The hardest part of getting a domain name for your website is finding a good one that is available and unique. Here are the when, what, and how of getting a domain name.
When To Choose a Domain Name
The best time to choose a domain name is when you are choosing a name in the first place. That way if you can’t find a domain name that matches the name you want for your business or product—whatever the website is for—you can pick a different one. If you have already settled on a name it may be hard to find a matching domain name. You’ll have to be flexible.
Here is what I do when naming things—or helping someone do it.
I start by writing down all my ideas for the name, plus any words that describe the thing I’m naming, how I want people to feel about it, or any other words I associate with it. I also talk about it with other people in order to get more perspectives. I’m just trying to spark ideas, so I keep at it until something starts to feel right. Then I check to see if the name is available.
Sometimes it takes a few minutes, and sometimes it takes weeks, but eventually something starts to feel right and we go with it.
What Makes a Good Domain Name
A good domain name should reflect the business or product, but it should also be short, easy to pronounce and spell, and a .com if at all possible.
Make it Short
Nobody wants to type areallylongdomainname.com to get to your website or send you an email. I think 10 characters is about as long as you want for a domain name. This is an arbitrary limit, but shorter is definitely better.
Of course, most short, pronounceable, easy-to-spell domain names are taken. That’s why so many startups have missing vowels (Flickr, Toggl), extra consonants (Dribbble, Fiverr), strange spellings (Lyft, Houzz), prefixes or suffixes (joinhoney, bufferapp), or other “clever” tricks. You can try some of those tricks, too, or if you can’t come up with a short domain name you can consider a longer one. In either case, make sure it is easy to pronounce and spell.
Make Sure It Is Easy to Pronounce & Spell
There will be times when you need to tell someone your domain name in person or on a call. It is much easier to communicate with real words, spelled normally, without punctuation.
Say possible domain names out loud. Ask people to spell the domain name after you say it to them and pay attention to their mistakes. This will help you identify anything that will make the domain name hard to say or spell, like homonyms or unusual spellings. Related, look for ways the domain name could be misinterpreted. (Search for “worst domain names” if you want a chuckle.)
Get the .com if Possible
A domain name is a combination a top-level domain (TLD) and a second-level domain (2LD). In this website’s domain name, samglover.net, the TLD is .net and the 2LD is samglover.
There are over 1,500 TLDs, according to Wikipedia, but .com is still the default option. The best reason to look for a different TLD is if someone is “squatting” on the .com. In that case, feel free to pick a different TLD if you don’t want to pay the squatter’s price.
Some TLDs do make for compelling alternatives. After all, the .com does not add meaning to your name, but .catering or .attorney might. Ideally you would still get the .com and forward it to your alternative TLD in order to catch anyone who unconsciously translates samglover.design to samgloverdesign.com when they go to visit your website.
How to Check Domain Name Availability & Uniqueness
First, you will need to find out if a domain name is available. Second, you will need to find out if it is unique. If a domain name is both available and unique, get it!
Find Out if a Domain Name is Available
Finding out if a domain name is available is straightforward: just check a domain registrar’s website to find out if it is already registered. I use Hover. Other options include NameCheap, Google Domains, GoDaddy, etc. You can also use the registration lookup tool on ICANN‘s website.
If the domain name you want is available, don’t buy it until you check to make sure it is unique.
Find Out if a Domain Name is Unique
When considering whether a domain name is unique, it’s not the specific domain name that matters. You’re really considering whether the 2LD—the part to the left of the dot—is unique. A domain name is not unique if:
- Someone already has an established presence on the 2LD. (Will it be confusing?)
- Someone has a well-established search presence for the 2LD. (Will it cost a lot to get noticed?)
- Someone has a trademark on all or part of the 2LD. (Will it be confusing, costly, and illegal?)
Let’s say your name is Alice Google and you just opened a physiotherapy practice, so you want to grab google.physio. You check Hover and it is available!
But before you buy it, you google the 2LD (google) to find out whether it is unique. Wouldn’t you know it—you get an awful lot of search results. This Google company has a pretty established presence on google.com, too. It seems like it would be pretty hard (and expensive) to get your website to show up in searches for your last name. Turns out “google” is trademarked, too.
You decide you are probably better off finding a different domain name. Smart.
It won’t always be so obvious or clear-cut. Maybe the business using the .com is smaller and does something totally different than you do, there’s no trademark in play, and you decide the SEO cost is manageable. Whatever the case, consider the potential for confusion and cost, then make up your mind.
How to Buy a Domain Name
When you have settled on a domain name, all you have to do is buy it. I prefer to keep domain registration separate from web hosting, so I register domains at Hover and then forward the nameservers to my web host, SiteGround. But most web hosts will also let you register domains, too. This is convenient, but a bit less flexible.
That’s not it, of course. If you want a website to appear when someone visits your domain name you still have to build it. Let me know if you need help!