Choosing a domain name is always a challenge. You want to consider branding, search engines, legal issues and more.
From an SEO perspective the rules have changed since 2013. In the past, long keyword rich domain names would boost you to the top of the Google results page.
You could easily rank on page 1 for a keyword-rich domain name.
Now the same tactic can get you penalized.
Also you want to consider future buyers who often have specific domain name criteria to even consider purchasing your online business. Many website buyers for instance do not want exact match or even partial match domains.
Making it even harder there are now over 360 million registered domains (per Versign).
Even when you just consider .com there are over 145 million registered domain names.
But there are still many many options. Let’s dive into the world of domain names and see how you can find a great name for your new venture.
All domain names are kept in a centralized database. Domain registrars have the ability to update that database. There are a number of domain registrars to choose from. Some of the top registrars include …
The prices are very close among them, though some have low initial prices but expensive renewal prices. All will have auto-renewal options so as long as your payment method is current you can’t get dropped. There are now grace periods in place if your domain name does expire but there are people on the watch for expired domains and they will renew the domain and charge a premium to buy it back.
There are a few services that you get from your Domain registrar …
- Search for Domains — You can do an unlimited number of searches for available domains.
- Register Domains — Once you choose a domain you pay the registrar to purchase the domain name. It is important to note that this is for a fixed period of time. Usually 1 – 5 years. It is your responsibility to keep your domain name account current.
- Domain Privacy — Your registrar can keep the Whois information secret from the public.
- Name Server Changes — When you change your Nameserver,for a new host or a CDN like Cloudflare, you will update the info at the registrar.
- Transfer Domains — All registrars will give you the ability to transfer domains whether for resale or to consolidate service providers.
Searching for Domains
All registrars have the ability to check if a domain is available. When you are trying to check a longer list of possible names, some like GoDaddy have a handy bulk name checker …
There are many top level domain extensions available for your new domain.
Top Level Domains (TLD)
In the beginning there were only 7 top-level domains …
Now there are 1,514! Some examples of the new generic TLDs include …
Should you use one of the new generic names? It is tempting. You may have the perfect domain name for your website but the .com is already being used.
Google does not care from a search results standpoint. A .com or .earth TLD will have the same ranking power.
Where it really matters is visitor reactions and branding. Most consumers expect a .com for a US targeted commercial domain. Anything else raises eyebrows. It will potentially be seen as unprofessional. Some successful exceptions include …
- .io — online SaaS products have taken over this TLD and it is now accepted that a .io will be a software service
- .net — if you are in the hosting, internet services etc. industry .net is generally accepted.
- .org — non-profit companies
- .co.uk — If your target audience is not the US and focused on a particular country the commercial country level domain is fine (though it will limit expansion options into the US market to not have the .com)
At the end of the day, if you are a marketer setting up a blog or affiliate site that includes mainly US visitors, you want to use .com
Exact Match vs. Partial Match vs. Branded
There are three general categories that domain names fall into …
Exact Match Domain (EMD) — These are domains like cars.com, besttoasterovens.com, software.com, etc. The name is an exact match for your top level or longtail keyword. In the past this gave a huge rankings boost for the keywords in the domain name. It was however abused by people gaming Google’s algorithm with names like bestbirthdaygiftfordad.com. Back in 2012 Google added an exact match penalty to the search algorithm.
This doesn’t mean all exact match domains are penalized or bad. The penalty targets exact match domains with thin or poor quality content. If you can find a good two or three word exact match … consider it. The big downside is a future buyer may balk, being predisposed to no exact match domain names.
Partial Match Domain (PMD)— This is when you use a keyword as part of your domain name. So if you were in the home improvement tools niche something like zippytools.com would be a partial match. Try to keep the partial match broad to not lock yourself in to a specific niche segment. Zippytools.com might be preferable to zippydrills.com for instance.
Brandable — these are domain names that have no keywords in them. Something like Google.com or Nike.com is a brandable name. In most cases short & brandable is the preferred name category, though perhaps the hardest to come up with creatively. If you ever want to expand the topic of your niche a brandable domain won’t lock you into a specific area. Also if you ever sell your site buyers often have a preference for brandable domain names.
Domain Name Generating Tools
There are a number of tools out there to help with the creative process of choosing a domain name. You typically give them a seed word and they will generate ideas of available domain names
In addition to the dedicated domain name tools, don’t overlook a site like thesaurus.com which can help you find synonyms to use as seed words for the tools.
Tips for Choosing a Domain Name
Here are some do’s and don’ts that will help you find the perfect domain name.
- Keep it as short as possible — Shorter names are easier to remember, brand and even type by your prospects.
- Spelling — Make it easy to spell and pronounce. Avoid double letters.
- Make sure it will scale — You want your domain name to be able to grow with your business. If you choose toasterovens.com it will be hard to expand into more kitchen appliances in the future.
- Think like a marketer — You want memorable and catchy names.
- Use only .com for US-focused website — It is tempting to have a head keyword exact match or very short one word domain name. Anything but .com however is like the numbers and dashes. It is obvious the .com was taken. Future site buyers also will balk at buying content and affiliate sites that are not .com.
- Don’t use your name — Neil Patel and many others successful sites have their name as/in the domain name. But it may affect the site’s valuation, who would buy yourname.com (besides Mom).
- No numbers or dashes — Numbers and dashes just look unprofessional. They scream that you could not get your preferred name.
- Misspellings — Don’t use a misspelled word, it looks like a mistake.
- Avoid words with multiple spellings — If you use a word like to, too, or two it will cause confusion.
- No trademarks or partial trademarks — You can’t use a trademark within your domain name. Bestnikesneakers.com will quickly get you a cease and desist order.
- No long exact match keywords — Stick with 2-3 words if you are going for an exact match domain name. To avoid any penalties, get lots of strong content up quickly and build your social and other backlink channels.
Premium and Dropped Domain Names
You may find that your perfect domain name is already taken but for sale. There are lots of people and even domain registrars in the parking business. These premium domains are perfectly safe to use if you have the budget and do some due diligence. You can checkout BuyDomains to get an idea of the premium domains market. They are often overpriced and emotions can get the better of you so just be cautious.
Dropped or otherwise previously used names are more risky.
Anytime you are buying an existing name you will need to do additional research.
- Was it used before or just parked?
- How was the name used before?
- Is the previous site in your niche?
- Any Google Penalties?
- Any Adwords or Adsense penalties?
- Is the domain in Facebook Jail?
- What is the backlink profile like?
You can use the Wayback Machine to see how the site was previously used. You can check the domain name for Facebook blocks easily. AHREFS and other tools will give you an idea of keyword and search traffic history. Check for big drops around updates for possible penalties or downgrades.
Buying a dropped domain like this can actually give you a jump-start in getting ranked by Google. If the site had some backlinks and is out of the initial sandbox, you can hit the ground running. But it can also put you in a position where Google won’t rank your content at all. Google may have an algorithmic penalty on the site. It is an advanced concept for experienced marketers.
For most bloggers and affiliates the best choices are a partial match or brandable domain name. I would place a stronger emphasis on brandable.
The advantages of brandable domain names are …
- Many shorter ones available
- Future buyers often prefer brandable
- Mature companies go brandable (Google, Nike, etc.)
- Easier to find .com brandable once creative process is completed
Should you always use a .com?
Generally if your customers are in the US you should use a .com top level domain (TLD). There are exceptions.
Are numbers used in domain names?
Numbers and dashes can be used in a domain name. It may not be a good idea however.
What about dropped and premium domains?
Dropped domains require extra scrutiny. Premium previously unused domains only require extra budget money.