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How to Choose a Domain Name: Top 10 Expert Tips

Richard Sutherland Author image
How to Choose a Domain Name for Your New Website
Your domain name is your website’s address. It’s the name people type into their web browser to reach your website, so having the right domain name is a crucial factor in your online success.

The perfect domain name defines your brand, lends your website credibility, and increases the number of people who visit and return to your site.

Most website builders allow you to pick a domain when you first create your site, with some going as far as including the cost of a domain name as part of their hosting plans. You can also buy a domain name for your website from a separate domain registrar.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to choose a domain name that’s easy for your visitors to use and helps your website appear higher on search engine rankings.

1. Use a Domain Name Generator

As there are over 341.7 million registered domain names, you’re unlikely to get your first choice. To speed up the process of finding a good domain name that’s also available, you can use a domain name generator. 

GoDaddy, for example, helps you find relevant, available domains from keywords you enter. Other domain name tools can be used to find domain names with specific prefixes or suffixes. At the very least, domain name generators can spark ideas for your branding.

2. Choose a Common Top-Level Domain Extension

Every domain name has a top-level domain extension (e.g., .com, .net, .space). There are now over 1589 top level domains in the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) database, including country code top-level domains (e.g. .uk, .gr, .kr), and generic top-level domains (e.g. .actor, .engineering, .help).

In most cases, using .com is the best choice if your chosen domain name is available. It’s the default option in most people’s minds, so it’s one less thing they must remember when they want to visit your website. If the .com isn’t available, .org and .net are the best substitutes, as they are the most established alternatives. Or, if your company will only ever operate in one country, using a county code top-level domain can help your website appear higher in local search engine results.

3. Build a Brand

It’s tempting to choose a domain name that just reflects what you sell, but generic URLs often blend in with each other. Flowers123.com, flowersdelivery.net, getflowers.net—all these examples certainly tell us what they sell, but they’re instantly forgettable in customers’ minds. Alternatives like bloomers.com or spiffingbuds.com may not be perfect, but they’re harder to forget.

Whenever possible, make your brand stand out from the crowd by incorporating your unique value proposition into your domain name. Whether you’re positioning yourself as the cheaper, higher-quality, faster, or more innovative alternative to the competition, weaving this into your branding makes it easier for potential customers to recognize immediately why they might want to choose your company over the rest.

4. Think Long-Term

Whether you’re just starting a blog to discuss your hobby or planning to sell a specific product online, it’s smart to leave the door open to potential expansion in the future. For example, if you name your website MarjorysMugs.com, but later want to sell anything besides mugs, things will be more difficult. Your website name will feel incongruent to visitors.

This, again, is why a branded website is often preferable. Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon—all these brands had the luxury of expanding outside their original niche because they chose a domain name that didn’t tie them to a specific function.

5. Be Wary of Existing Trademarks

Before you go further with a domain name purchase, check that you’ll be able to register similarly-titled accounts on social media. If there are existing accounts, you not only have a potential competitor, but you might be encroaching on a previously registered trademark.

In the U.S., you can search the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s database to find existing trademarks. A current trademark that’s very close to your preferred domain name can be problematic and could lead to legal action in the future, particularly if you sell similar products or services.

6. Make it Memorable

No matter your industry, you’ll be competing with hundreds or thousands of similar companies. You need customers to be able to recall your domain name in the future, so choosing something that stands out is a no-brainer.

There are thousands of web hosting companies, for instance, but it’s providers like Hostgator, GoDaddy, and GreenGeeks that have risen to be some of the most popular. While this certainly isn’t just because of their domain names, their bold name choices stuck in customers’ heads and helped build brand recognition.

7. The Shorter the Better

Shorter domain names are easier to read, remember, and recall. A short domain name can be typed more quickly and is prone to fewer mistakes. A short domain name also fits snugly on a business card and can be easily used in marketing material.

Shorter domain names simply do better in search engine rankings. In research performed in 2009, the average domain name length for the top 100 most popular websites was 6.2 letters, compared to the 10.1-letter average of the top 1,000,000 websites. 

Google personnel have stated that domain name length is not a factor in choosing which websites appear at the top of search engine rankings. So, shorter domains appearing higher on average in rankings can be put down to increased memorability alongside bigger marketing budgets. 

The length of a domain name is not as important as how easy it is to remember and relay to others, though. Gxq-4.com may be much shorter than, say, purplefishes.com, but it’s also too abstract, making it harder for the human mind to remember.

8. No Hyphens or Numbers

The use of hyphens and numbers in a domain name should be avoided whenever possible. A website named Nine-To-Five Temping could have a domain name that’s typed multiple different ways (e.g., ninetofive.com, 9to5.com, 925.com), so visitors already need to remember whether they must type out the number or use the numeral. 

If your domain name includes a hyphen, many of your visitors will simply forget this when they want to return to your site. They’ll type trainingshoes.com instead of training-shoes.com, which will either lead them to one of your competitors or simply show them an error page.

9. Check It's Easy to Type

When seeking the perfect domain name, you might use a thesaurus or domain name generation tool to come up with clever suggestions. But you must also be sure that the average visitor will be able to spell your domain name without thinking about it.

Bluedaiquiri.com might be easy to say out loud, but a significant number of your visitors will find it challenging to spell. And though intentionally misspelling words can work in other forms of marketing (e.g., Krispy Kreme, Mortal Kombat, Froot Loops), it should be avoided completely in domain names, as the potential customer will often type the correctly spelled version of the word instead. 

10. Make Sure It’s Easy to Pronounce

A domain name won’t only ever be typed. It will also be spoken out loud by your sales team, existing customers, and media outlets. It’s therefore important to choose a domain name that’s easy to pronounce.

Besides being easy to say, there should be no ambiguity over how the domain name is spelled when it’s spoken out loud. Some words are spelled differently in different countries (e.g. flavor/flavour, labor/labour), and others are often spelled differently in different contexts (e.g. disk/disc). This could quickly get confusing for someone who first hears about your website in a conversation.

You should also be wary of homophones—words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings (e.g. here/hear, cent/scent, sea/see).

It’s best to avoid these words entirely in a domain name if there’s any potential for the listener to misinterpret which words your domain name contains. 

Conclusion

We’ve discussed how to choose a domain name that helps your website perform well in search engine results while being easy for your customers to use. A domain name that’s easy to remember, type, and say is one of the important elements all small business websites should have, and it’s very important that you get the domain name right for a new online business.

Website builders for small businesses often offer a domain name generator you can use to get ideas for your domain name. We recommend choosing .com as your top-level domain if possible, plus checking that the brand you’re trying to build isn’t already trademarked or used on social media already. Choose a domain name that’s short and doesn’t have any hyphens or numbers.

With these top tips in mind, you’re ready to choose the perfect domain name that will help make your online business a huge success.

Richard Sutherland Author image
Richard brings 20+ years of web development, SEO, and marketing to the table. After graduating in Computer Science, Richard spent time lecturing in Java programming and building software for companies like Samsung and ASDA. Today, he writes for TechRadar, Top10.com, Creative Bloq, and other tech-heavy-hitters."