How to choose the right domain name for your online business
From branding to SEO, choosing the perfect domain name is tricky. Here are 6 tips for choosing the right domain name for your online business.
Your website is your brand's online home, which means your domain name is your online address. And when you're starting an online business, choosing the right domain name -- just like choosing the right location for a brick-and-mortar store -- is critical.
Your domain name is a big part of your brand. You want it to stick in your potential customers' heads and be easy to find -- without spending $50k to buy a domain name someone else already owns.
It's like trying to find a retail space with the perfect balance of affordable rent, an aesthetic that matches your brand, and a perfect location on Main Street.
But sometimes, it seems like all the good storefronts -- and domain names -- are already taken. What's a small business owner to do?
We've got you covered. Here are 6 tips for choosing the perfect domain name for your online business.
6 tips for choosing the perfect domain name
1. Choose the right top-level domain
First, let's get the technical details out of the way.
You'll also see TLDs associated with specific countries, like .uk (United Kingdom) or .dk (Denmark). These are country code top-level domains, or ccTLDs.
If you're creating multilingual or region-specific websites, ccTLDs are great domain name extensions. But most online businesses can reach a global audience through just one site -- which is one of the awesome things about running an online biz -- so they only need one TLD.
What should that TLD be? According to ICANN, there are currently 1,532 TLDs for businesses to choose from.
If you can, choose .com as your TLD. Used by 51.4% of all websites, .com is the most common TLD.
Here's why .com is such a popular choice: it's one of the most authoritative and least spammy domain name extensions. Using .com makes your website look more legitimate both to your customers and when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).
People -- especially in the US -- are more familiar with .com domain names than any others, and they'll probably automatically type .com into their address bar after your website name.
If your number one domain name choice isn’t available as a .com, try your second available domain choice before choosing a different TLD. You can also choose an alternative TLD that matches your niche or the theme of your website:
Now that we've got that technical detail out of the way, let's work our way backward and choose what comes before the .com.
2. Make it descriptive and brandable
Your domain name is your brand, especially in blogging, direct-to-consumer ecommerce, and other online-only businesses. It should be the same (or at least similar to) your business name.
Choosing the right name is a big piece of your entrepreneur branding. Consistent brand presentation increases revenue by 33% on average, so don't add unnecessary confusion for your customers by choosing a totally unrelated website name.
But what if you don't already have a business name?
Google similar businesses and see how others in your niche format their domain names.
If you're an online coach or blogger, or sell online courses, consider using your own name.
Take business mindset coach Becky Mollenkamp, for example. Becky's brand is all about sharing her personal expertise with others to help them succeed in their businesses and lives.
Becky is her brand, so it makes sense for her to use beckymollenkamp.com as a business and domain name.
If you don't want to use your name as your business name, you can use keywords.
A great domain name represents your business and what you have to offer your customers.
Use a free keyword tool like Ubersuggest to brainstorm keywords related to your business, then choose one or two to use in your domain name.
That said, while keywords can help make it clear what your business does, they can also sometimes sound generic or even spammy.
The SEO experts over at Moz advise against "keyword-rich" or "keyword-targeted" domain names like "best-pancake-pans-for-pancakes.com":
While these types of domain names once carried weight as a ranking factor, their tendency to be associated with low-quality content means searchers (and search engines) may now view these keyword-dense domain names with a negative bias.
One brand making smart use of keywords in their domain name is Telehealth PT at telehealthpt.com:
Telehealth PT's domain and brand name -- they're one and the same -- describes exactly what the company offers their customers: "Telehealth Training for Digital Physical Therapy."
And that clarity is something we can all aspire to, especially when choosing a domain name.
Overall, potential customers are more likely to remember your domain name -- and visit your site -- when it matches your brand and is easy to understand. Your brand name is a big part of marketing your online business, so consistency is key.
That includes keeping your domain name simple and easy to spell, which is our next tip.
3. Keep it short, simple, and easy to spell
Piggybacking off our last tip, make it easy for your potential customers to find your website by choosing a domain name that's easy to remember -- and to spell.
As a rule of thumb, stay away from domain names that:
- Include numbers, hyphens, or other non-standard characters.
- Use unusual spellings or double letters (unless they're part of your name, of course). These URLs are easier to mistype, and people may have a hard time remembering if you spell your brand name with 1 T or 2 T’s, for example.
- Are longer than about 15 characters. If your company name is super long, consider shortening it and going with a shorter, more brandable name.
Darpan Munjal, the founder of business-naming agency Squadhelp and Inc 500 Entrepreneur, heard that buyers preferred shorter domain names. He decided to test the correlation between domain length and sell-through rate (STR).
He found that shorter domain names tend to have a higher STR. This means that sites with shorter domain names sell a higher percentage of their inventory than those with longer names.
"Investing in shorter names can deliver much stronger returns," Darpan concluded.
Short URLs tend to show up higher in Google search results, too.
Moz explains why: "Because of search engine's growing reliance on accessibility and usability as a ranking factor, the easier a domain (or URL) is to read for humans, the better it is for search engines."
One final tip before we move on -- if you can, buy the most common misspellings of your domain name and redirect them to your main domain, so you can make sure your customers find you, even if they end up making a typo or two.
OK, if you're still struggling to come up with the perfect domain name, fear not. Our next tip may offer just the inspiration you need.
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4. Try out a domain name generator
If you're stuck, consider using a domain name generator.
With more than 370.1 million registered domain names (and it's growing 4.3% year-over-year), it might seem impossible to find a relevant one that isn't already taken. A domain name generator can help you find a great domain name that's still available.
You enter keywords, and the generator comes up with a list of available domain name ideas for your new website.
