Thoughts on choosing a domain name

business and consumers, technology

It’s easy to get your own space on the Web (Geocities, Google Pages, Live Journal, Blogger, etc.) without cost and without fuss.  So why get your own domain name?

  • It can provide you with a nice vanity and (generally) permanent e-mail address… e.g., .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
  • Same goes for a Web address; also, you can then host your site anywhere you want!
  • It’s dang cheap!  $5-$10/year for the domain registration (+ optional Web site hosting costs, usually $2-20 depending on how much space/bandwidth/power you need)

In the rest of this note, I’ll cover very briefly how you get a domain name, and—more comprehensively—some things you’ll want to consider before choosing a domain name.

Actually getting, or “registering” a domain name is the easy part.  For $2-10, you can get a domain name at registrars like GoDaddy, Yahoo, and many other companies in literally a matter of minutes (though it can take a day or so for the domain to propagate, or go live across the net).  Make sure that whatever methods you use to register a domain name, you actually maintain full ownership!  Beware of registrars or Web hosts that offer seemingly fabulous deals on a domain + hosting but keep ownership of the domains for themselves!  You want the control and freedom to take your domain anywhere and put whatever (legal stuff) you want on it.

The hard part?  That’s choosing a domain name!  Granted, with domain registrations so cheap, you could just buy domains willy-nilly and not really commit… and in fact, there are quite a few folks (domain speculators, spammers, very very very indecisive or bored folks) who buy thousands of domains a month.  But let’s hope that’s not you.  I’m going to assume that you’re the thoughtful and careful and deliberating sort of person 🙂

So with that said…

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Settle on a purpose and expected / desired audience

If you’re wanting to put your resume somewhere, sexyhotlegs.com is probably not your best bet (though I admit it depends on your profession). If you’re interested in voicing controversial political opinions or posting scary photos of your armpits under green light (or both), you may not want to reserve yourname.net. Use common sense, particularly weighing issues of personal and professional image, privacy, and anticipated and desired audience.

Consider spelling hassles

You are likely going to be mentioning your domain name in person and perhaps even over the phone quite a bit. Unless you really enjoy having to say for the one billionth time “Let me spell that for you…,” consider choosing a domain (or even a domain that points to your real domain) that is reasonably easy to write without thirty seconds of spelling and verifying.

Be afraid of lawyers

If you’re thinking about reserving yahu.com or sleshdot.com or waltdisny.com… don’t. It’s not cute, it’s not clever, and—though admittedly a few typo-squatters and the like do unfortunately make a lot of money from sewing confusion in this arena—it’s likely not worth the headache and stress of getting nastygrams and court summons.

Homonyms, numbers, and related issues

Be wary of sound-alike words (bearplace or bareplace?), numbers/abbreviations-vs-words issues (is it happy2seeu or happytoseeyou…?), and so on. These ambiguous domains create confusion not only when spoken, but even pose memory-challenges for people wanting to revisit your domain. Even worse, if someone else has a similar domain in this context, you can pretty much bet that not only web surfers but also e-mail messages are going to get misdirected.

Avoid-names-like-this

They look spammy. Seriously, given smartautos and smart-autos, which domain looks more professional to you, and which one are you likely to remember when surfing or e-mailing?

Length matters

Think of length… even as it relates to your business card, online design, and so on. If your name is Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, I respectfully recommend you think twice before using your name as your domain.

Yes, Virginia, there’s a world beyond the U.S.

And some of the folks there even speak languages other than English. You may not care if your blog domain name translates as “Ugly dog urine” in Swahili, but you may want to do at least a bit of language checking. If you’re getting a domain name for a serious business, you may also want to examine international intellectual property (e.g., trademark) issues as well

Bluntly obvious or open-endedly opportunistic?

On one hand, you have companies like amazon, expedia, and yahoo who named their domains (probably intentionally) in a way that was deliciously flexible. On the other hand, you have sites from the moderately bounded (esurance.com, travelocity) all the way to the tightly focused (danceshoes4u, danishhistory.denmark.dk).

Which is better? That’s a great question! You can certainly find success stories all over the spectrum.

Personally, I’d tend towards the more general and/or non-dictionary-worded domains. Time and time again, we’ve seen that outstanding organizations have started off with one focus, only to develop into significantly different areas due to market pressures, new interests from the executives, and so on. Such topical expansion isn’t easily handled with a topically restrictive domain name.

Others might argue that the more tightly-focused domain names will be significantly favored by the search engines and offer snappier and faster brand insight to consumers. While I can understand the latter, I personally give little credence to the former [as always, note my BLADAM disclaimer!].

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you make a conscious, not accidental, decision in this realm, understanding the benefits and disadvantages of general/imaginative vs. blunt/focused domain names.

