Choosing a domain name often goes one of two ways. Either you pick one in a few minutes and run with it, or you agonize for weeks over the thought of getting it wrong. My goal here is to put you on a third path — one where you limit fear, act quickly, and get started actually building something before you lose all your momentum.
Follow some basic rules
This is probably going to be a controversial take, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad name on the surface level. It’s like naming a kid — people will judge your kid based on his/her actions and adorableness. Name it whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. Your only job as a “marketer” for your brand is to pick something people won’t forget. Just remember to hit these five boxes:
- It needs to be easy to say. Your primary naming goal is to facilitate word-of-mouth marketing, so if someone asks for advice about X, a friend needs to be able to say, “hey, try out Y.” If they aren’t confident in the pronunciation of your brand, they often won’t mention it.
- People need to be able to remember all the parts. Just because My Awesome Photography Studio is easy to say, doesn’t mean it makes for a good domain name. The more words the name contains, the more likely people will be to forget parts of it
- Avoid definite articles. On the same thread, try to avoid using “the” in domain names/brand names. Is it The New York Times or New York Times? These kinds of things confuse people — it’s why Facebook moved from thefacebook.com to facebook.com.
- It needs to feel familiar. ”Because familiarity enables easy mental processing, it feels fluent. So people often equate the feeling of fluency with familiarity.” When naming something, you don’t have to use real words, but the word patterns need to match the word patterns of real words. Twitter, for example, isn’t a word many people were familiar with before Twitter the brand was created, but it’s very simple in its construction. Same with Spotify, PayPal, and Slack. Compare those to these names from a recent YCombinator group: Synvivia, Kunduz, and Sterblue. None are hard per se, but they don’t feel like words that should naturally exist.
- It needs to be different from the competition. Here’s an example from the world of SEO. I’ve never once confused Moz with another brand, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the difference between Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal. They both seem and sound authoritative, but if you asked me for a site to go to for that sort of content, I’d probably choose neither because I mentally can’t tell them apart.
And here’s one thing you might hear that you shouldn’t worry about at all:
- Align your name with your market. I don’t think this is important at all. There are two trillion-dollar brands in the world right now: Apple and Amazon. Neither make any sense, really, but both are extremely simple and unlike anything else in their market. There is some research that shows exact match keywords help search results, but I tend to find keyword domains scammy if overdone (don’t be the person with reliable-dog-walkers-local.com), and oft-replicated if not overdone (see Search Engine Land/Journal).
Make sure your brand name isn't taken
Just because you can get a domain name doesn’t always mean you should. Before you register your name, make sure to:
- see if the related social media handles are also free. Your exact match is less important on social media, but you don’t want to find yourself competing with other international brands for the same words. Also, it helps if your name isn’t so generic that you’ll have trouble getting your handle on future networks. Basically, if your brand name is a common word, look out.
- check the WIPO Global Brand Database to see if your name already exists in the wild. Unless you have a lot of time/money to deal with trademark infringement or the purchase of someone’s trademark, I’d avoid anything on the list, even if you’re planning on using an alternative TLD.
Pick the right domain extension
I could put 1000+ words here about picking the right TLD, or I could just point you to our other guide: How to pick the right domain extension.