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How to choose a domain name for your website

Mac on desk backlit with colours matching website displayed
(Image credit: Photo by Designecologist from Pexels)

When it comes to establishing a unique brand identity online, choosing a domain name for your business or personal website is a vital step, as well as selecting the best website builder to create the site and the best web hosting. Registering a domain name is simple, and varies in cost according to both the registrar and the domain extension you choose. 

Additionally, many of the best web hosting services include a free domain name as part of their subscription plans. If you check out a number of well-known hosting providers, make sure to look at their offers for new subscribers, as you might well end up saving money.

However, if you’re wondering exactly how to choose a domain name for your website, this article will take you through some key considerations, and assist you in coming up with a top name idea and the right extension for your site.

Step 1: Understand traditional TLDs, new TLDs, and ccTLDs

a zoomed in image of an address bar on a web browser

TLD, or top-level domain extensions, are the most sought after domains online (Image credit: Atm2003 / Shutterstock)

Traditional top-level domain (TLD) extensions like .com, .net, and .org have always been considered the gold standard. Unfortunately, domain names containing common dictionary words with traditional TLDs are usually taken. Sometimes you have the option of registering them for a premium price, but that can run into hundreds of dollars.

It’s easier, however, to find traditional TLDs for domains based on unusual and unique brand names. In any case, if your chosen domain name happens to be available with a .com or .net extension, you should consider snapping it up.

If your business and most of your customers are based in a country that uses country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) like .co.uk, .ca, or .com.au, it’s best to stick with those extensions as locals are used to them. Registration of ccTLDs is often restricted to people living in those particular countries and ensures that you won’t be competing for domain names with the rest of the world.

Although old-school TLDs are still considered superior, you should also explore several newer and more descriptive extensions like .tattoo, .studio, .tech, .yoga, etc. These domain extensions are cheaper to acquire in many cases, and Google has stated that traditional TLDs have no ranking or SEO benefit over newer TLDs.

Step 2: Consider keyword-based domain names

Keywords are popular search terms that people use to find information on search engines. Having keywords in your domain name makes it clear what your business is all about. 

For example, if you own a company called “Brandon’s Plumbing” in Ithaca, NY, choosing a domain name like IthacaPlumber.com might be more advantageous than BrandonsInc.com. When a potential customer’s search term is right in your domain name, it’s a signal that you’re exactly what they’re looking for. 

But that’s not the whole story. Until a few years ago, search engines like Google rewarded keyword-rich sites with higher rankings in their search results. SEO was all about including as many keywords as possible in website copy and domain names. But this policy created the potential for unscrupulous people to game the system by building low-quality websites with keyword-rich domain names and content. 

As a result, such websites have come to be viewed as untrustworthy by both real people and search engines. Indeed, the search engines have altered their algorithms to discourage domain names with multiple specific keywords. And according to Google’s John Mueller: “There’s no ranking benefit associated with having keywords in a domain name.” 

The best practice is to use keywords sparingly when registering a domain name. A website called IthacaPlumber.com may not give you many SEO benefits, but it does signal a specific service and location to a potential customer. However, a domain like BestCheapIthacaPlumber.com populated with low-quality content may trigger scrutiny and ranking penalties from search engines.

Step 3: Think about names that sound like brands

sign outside a Google development or facility

Google is just one example of a very memorable name of a popular brand (Image credit: Anthony Spadafora)

There are plenty of examples of unusual, creative, and sticky names that make for great brands. Names like Google, Twitter, Yandex, Yahoo, and Adidas are some examples. 

The advantage of choosing an unusual word for your domain name is that it stands out, and is likely not trademarked. The disadvantage is that it may not be immediately memorable, and may require some marketing work to make it stick in people’s minds.

If you’ve already got an established brick-and-mortar brand, it may be worthwhile sticking to that as your domain name. If it’s not available as a .com, .net, or .org TLD, you might consider choosing from an ever-growing list of newer, more descriptive extensions like .tech, .space, or .yoga, depending on the nature of your business.

But if your venture will primarily be online, coming up with a creative and brandable name might be your best bet. Just write down some ideas on a piece of paper, say them out loud, and ask yourself if they feel like brand names. People generally have a keen instinct for what a good brand name looks and sounds like.

Step 4: Does your domain name pass the radio test?

The radio test is simple. If a person hears your domain name on the radio, will they understand, remember, and be able to spell it? This helpful technique ensures that your chosen name is short, simple, and memorable. 

Of course, the radio test extends to all word-of-mouth advertising, including podcasts, talking about your online business at a coffee shop, or mentioning an email address associated with your website. Think about whether a potential customer will be able to recall your domain after hearing it once in passing.

Step 5: Stay away from hyphens, numbers, and misspellings

Many people use hyphens and numbers between keywords when their chosen names are unavailable. These elements can complicate an otherwise excellent domain name and make it harder to remember. Is it learn2kazoo.net, learntokazoo.net, or learn-2-kazoo.net? 

Another reason to exclude hyphens is that since many visitors use mobile devices, typing a hyphen will require them to switch between keyboards. It’s best to avoid adding an extra step that may turn off potential customers.

You might think that having a weirdly spelled word would make your domain name stand out. Names like avidgardenr.com or catzanddogz.com may seem creative on paper, but they will be difficult for new customers to remember.

The same goes for abbreviations. Don’t shorten common words in your domain name, such as st for street, apt for apartment, or mgmt for management. Shorter domain names are generally better, but not at the cost of clarity.

Step 6: Watch out for trademarks

keyboard with a red copyright button

It's always best to check that your preferred domain isn't already trademarked before moving forward (Image credit: Shutterstock/Tashatuvango)

Before you settle on a name, it’s best to check if it’s already trademarked. This way, you can be sure that your chosen domain name is associated only with your brand, and does not get you into legal trouble. 

Checking for trademarked names is easy and free. You can use the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website or find several other resources with a quick Google search.

Step 7: Don’t forget to check social media

Is the name available as a Twitter handle? How about Instagram and Facebook? Before you settle on a domain name, ask yourself if you’d want the same name on social media as well.

Of course, many names are generic, and you can’t expect them to be available on popular social media sites. There may be numerous plumbers from Ithaca on Twitter and Facebook, and some may choose a handle like @IthacaPlumber. In this case, if you own IthacaPlumber.com, you could settle for an alternative name on social media by adding numbers or letters to the handle.

Some names may be available on one platform but not another. Identify the most important social media platforms for your business, and make sure your chosen brand name or a close alternative is available on those sites.

Conclusion

It’s worth taking your time when picking a domain name. Great domain names are short, simple, unique, and memorable. Remember to brainstorm a brandable name, select an appropriate domain extension, and consider the radio test. It’s also best to avoid too many keywords, hyphens, misspellings, and numbers.

If you’re stuck, there are plenty of domain name generators online that can kickstart your creativity. Finally, don’t forget to check for existing trademarks and social media availability of your preferred domain name. Your domain name is an extension of your personality and reputation. Choose wisely!