What makes a good domain name?

By | January 24, 2015

Picking a domain name is the first step to a successful online business. However, that also makes it the first obstacle. The purpose of this article is to get you past that obstacle and on your way to building your online success.

Brandable vs Descriptive (SEO optimized) domain names

Brandable domain names

Brandable domain names, are domain names that don’t necessarily describe what the website stands for. Examples include Yahoo, Google, and Apple.

The pros for getting a brandable domain:

  • More choice. All obvious descriptive domain names are taken.
  • Generally easier to remember.
  • They’re more original. You’ll stand out, and won’t get confused with other website or businesses.
  • Less limiting, more potential for growth. Personally, I don’t know many huge websites or businesses with a descriptive (domain) name.

The cons for a brandable domain name:

  • No SEO bonus.
  • It’ll be harder and/or take longer to get known for what you do.

Note that if you’re branding a website, you can still choose to get a descriptive domain name for particular products or services that you launch.

Descriptive (SEO optimized) domain names

A descriptive domain name contains the keyword, or keywords, you’re trying to rank for. There are two types. First, the EMD, Exact Match Domain, which means that the exact keywords you’re trying to rank for, are your domain name. For instance, if you are planning on creating an affiliate review site, and your keywords are ‘best baseball bats’, your website would be called bestbaseballbats.com. The second type is a PMD, Partial Match Domain, which partially contains your keywords. If you’re going after the same keywords; ‘best baseball bats’, a Partial Match Domain would be baseballbatboss.com (as of writing this domain name is still available, this is your chance!).

Pros for descriptive domain names:

  • SEO bonus, even though this isn’t as much as it used to be due to a Google algorithm update in 2012 (mainly geared towards low quality EMD’s).
  • People will instantly know what can be found on your website.

Cons for descriptive domain names:

  • Less choice, most good descriptive domain names are taken.
  • Unoriginal, which can make them sound a bit lame, and easier to be confused with other websites that are most likely going after the same keywords.
  • They’re more limiting. If Google was called searchsite.com it would be harder for them to for instance branch out into e-mail.

Other options

Using parts of keywords, but not the keywords themselves.

This will still get people a general idea on what it is about, while still being brandable. Examples include Microsoft (first part of both microprocessor and software, but doesn’t include either completely), Hostgator (doesn’t include the keyword ‘hosting’), Elance (doesn’t include the keywords ‘Hire Freelancers’).

Using your name

This is both brandable and instills trust. You can use your full name, just your first name, just your last name, or parts of your name and (parts of) your keyword. If you have a business partner you can do combinations of both of your names and/or keywords. Depending on how you implement this, this can be limiting. If this means that you’re using yourself are the brand (personal branding), then it will be a lot harder to sell the website or company.

Everything else you have to consider

Apart from deciding to go for either a brandable, descriptive, or other type of domain name, there are many other things to take into consideration.

Don’t breach/violate trademarks.

Think you’re clever and call your Amazon affiliate website bestamazondeals.com? You’re in violation of their Operating Agreement:

“Unsuitable sites include those that:

[…] (g) include any trademark of Amazon or its affiliates, or a variant or misspelling of a trademark of Amazon or its affiliates, in any domain name, subdomain name, or in any username, group name, or other identifier on any social networking site (see the Trademark Guidelines for examples)”

Is your domain name ‘radio-proof’ (will you know how to spell it when heard)?

Make sure your domain name is  ‘radio-proof’, which means that if you have to tell someone over the radio, or any other audio-only meduim, what your domain name is, everybody will be able to spell it.

For instance, it’s sometimes hard to hear how many P’s, B’s, or S’ses there are in words. If you’re going for a brandable domain name, which could be a completely made up word, this is even more of a problem. There are more things that can make your domain not radio-proof, but it’s easy to recognize. Just say your domain name out loud a couple of times and you’ll be able to hear it. A lot of the next points I’m about to make will get back to this.

Having a radio-proof domain name is especially important if your business is partly going to depend on word of mouth, or you’re planning on doing radio advertisements or podcasts. If your site is going to be 100% dependent on search traffic, this is not as much of a big deal.
(This website is slightly in violation of this, because IMstartpage could be misheard as ‘I am startpage’ (which wouldn’t really make sense). Just in case, I also own both Iamstartpage, as well as InternetMarketingStartPage.com, which I will soon set up to redirect to IMstartpage.com.)

Intentional misspellings

Don’t buy intentional misspellings like coolvideogamez.com, or gangstamusic.com. If you want to tell your friends you have a website called coolvideogamez, you’ll have to add “uhh, that’s ‘games’, spelled with a Z instead of an S”; it’s not radio-proof. Also, it’s bad for SEO, because close to nobody is searching for ‘gamez’ on Google.

Make sure it’s easy to say

Something can be difficult to say, but still be radio-proof. My last name make my tongue stumble. I wouldn’t want to have that happen twice when if I also have to add my website or company name. Most likely, neither do you.

Short vs long

In general, shorter is better. Shorter domain names are easier to spell, and are more memorable. Apart from that, if you’re planning on using social media, some of them have caps on the number of characters your ‘handle’ can be. For instance, Twitter names can only be 15 characters long!