Here are five of the top domain name generator tools:
1. Lean Domain Search: Lean Domain Search was created by Automattic, the company behind the WordPress platform. This generator only provides .com domains, and also checks for available Twitter usernames.
2. Nameboy: Nameboy bills itself as "AI-powered" and "the oldest and most popular domain name generator in the world". Nameboy lets you use two keywords.
3. DomainWheel: DomainWheel lets you use multiple keywords and choose which TLDs to include in the results.
4. BustAName: BustAName is by far the most customizable generator on this list. You enter your main keyword and pick whether you want it to appear at the beginning or end of your domain name.
You can also pick how "natural" you want your domain to sound, limit the number of characters in your domain name, and choose your TLDs.
5. Impossibility!: Impossibility! combines your chosen keyword with a noun, verb, or adjective and returns available .com domain names.
Let's say I'm starting a website to sell digital products dedicated to teaching people how to make homemade pasta. I could try some keywords like "homemade pasta" or "pasta recipes" in a domain name generator like Nameboy:
As you can probably tell from those results, domain name generators don't necessarily take SEO or branding best practices into account, so don't blindly choose one.
Use the generator as inspiration, rather than taking it as the final word.
Many generators also link directly to domain name registrars so you can buy the domain name you like.
Just make sure you shop around for your new domain name instead of automatically using the domain name registrar that the generator recommends (we'll cover recommended domain registrars in tip number six).
Alright, with another domain name tool in your arsenal, let's move over to the legal side of things with this next tip.
5. Make sure your domain name is (legally) unique
Just because your domain name is available for purchase doesn't necessarily mean you own the website or business name legally.
Do your due diligence before buying your new domain name to ensure that you're not infringing on anyone's trademark.
Is the domain name a registered business or legal entity? If so, choose a different one to avoid a (pricey) legal mess. In the U.S., you can search the trademark database through the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Check for matching social media handles, too.
When you buy your domain name, register social media handles with the same name to make sure your branding is consistent and it's easy for your customers to find you online.
Take digital marketing and web design expert John D. Saunders, for example.
John's domain name is johndsaunders.co, his Twitter handle is @johndsaunders, and his Instagram username is @johndsaunders. This consistency makes him easy to find wherever potential customers are looking for him.
And customers will expect to find you on social media.
After all, 47% of shoppers in the U.S. have a more favorable view of brands that respond to customer service questions or negative comments on social media. Customers want to reach out to you online -- make sure you own the profile they're tweeting at.
Alright, let's say your domain name isn't trademarked and the matching social media profiles are available. All set, right?
Not so fast. When it comes to the internet, it's always better safe than sorry, so look into what, if anything, used to be hosted on your future domain name.
You can learn more about your domain name's history with the Wayback Machine.
While it sounds like something out of Back to the Future, the Wayback Machine is actually an archive of the internet.
You enter a URL, and the Wayback Machine shows you how that website or page looked at a certain point in time. Not every site will show up, but you can expect to find most websites with any noticeable traffic in the past.
Checking your domain via the Wayback Machine lets you see whether it has ever been used for anything, and, if so, whether it's something you're okay potentially associating your business with.
Now that you've covered your bases by looking into your domain name, you're ready to buy and register it. Our next tip will cover how to do exactly that -- without getting swindled.
6. Pick a trustworthy domain registrar
Once you finally choose your perfect domain name, your next step is to purchase the name from a domain name registrar.
Make sure you choose a domain name registrar that's accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization responsible for managing domain names.
If you’re not sure which registrar to purchase from, here are a few options:
1. Bluehost: One of the largest web hosting companies in the world, Bluehost offers free domain registration with all their hosting packages.
2. Domain.com: This is a good option if you’re looking to purchase a domain name only without website hosting services.
3. GoDaddy: GoDaddy is one of the oldest and most popular domain name registrars. You can choose from a wide variety of popular domain names and TLDs.
4. HostGator: HostGator offers a domain name search, domain management, and shared website hosting.
5. Namecheap: Focused on the cheapest available domain names, Namecheap has a domain name search and suggestion tool and offers free domain privacy with all of their domain names.
Once you register your domain name with an accredited registrar, you're ready to start using it. Many website hosts (like WordPress and Podia) let you use your own domain name on their platforms.
For example, if you sell digital downloads through Podia, you have two domain name options:
- Your Podia account comes with a free customizable subdomain, like yourbrandname.podia.com.
- You can use your own domain name, like videosellingbook.com.
To set up your custom domain name in your Podia account, just go to “Site settings” in your Podia account:
Select “Domain,” and enter your custom domain:
Once you connect your custom domain to your Podia site, you'll need to add a CNAME record for your domain pointing to Podia. For step-by-step instructions, check out this help article.
Don’t have a Podia account yet? Try it out for yourself with a 14-day free trial of Podia, no strings attached.
What's in a (domain) name?
The perfect domain name reflects your brand and is easy to remember -- and isn't one of the 370+ million domain names already taken.
To find and register the right domain name for your online business, follow these six tips:
- Choose the right TLD for your business. In most cases, a .com domain name is your best bet.
- Make your domain name descriptive and consistent with your brand, whether it's your own name or strategically picked keywords.
- Keep your domain name short, simple, and easy to spell. Make it as easy as possible for potential customers to find you online.
- Check out a domain name generator for an extra bit of inspiration.
- Make sure your domain name is yours by checking for trademarks and looking into your domain history. Register the social media handles that match your domain name, too.
- Pick an accredited domain name registrar and shop around to find the best price for your domain name.
The most important advice I saved for last, so here it is: Choose a domain name you love. It's an investment in your brand and your business, and -- like so many pieces of running your own business -- it should be something that makes you feel excited and proud.