Many business owners mistakenly think of a domain name as just an address for their website. But as Rand Fishkin over at Moz recently explained, it’s so much more than that.
Consequently, there are a number of factors you should seriously consider when brainstorming domain name ideas. Below, we give you a quick rundown of 8 tips for selecting a great domain name. You’ll be able to nail one that’s smart and effective by sticking to these simple guidelines.
1. Be brandable
Your domain name is the face of your company—in the form of a URL. Therefore, you should make sure it actually sounds like a brand.
So, how do you do that? With simplicity, novelty, and memorability. Avoid inserting hyphens, numbers, or anything else that makes it sound unnatural and complicated. A great example is Pepsi.com. That domain name is leagues beyond inferior options like “Pepsi-cola.com” or “Pepsi-2-drink.com”.
2. Make it pronounceable
This tip is closely related to our first bit of advice. Even though users aren’t likely to be saying your domain name out loud, pronounceability is still important. This is because of something called processing fluency: the ease with which our brains can process information. Names that don’t require a person to think too hard are usually the easiest to remember, and also more likely to inspire positive associations.
“If you have to spell it over the phone, you’ve lost.” says Jason Calacanis, the serial entrepreneur and angel investor behind tech giants like Uber, the Launch Festival, and This Week in Startups.
When people routinely misspell your domain name because it’s too hard to figure out, all of that potential traffic is lost. Most people will give up searching for your brand’s site quickly; they don’t have the time or desire to try multiple Google searches of possible spellings.
The lesson here is simple: make it easy for your customers to find you!
3. Keep it short, but not too short
Shortness can help keep a domain name simple and memorable, but going too short can have the opposite effect. Compare “PastaScience.com” to “PastaSci.com”. Thanks to the abbreviation, the latter is harder to both pronounce and remember, despite it having fewer characters. The first version works fine.
The key here is to strike a balance. Go for something brief, but don’t mangle your name by hacking off whole parts of words.
In the pursuit of brevity, many consider using an acronym for their domain name. But that’s usually only wise if your brand or product is regularly referred to by the initials. For example, the World Wildlife Fund’s website can be found at WWF.org. That’s perfect for them, since their charity is widely known and referred to as simply “WWF”.
4. Go after .com
When it comes to extensions, being unique isn’t always better. While new extensions like “.me” or “.pro” may feel hip and eye-catching, “.com” is still the easiest to remember and most often used. In fact, ¾ of all websites use a “.com” extension.
If you can’t get the “.com”, go with other well-known extensions like “.co” or “.net” or “.org”. Then plan on acquiring the .com in the future. Of course, you’ll need to check who owns the .com first. If a big brand already owns your preferred .com, you won’t be able to afford to buy it from them down the road. Unless you make mega bucks.
But what about those country-specific extensions, such as “.nl” for the Netherlands, or “.de” for Germany? These are perfectly fine if you’re not planning to do business outside the country you select. For instance, the .ca extension is great for a Canadian company operating solely in Canada.
5. Avoid trademark infringement & confusion
The ideal domain name is distinctive. It shouldn’t be easily confused with the name of another site or brand. After all, you don’t want any lawsuits on your hands. If your domain name infringes on a trademark, you could be sued and forced to give up the domain. Before you register your domain name, you can check to see if it violates any US trademarks here.
On a related note: if people can confuse your name with another brand, so can search engines. Picking a name that’s too similar to another business can lead to your name’s search engine results being littered with irrelevant links.
6. Make it instantly intuitive
The ideal domain name should give users a good idea of what your business is all about. For instance, Rand Fishkin uses “PastaPerfected.com” as an example of an intuitive domain name for a site all about pasta. Right off the bat, a potential customer can make a good guess as to what they’ll find at that site (perfect pasta!). Your domain name should have the same effect.
Additionally, instant intuitiveness gives bonus points for memorability. When people can grasp your site’s concept just from the domain name, you can bet that it’s going to stick in their minds.
7. Use keywords sensibly
It’s true that having some keywords in your domain name can help. However, you shouldn’t bend over backwards to include exact match phrases. Doing so can actually hurt your brand.
Google caught on to this spammy tactic, so an exact match keyword domain isn’t much of a ranking factor anymore. Besides, many users have developed the impression that such sites are spammy and low-quality. Which men’s athletic shoe domain do you think sounds more professional and trustworthy: SportsDirect.com, or BuyMensSportShoes.com?
Our advice: avoid using generic keywords and phrases exclusively. Not only are they hard to remember, but domain names based solely on generic keyword strings don’t carry the same SEO benefit they used to.
8. Append or modify if necessary
Tried all the tips above, but ended up with a domain name that’s unavailable? If you have your heart set on a domain name, you can append or modify it a little to make it unique for registration.
You can add a prefix or suffix, as was done in Rand’s examples of “ThePastaTerra.com” or “PastaTerraShop.com”. You also have a little wiggle room on tip #4: go ahead and use a different extension, so long as it doesn’t conflict with the other tips and works for your brand and audience. This might look something like “Terra.Pasta”.