Hyphens/dashes (-)

Preferably, dont-buy-these-domains.com. People, by default, will not type these in. They’re also not radio-proof.

Numbers

Only use them if it really is a part of the brand, or adds to understanding. Examples: 247pizza.com would make an OK domain (adds to understanding; apperantly they’re open 24-7). Windows8.com for instance, is a product brand, that is the combination of the Product series + Version number, which would make it a good domain if it’s about windows 8 (this actually redirects to a page about windows 8 on microsoft.com).
Don’t use numbers to replace words. This is not radio-proof, and you’ll not get the SEO-value of the spelled out version of that number. It would be harder to rank for “how to ” with the domain PChow2.com than with PChowto.com

Rhyming

Only if it’s appropriate for your the niche you’re in. If your niche is kids toys, rhyming might be more appropriate than for a website about corporate law.

Alliteration

Alliteration helps remembering the brand. PetesPizza.com is more memorable MattsPizza.com (with his dreams of owning a Pizzeria crushed, Matt became an online math teacher instead: www.mattsmath.com).

Double meaning

This can work in your advantage if you’re using it correctly. My favorite example would be Periodic Videos. Also, check if there is no double meaning to your domain name if it that’s not your intention.
However, don’t go out of your way to make sure there is rhyming or alliteration in your business name though. It could be a plus, but nothing more.

Social media handles available?

In most cases, you’re looking to use social media to market your cool new website. So it’s optimal if the social media accounts with your domain name are available. You can check that with namechk.com (also listed on the start page).

Check if your domain name can’t be misread

Because domain names can’t have spaces, parts of 2 words can add up to another word, that you don’t want to associate with your website. Some hilarious examples can be found here.

What about TLD’s (Top Level Domains)?

If your site is intended to serve international, always go for the .com TLD. The .com domain just carries the most authority. I’d only consider buying a .net if the .com is taken, but not used by someone else, and the .net domain name is a perfect fit for what you want to do with it. I don’t even consider all the rest.

For a national website, especially if it’s written in any other language than English, go for your national TLD. For instance, if you’re in Germany, and your website is written in German, go with the .de TLD. The exception to this rule would be the .us TLD. This is the TLD for the United States, but is mostly used by governmental institutions, and most websites in the United States use the .com TLD, so using a .com yourself is more instinctive.
Some national TLD’s have restrictions on them, in which case you can only purchase them if you’re from the country itself.
The .org TLD was originally intended to be used only by non-profit organizations, but no longer has this restriction. However, it’s still associated with this, so not a great choice if you’re going with a for-profit website.

Registering vs buying

Registering is purchasing the domain from a registrar for around $10, buying a domain means you buy the domain from the person that currently has the domain name registered. Registering is a lot cheaper and you don’t have to go through the hassle of negotiation. Buying a domain name means you’ll be able to get a better domain name, but, of course, at a higher price.

Protect yourself

Decided on a domain name? Now you’ve got a ‘brand’ name to protect yourself. Depending on how important the site is to you, consider purchasing the .net and .us/.co.uk/.com.au/.de or whatevever the TLD for your country is, as well as the non-abbreviated versions of your domain, to keep the copycats and at bay.

When registering, you might also want to keep your details private, which is possible with most domain registrars.

I forgot to enable privacy for a domain once, and got spammed with all kinds of ‘service’ offers like “We’ll build your website for you!” (even though I already did), “We’ll do your SEO work for you”, etc. When enabling privacy though, you’ll also make it harder for legitimate offers to reach you (like purchasing domains that you might not use), which could be a down-side.

Ready to register?

I can personally recommend Namecheap. I have used them for most of my websites, and have no complaints about them at all, it just works.

8 thoughts on “What makes a good domain name?

  1. Joanne

    Great post!

    .. a lot of good things to keep in mind.
    I have seen some really “crazy” names out there, and you’ve clearly stated why a good domain is important.
    It’s the first step in creating a successful site.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. GuidoGuido Post author

      Thanks for commenting! Picking good domain names is very important. I have a horrible one that I thought was pretty clever at first, but is really bad for multiple reasons. Still have to go through with moving the site to the new domain, which is not that big of a deal, but for some social media it’s impossible to change your handle. Wish I had done some more research back then.

      Reply
  2. Anthony

    This was perfect timing to see this. I am actually in the process of buying a domain name for my new site. The page was very informative for me and I learned some things to look for when buying a domain.
    Thanks for the Post I will be sure to check back soon to learn more.

    Reply
    1. GuidoGuido Post author

      You’re welcome! If you need any help deciding, feel free to contact me for advice.

      Reply
    1. GuidoGuido Post author

      Thanks! I heard that expression being used somewhere and it stuck with me. Doing some searching it now looks like I’m the only one that uses it in this context. As long as it gets the point across, it works for me.

      Reply
  3. Chuck

    Guido, I am sure that Matt is happy as an online math teacher. Your example made me laugh and made your point very clear.

    Reply

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