership and potentially take the domain from you. While this rarely happens, it’s best to do your research on registered trademarks before committing to a domain, particularly in the country of the domain’s origin.
As for country-specific rules, every country is different. For example, Australia has an excellent domain name policy on the registration of .com.au domains. Applicants for domains with this suffix must hold a registered Australian Business Number (ABN). This creates a level of trust between Australian internet users and Australian websites and infers much higher integrity in comparison to generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .net and .org.
The key takeout regarding domain registration regulations, is to do your research and make sure you are eligible to register and exist under the domain you purchase before committing to it. It would be a shame to setup your blog and commit to months, even years of work, only to find that your domain name is in breach of the law, and must be forgone, leaving you to start again from scratch!
Registrar reputation is important
While the domain registration industry is a saturated market selling an undifferentiated commodity, the reputation of the registrar you choose is important. Choosing a dodgy domain registrar could cost you time, money and maybe even your business.
My rule of thumb with registrars is that if I haven’t heard of them before, avoid them like the plague. There’s been several cases in recent years of shiny new domain registrars popping up on the internet, only to close a few months later. This leaves their customers at risk of losing access to their domains, or worse still, losing their domains all together.
The much more common problem however, with the less reputable domain registrars, is their abominable customer service. Given that the profit margins in selling domains are somewhat limited, it’s difficult for the new domain registrars to afford to provide you with the support that the big guys offer, which leaves these companies in a downward spiral of poor customer service and potentially pushing them out of business. You get the drift…choose a reputable domain registrar, the couple of extra bucks per year you will pay is worth it.
Who are the most reputable domain registrars?
While it only takes a couple of minutes to register your own domain name, not all domain registrars are built the same. Before purchasing anything, it’s important to check if they have the key features such as;
- 24/7 technical support
- Live chat facility
- Pricing and renewal rates
I have created a list of the leading domain registrars that I believe are the most competitive and reputable in the market. This list is based on my personal experience with each of these registrars, complemented by hours of additional online research online to incorporate the experience of others.
I conducted a detailed comparison of each domain name registrar, rating each according to various criteria including upfront price, renewal price, tech support, ability to set custom nameservers and domain privacy.
Let me explain quickly what each of these aspects means, and why they are important to you.
- Upfront price – some domain registrars have knack of luring you in with super cheap ‘1st year’ fees, only to bump up the price significantly in subsequent years. Since you will be in this for the long-haul, you should plan for a suitable domain registrar accordingly.
- Renewal price – this is the price you will pay to renew your domain ownership after the first year of service. With most registrars you will have the option to renew for 1,2, 3 or 5 years and the old adage of ‘the more you buy, the more you save’ will almost always apply. To allow for an apples-for-apples comparison, in this article I have compared only the ‘1 year’ for each registrar.
- Tech support – all registrars have some form of tech support available, however some are much more accessible than others. Those who have localised telephone numbers and 24/7 support available are the most favourable, as support is almost always required when you least expect it.
- Ability to set custom nameservers – most registrars will allow this, but not all. If you venture out and decide to consider registrars which I have not included in my comparison list below, be sure to check that the nameservers (also known as the DNS) are updateable as part of the package. Without the ability to set custom nameservers, you will not be able to point your new domain at the right location (i.e. your website hosting provider) and get your website live.
- Domain privacy – this feature allows you to hide details about the ownership of your domain from the public. By default (i.e. without domain privacy set up) it is possible to find out who owns any domain by conducting a simple ‘whois’ search. Why is this is an issue? Well for some people it’s not, but for others, who are concerned that their identity may be discoverable (maybe due to conflicting employment commitments), or those who simply wish to remain anonymous to avoid email spam or the public eye, it is crucial to keep the details behind their domain ownership confidential. Not always essential, but certainly worth considering.
Best Domain Registrar
When looking to register your website domain there are many outlets to choose from. For the most part, these domain registrars offer comparable pricing, service, functionality and privacy. But there can only be one clear winner, and my firm recommendation for the best domain registrar on the market is…
Why? Well, there’s a couple of reasons.
