If you want to launch a website, you’re going to need a domain name.
Makes sense, right?
Domain names are how people find websites on the Internet, so it’s not like you can just skip the whole thing.
But as simple as those words in your browser address bar look, they can be surprisingly difficult to come up with.
Trust me – if you’re feeling that way, you’re definitely not alone. The struggle to pick a domain name is something that every single webmaster deals with.
So to help you choose a domain name, I put together this massive guide that covers everything you need to know about:
- What makes a good domain name
- How to use domain name generators to come up with ideas if you’re stuck
- What you need to check before purchasing a domain name (hello trademark infringement!)
- How to purchase your domain name and start using it for your website
Essentially, this guide will take you from zero all the way through to owning a brand a new domain name.
Why It’s Important To Put Thought Into Choosing A Domain Name
I always say that choosing a domain name is a lot like a marriage:
It’s a massively important event in your website’s life and, in an ideal world, you want it to be for life.
While you can change domain names (divorce!) midway through your marriage, it’s a messy process that you want to avoid if at all possible.
But beyond the fact that you want your choice to be permanent, your domain name is essentially your website’s brand and address all wrapped into one.
It can affect a whole heap of things like:
- How people perceive your site
- Where your site ranks in the search engines
- How easily visitors are able to remember your website (and hopefully come back in the future)
Can You Register Any Domain Name That You Want?
Ok, here’s where things get a little bit tricky. Each domain name on the Internet can only be owned by one person at a time. If you think about it, this makes sense…
I mean – it would be chaos if anyone could just register another version of “Google.com”, right?
This need for coordination is why the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) exists to manage and oversee domain registrations.
You don’t really need to know the technical or legislative reasons behind ICANN, but here’s what you do need to know:
You might not always be able to use your first-choice domain name, especially if it involves common words. As of 2015, there were over 294 million registered domain names – so competition can be pretty hot for the popular ones.
I don’t want to scare you with these ideas – I just want to communicate the fact that you sometimes need to be creative/flexible when you choose a domain name.
How To Check If A Domain Name Is Available
In the next section, I’m going to give you a bunch of tips to help you choose an awesome domain name. And as you read through these tips, your brain will hopefully start firing with all kinds of cool domain name ideas.
Naturally, you’ll probably want to check if these ideas are actually available for registration because the best domain name in the world doesn’t matter if it’s already taken.
To quickly check if a domain name is available, you can use a free tool called Instant Domain Search:
- Enter your desired domain name in the search box
- Instant Domain Search will automatically return results as you type
- If you see green, it’s available. Red means it’s not
6 Tips To Help You Choose A Domain Name
While none of these tips are absolute rules, it’s usually a good idea to at least follow most of them if you want to pick a quality domain name.
1. Remember That Your Domain Name Is Your Brand
Have you ever seen a company called “Delicious Recipes For Food”? It sounds pretty ridiculous, right?
But if you like cooking, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of a brand called Barefoot Contessa.
So why did Barefoot Contessa go with “barefootcontessa.com” instead of “deliciousrecipesforfood.com”? Because it’s a brand!
Brandability is hard – so if you’re struggling to come up with a brand, here’s a simple formula that can help you do it:
- Start with one word for context
- Add a noun after that word for brandability
You’ll see this formula all of the Internet! It’s even what we use at WPKube:
- WP – this adds context that the site is about WordPress
- Kube – this adds brandability
Let’s do another example! Adam Connell runs a blog named Blogging Wizard. See the formula again?
- Blogging – this tells people the site is about blogging
- Wizard – this adds brandability
This formula is by no means the only way to come up with a brandable domain name. But in a pinch, it’s a great way to think up something that’s relevant and memorable.
2. Make Sure People Can Pronounce Your Domain Name
Your domain name isn’t just written words in a browser address bar. It’s also something that people need to be able to pronounce.
There are a few different reasons why you need to care about making your domain name pronounceable:
- It’s easier for people to talk about your website in real life (the obvious reason)
- People “pronounce” words in their head when they’re thinking
The second one is the most interesting – because making your domain name pronounceable actually makes it easier for people to process and remember your domain. There’s a whole scientific field on this called cognitive fluency.
The easier you make it for your visitors to process and pronounce your website, the better the chance that people actually remember your domain name and find their way back in the future.
3. Try To Use “A” Keyword In Your Domain Name
In the past, many webmasters would try to forcibly use keywords in their domain name at the expense of many of the other tips on this list. They did so in order to rank higher in Google search.