Be wary of non-friendly relationships with your .com and .net neighbors

It may seem frustratingly limiting, but IMHO I’d avoid registering a, say, .org domain if the .com is already taken… especially if the .com is prominent. At least in America, I believe that most folks think “dot com” by default, and so you’re likely to get lots of people visiting yoursite.com and mailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) even though you registered the .org. At the very minimum, make sure your non-dot-com registration is done in the context of an amiable relationship with the .com holder, so that if he or she does get misdirected e-mail, they’ll be sure to forward it on to you. Or, better yet, they might even create a forwarding alias, automatically redirecting mail from .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Be aware of unintentional word combos

When the folks behind Experts Exchange registered expertsexchange.com, they probably didn’t have transgendered folks as their intended audience. However, with a brief look at their domain name, I think you’ll now understand why they’ve since rebranded themselves as experts-exchange.com. Don’t make the same (amazingly not-uncommon) mistake.

And last but definitely not least… apply the Friends Test

Ask your friends… “What do you think of [domain you’re considering], and don’t be afraid to be blunt!” You’ll be shocked and grateful, I’m sure, at the insights—sometimes quite obvious insights you’ve overlooked—that you’ll get from your friends. Ask them how they’d spell your domain, what the name brings to mind, whether it sounds too suspiciously like something else, and so on.

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Do I practice what I preach? Reasonably so, I think. BLADAM is “The Blog of Adam” or “The Blatherings of Adam” and it’s pretty easy to spell (“B-L and Adam, my name”) and nicely short. Lasnik.net… well, it’s not super-easy to spell, but it’s unambiguous and it’s been a decently professional place for me to place my resume.

I’m also proud of Ascena (and ascena.com)—what I renamed a German company I once worked for (formerly “fortISinformationssysteme”—whew!). Pleasantly evocative (“to ascend”) in multiple languages, short, pretty easy to spell, and (at least formerly) available in a ton of domains (ascena.de, ascena.com, etc.)

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I hope my thoughts on domain naming have been helpful! I welcome your opinions and questions below 😀

7 comments… add one
  • Michael Rad May 13, 2006

    I?ve heard a lot of stories about domain name importance. However, check out the figures below – here are the top five most expensive domain sales in the last few years:
    Business.com ? $7.5 million
    AsSeenOnTv.com ? $5.1 million
    Altavista.com ? $3.3 million
    Wine.com ? $2.9 million
    Autos.com ? $2.2 million

    I am not sure how such an investment ? paying millions of USD for a simple name ? can be recovered and used to produce profit. There was a story about Coca-Cola, which said that if the company lost all its infrastructure, but kept the name and brand characteristics, it could bounce back in about 4 years. However, if the company managers were left with all the infrastructure, but lost the Coca-Cola name, the company would be very likely to go bankrupt. Do you think this is also true for domain names?

    Regards,

    Michael Rad
    Web2earn.com ? learn how to make money online

  • Ali May 29, 2006

    Adam came up with my domain name (alitary.com) which was a mixture of my first name (Alison) and my occupation (Military).  I love it!

    Although I’m getting out, so how does “alivilian.com” sound???  😀

  • Adam May 29, 2006

    Michael, I think domains names (and names overall) are overrated in many ways.  Truly bad ones (offensive, horridly confusing, etc.) can likely break a company, but I sincerely doubt any company can thrive on its (domain) name alone.

    And Ali… it does sound a mite reptillian but it also does nicely roll off the tongue 😀

    I just thought of “AliTude”—but alas, the dot.com is taken 🙁

  • marko Jul 6, 2006

    you’re “thatadamguy” aren’t you?
    small place this internet thing is huh?

    here I am, searching for inspiration for a new domain name and look who I bump into!!

    Nice one m8, and a good read above. All very valid comments indeed, but alas, I’m still no closer and so my search continues.

    I had wanted tgh.co.uk but some co. in London has reg’d it and not used it. What a waste.

    13e is available, but I don’t want it because it will have to accompanied with the obligatory, “that’s the numbers, not the letters” routine

    ach well, onwards and upwards, catch you around soon no doubt,
    regards,
    -marko.

  • Rob O. Aug 19, 2006

    Good advice, Adam!

    My wife & I thought our domain name (www.2dolphins.com) would be easy enough for friends and family to remember and use, but then I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who can’t spell “dolphins.”

    No, really, I’m not making that up…

  • Online Shopping US Jul 14, 2008

    Is there any suggestion for choosing a Motivational domain name for a seo and sem business company?
    Like to hear from you…

  • Gman Jan 16, 2009

    I completely agree with what you’re saying about the domain-name with dashes. Google says its better, but to me, it sucks. I think the best bet is to have a long and descriptive domain name. People won’t be typing in into the address bar, so don’t worry about length. I’m not spamming, but I’ve been quite interested in dot tel or .tel domain names. I put together a FAQ site for those here. Thanks! Tel Domain Names

What do you think?