- Firstly, GoDaddy has a great promo that is running for new users. That is, just a measly 99c to register your first domain for 12 months. When you are just starting out, every dollar counts, so this is a great incentive to consider GoDaddy.
- While GoDaddy’s renewal pricing for 1 year is between $0.00 – $1.50 higher than some of the other domain registrar options, their Customer Service offering is unparalleled. The miniscule difference in pricing is made up for by 24/7 support with local phone numbers for most countries. This isn’t common, with only one other reputable registrar that I know of offering the same customer service offering (CrazyDomains, who I also use occasionally for .com.au domains, however their introductory pricing is considerably higher than GoDaddy’s).
Sure, there’s a few other aspects to weigh up. For example, you could probably save a few bucks in the long run by choosing a longer renewal term (e.g. 3 years) with some registrars versus others, but honestly, I’m literally talking just a few bucks.
I don’t always recommend following the crowd, but when it comes to domain registrars, go with GoDaddy. Considering that without a URL, your website is nothing, a couple of bucks is a small price to pay for peace of mind, and I can’t recommend GoDaddy enough versus its nearest competitors.
3.4 How to brainstorm a name for your blog
Your domain name is the difference between a click, or not. As dramatic as it sounds, your domain name may well be the cause of your blog failing or succeeding. First impressions last, and your domain is the zero moment of truth for many who see it listed among thousands of other websites within search engines results pages.
The secret to a good domain name, is taking the time to brainstorm. And when it comes to brainstorming, you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love brainstorming, especially when it comes to domain names. For me, it allows me to release my passions for branding, language and analytics into one seemingly simple website URL. If you don’t share quite the same passion as I for domaining, then fear not, I’ve devised a foolproof guide to coming up with the perfect name for your blog.
Prerequisite! You must complete Section 1 of It Pays To Blog‘s guide before continuing with this section, because quite frankly, this section will not make a whole lot of sense otherwise.
Survey the Competition
Look at your competitors’ blog names by doing a Google search within your niche. Researching the blogs you’ll be competing against is likely to trigger ideas for names that may work for your own blog. Of course, don’t try to create a carbon copy as you’ll always need your own unique spin to succeed, but this technique is often a good start to get the creative juices flowing.
The Thesaurus is Your Best Friend
You’ve already listed the general topics and themes for your blog in the previous section. Now let technology do the creative word smithery for you. Simply type your “theme” + “synonyms” into Google to discover some unique and catchy alternatives.
For example, let’s say you have a niche that focuses on ‘driving’. Searching for ‘driving synonyms’ in Google yields some results I would never have thought of in a million years! Pilot, steer, ferry, chauffeur, transport…. the list goes on. Try it for yourself.
Brainstorm Domain Name Combinations & Variations
In the last section you discovered and recorded a variety of interesting words that were closely related to your niche, deemed your ‘Master Keywords’. Now it’s time to add some Flair, by brainstorming a range of basic, yet interesting words that can be added to the start or end of your Master Keyword (i.e. your chosen niche topic), in order to create a unique .com domain name.
Using this technique will allow you to uncover a unique and brandable domain name. For example, sticking with the niche ‘driving’ from our previous section, we discovered the alternative keywords:
Let’s assume that our niche if focused on advanced driving techniques. We could consider adding the Flair Keyword ‘pro’ before the Master keyword and each synonym, to become:
Or even adding some Flair to the end, such as the keyword ‘boss’:
I recommend using a spreadsheet tool such as Microsoft Excel, or the free online tool Google Sheets, to list each of your Master Keywords and each of your Flair Keywords. With some copying and pasting you can then start to generate all the variations and combinations of your Master Keyword and your Flair prefix or suffix.
Things to Consider When Creating Domain Name Variations
A few pointers to keep in mind when brainstorming Master & Flair keywords for your blog.
- Never include another brand name or Trademark that you don’t own in your domain name – the owner of the brand could have your site taken down and that won’t be pretty.