That’s not what I’m recommending. Google has lessened the effect of so-called “exact match domains” and it’s also just not a good long-term strategy from a branding perspective.
But, whenever possible, it still pays to try to fit at least one broad keyword into your domain name. Here’s why:
- It helps add context. Because your site is probably about that keyword, the keyword actually helps humans understand what your site is about.
- It still helps with SEO. Because people will use the keyword when linking to your site by name, it still helps search engines understand what your site is about.
If you follow my branding example from above, an easy way to fit a keyword into your domain name is this formula:
Keyword + Branding Word
4. Consider How Words Look When Mashed Together
If you’re coming up with a brand for your website, you’ll probably write the words down separately like you would in a sentence. But when you go to turn that brand into a domain name, the words are going to get smashed together.
And if you’re not careful, this can lead to some unfortunate mishaps.
Take the website American Scrap Metal. That’s a perfectly innocent name, right? Well, it is…until you put the words together.
Now, you get americanscrapmetal.com, which could lead to an unfortunate situation where your visitors see Americans Crap Metal. Awkward!
While your domain name might not end up as humorous, it’s still confusing when your domain could be misconstrued as different combinations of words.
Here’s a good way to test this:
- Write down your domain name on a piece of paper
- Show it to your friends and family and ask them to say the name aloud
- If your friends and family give you different answers, head back to the drawing board
If you want a little humor break, Bored Panda has a big list of these unfortunate domain names.
5. Choose A .com Domain If Possible
When most people think of a website, they think “.com”. But while .com is the defacto standard, there are actually over 1,500 different domain name extensions.
Some of my favorites are:
Suffice it to say, you have a lot of options to choose from.
But should you branch out and choose a domain extension that’s not .com?
Most of the time, that answer is “NO”. While people are becoming more familiar with the variety of domain extensions, .com is definitely still the most recognizable extension. In fact, .com domains still account for ~68% of all domain names.
And because you want your domain name to be memorable, you want something that’s easily recognizable.
This is not an absolute rule. But if you have the option, you should usually take the .com.
6. Avoid Using Numbers Or Hyphens
I probably could’ve tied this one in with branding or pronounceability, but I think it’s important enough that it deserves its own section.
Numbers and hyphens are just too dang confusing to use in a domain name. Consider these examples:
- Onestep4ward.com – a popular travel blogger who constantly regrets having to explain to people that his domain name isn’t “onestepforward.com”.
- Face-book.com – trademark aside, most people would just type facebook.com and forget about the hyphen.
While you can always find a few counterexamples (e.g. 9gag.com), in the vast majority of situations, it’s better to skip numbers and hyphens.
Use One Of These 3 Domain Name Generators If You’re Stuck
I know I just hit you with a bunch of directions. In a perfect world, you were able to quickly come up with a domain name that:
- Checks all the boxes
- Isn’t already registered
But in the real world, you might be running into a brick wall right about now.
If that sounds like you – don’t worry because I have something to help…
The difficulty of coming up with a domain name has spawned a whole set of tools called domain name generators. With these tools, all you need to do is enter a seed keyword and the tool will spit back a bunch of suggestions that are:
- Related to the keyword
- Actually available to purchase
I’ll show you how each tool works using a fictional example where I’m trying to come up with a new domain name for a website about coffee.
1. Lean Domain Name Search
At Lean Domain Search, all you need to do is enter a single keyword that you want to include in your domain name. For our example, I’ll just put in “coffee”:
Then, the tool spits back a list of available domain names. For this tool, every single suggestion will include the word “coffee”.
All you need to do is browse through the list and find one that’s brandable:
Panabee gets a bit more creative with its suggestions than Lean Domain Search. Rather than only adding words, it will also:
- Use abbreviations
- Add syllables
- Drop letters
- Add synonyms
- Some other neat tricks
With Panabee, it’s best to enter two words instead of one. I’ll use “black coffee” for the example:
Then Panabee will spit back some suggestions:
You need to be careful with Panabee because not all of the suggestions are good ideas. E.g. many are fairly difficult to pronounce.
But it is a good tool to help you think outside the box and get your creative juices flowing.
Wordoid occupies a space somewhere between Lean Domain Search and Panabee. That is, the domain name suggestions can get creative, but they aren’t quite as “out there” as Panabee.
To get started:
- Enter your main keyword in the Pattern box
- Choose the option for Containing
- Click Create wordoids
Wordoid will instantly give you some results, and you can further refine things by using the more advanced options in the sidebar.
Check These 2 Things Before You Finalize Your Domain Decision
At this point, you’ve hopefully been able to come up with a domain name that you’re happy with.
But before I show you how to purchase your domain name in the next section, it’s important that you check two things:
- Trademark infringement – you don’t want your domain name to accidentally infringe on an existing trademark. That can lead to legal problems down the road.
- Social network availability – whenever possible, you want to pick a domain name where you can register social media profiles. This helps you maintain consistent branding across social media.
How To Check If A Domain Is Trademarked
To check if your chosen domain name accidentally includes a trademark, you can use a free tool called EstiBot.com:
- Enter your domain name in the box
- Click Check Trademarks
Then, the tool will tell you whether it matched an existing trademark. In the example below, you can see that “facebookkube.com” throws up a big red flag:
How To Check If A Domain’s Social Profiles Are Available
To check social media profile availability for your domain name, you can use another free tool called Namechk.
Enter your domain name in the search box and click the search icon:
Then, the tool will use colors to indicate whether or not your domain name is taken at each social network:
If your domain name passes both tests, you’re ready to purchase it!
How And Where To Purchase A Domain Name
This part of the guide will cover how to purchase a domain name at a dedicated domain name registrar. But depending on where you are in your journey to make a website, you might not actually need to follow this guide. If you haven’t signed up for hosting yet, check to see if your host offers a free domain name as a signup bonus before you continue with this section.
To purchase a domain name, you’ll need to use something called a domain name registrar. Domain name registrars are accredited by ICANN and other organizations which gives them the ability to actually register a domain name for you.
You have plenty of options, but my personal recommendation is Namecheap because it has:
- Competitive prices
- Good support documentation
- Helpful security tools like two-factor authentication
How To Purchase A Domain Name At Namecheap
To get started, go to Namecheap and search for your desired domain name:
Namecheap will check the availability for you. Assuming it’s still available, you can click the Cart icon to add it to your cart:
Then click the View Cart button and Confirm Order on the next page:
That will launch you into the checkout process where you can check out like you would at any eCommerce store.
The only additional thing you’ll need to do during the checkout process is to enter your address and contact information. This is required by ICANN in order to confirm the identity of each domain owner.
How To Start Using Your New Domain Name
Once you finish purchasing your domain name, you’ll need to complete one more step before you can actually start using it.
Essentially, you need to “point” your domain name towards your web hosting using something called nameservers. Without doing this, your web hosting and domain name won’t be able to work together.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find the nameservers that your host uses. Usually, you can find these in your host’s dashboard, but if you’re not sure where to look, your host’s support can definitely provide you with the information.
- Change the nameservers for your domain to the values for your hosting account in your Namecheap account (or wherever you registered your domain name). Here are detailed instructions for how to do that at Namecheap.
Once you save your changes, it might take up to 24 hours for your domain to start working with your hosting account.
Enjoy Your Awesome New Domain Name
Congratulations! You just learned how to choose a domain name and start using it with your host.
If you followed the instructions, you should have an awesome, brandable domain name that will set your website up for success both now and in the future.
But a domain name is only part of the puzzle – if you’re still struggling to get your website set up, you might be interested in our detailed guides on how to make a website and how to start a blog with WordPress.
And if you have any questions, please leave a comment and we’ll try to help out!
Stefan Alexander says
Hi Rachel! Great content here. I actually like and agree with the tips you have here. I have answered numerous times the question whether .fun and other extension is okay to use from an SEO perspective. Actually, Google doesn’t really care about the name of your website anymore, at least not as a name. So, whatever extension you like, you can use. HOWEVER, you need to worry about the psychology of the audience. It really isn’t easy to trust a domain name that ends with anything other than com, net, org, and edu. If it has a different ending, then your audience goes into an instant defensive mode. You don’t want that to happen because that would affect the click through rate, which ultimately effects how well your site does in the search engine results. Again, great tips, Rachel! I’ve enjoyed your article. Thanks!
Ibad Rehman says
Detailed article on domain selection. It is great that you have pointed out some common mistakes people do while selecting a domain name. Now a days selecting a domain is tricky job as the next domain you think of is already taken by someone else. Your article definitely makes the whole process easier.
Xavier Jinan says
This article was like a blessing from God! Seriously, I was going to purchase a domain from Hostnoc, but I was unsure about the domain name, finally, it helped me pick the best domain name “Digital Phablet” for my new website. Thanks a lot, Jeannie for putting up great content on the website.