- Think of your domain name as an essential component of your marketing strategy. Your domain should be ‘sticky’ – it should be able to stick in people’s heads and be memorable. Keep it short and punchy; people don’t remember long names.
- Don’t stuff your domain name with keywords. Once upon a time this worked well for search engine optimisation (SEO) but moulding your website name specifically to a search term is not as effective anymore for getting search engine traffic. The general rule of thumb is User first, search engine second.
Check if your Domain Name is Available
Here’s my secret for finding good domain names. Only after I have a brainstormed a bunch of ideas do I start checking if they are available. Don’t check each individual name immediately after you’ve come up with it – checking each time will ruin the momentum of your brainstorming process!
So firstly, make sure you follow the technique I mentioned in the previous section and follow the ‘Master + Flair’ (or ‘Flair + Master’) domain name generation formula, using a spreadsheet to discover and shortlist your favourite domains. Once (and only once!) you have completed this step, then go to GoDaddy.com and check if the domain name you want is available (and remember, what you want, is the .com).
What to do if the name is not available?
- Simply mark the name as unavailable in your spreadsheet or list and move on to the next best option.
o If the name is short and you really have your heart set on it, see if you can add on another word. For example, the word ‘Guide’ could be added to the end of a domain, to create something like ‘Pro Driving Guide’
If you are having no luck at all, go back and come up with more ideas for your Master + Flair keywords.
Sense check your domain before committing
Once your domain name shortlist is agreed:
- Run a survey (10 people as a minimum)
- Just provide your domain name (nothing else) and ask users to guess the purpose of the company
- The responses you receive should provide valuable insight into any implicit meanings the domain may connote
Things to Remember When Choosing a Domain Name for Your Blog
- The shorter the name, the better. Keeping your domain name as short as possible will help your name to be catchy and memorable. Mashable.com is short and punchy (however names like these are becoming hard to come by). While EntrepreneursJourney.com is an example of a longer name, it is still relatively simple and memorable. Use your discretion to balance length with simplicity and intuitiveness.
- If you find that you continually must spell out your blog name to other people, then…… come up with a new name! Avoid words that have multiple spellings, are difficult to spell, or having numerals in your URL (‘….is that a number 4, or spelt f-o-u-r?’)
- Try and come up with a name that is brandable. Don’t stuff your blog name with keywords just because it sounds like a good idea for SEO. Google can see straight through that (and is smart enough to work out what your blog is about through semantics anyway)!!! Avoid generic names, and instead aim for a name that has a story or hook within it. Consider a name like ‘Cooking for Change’ instead of something bland and devoid of personality such as ‘VeganChef.com’. An alternative spin on this, is to adopt a name which strikes a chord with your target market, by incorporating a relevant topic, challenge or goal. For example, a name such as ‘Commuters Podcast Hitlist’ is much more likely to suit time-poor commuters looking for a shortcut to discover some great new audio content, as opposed to the more cumbersome and drier alternative, ‘The Audiobook Reviewer’. Think of the title of your blog like the cover of a book in a bookstore – the title of the book goes a long way in determining whether your target market will pick that book up for closer consideration.
- Choose a name that you love and are proud of. Don’t stop coming up with ideas until you find one that feels just right.
- It is best to use a .com for your blog. It looks professional, it is brandable, and it is a global domain. It does take a bit of patience and can be disappointing to find out that the name is already taken, but it’s vital that you remain persistent.
Fast-Track: Using a Domain Name Generator
If you have read this entire section I’m sure you’ll agree that, while satisfying, finding the perfect domain name can often be an arduous and time-consuming process. I can appreciate that most people don’t have time to burn, particularly when creating an online business in the limited spare time you have available. A couple of years ago, I found myself spending far too long researching domain names, so I created this handy online tool for myself to speed up the process. I now use it at least once a week. Hopefully you can also benefit from it too! All you need to do is enter your theme or keyword, and within seconds the domain name generator will create a list of 100% available domains for your consideration. Happy days!
Check out this list of free Domain Name Generators >>