How to Pick a Domain Name

Learning Academy

Are you trying to figure out a domain name for your business website?

Do you want the name to be cool, clever and brandable or are you planning to create a word list that you can mix and match until you find one that you like?

One thing you need to realize is, you need a list of possible domain names along with related keywords. There are roughly over 350 million domain names registered at this moment, and most likely a lot of the ones you come up with are already registered by other people.

So before we get any farther in determining how to pick a domain name, lets take a brief look at what a domain name is.

What is a Domain Name?

This is just a brief overview of what a domain name is and how it works. There is much more to it than described here, but this summary is more than enough for business owners who operate websites. For those who wish for more details can check out Wikipedia.

A domain name is a unique case insensitive alpha-numeric string of characters that identifies a website. It is usually made up of 3 parts which are separated by a period. For example:

The first part www. is called a subdomain. Depending on the web server settings, this part may not be required. The subdomain can be any text you want but in most cases “www” is used for the main website on the domain. You can also have different subdomains point to different websites.

The second part DomainName is the actual domain and is what you are mainly trying to decide on what it should be.

The third part .com is the top-level domain (TLD). It can also be called the extension or domain suffix. There are over 1,000 TLDs to choose from with the most popular ones being .com, .net, .org, and .edu. TLDs (or country codes, i.e. ccTLDs) can be associated with specific countries, like .ca is for Canada and .uk is for United Kingdom. Other TLDs also exist like .book, .shop, .store, etc. People even use some ccTLDS in non country location specific ways. For example, the .co extension is for Columbia. Some enterprising person may use the extension as part of the spelling for their website name, like one that celebrates the (disco) music era.

To access a website you need to type the domain name into the address bar of your web browser. You must include a protocol at the beginning (if you don’t then the web browser will assume one). For accessing websites this protocol is called the HyperText Transfer Protocol. This is either http:// or https:// (for the encrypted version). When you press enter a request from your web browser is sent to a database on a Domain Name Server (DNS) asking for the IP address of the web server for the domain name where the website resides.

The Internet Protocol (IP) address is a a unique string of characters that identifies each computer that is communicating over a network. There is different versions of the Internet Protocol but most people are familiar with version 4 (IPv4) where addresses are made up of 4 sets of up to 3 numbers and follows a format like 123.456.789.123.

IP Addresses are obviously difficult to remember, therefore the process of using domain names was created. While each domain name is unique they can make up names and words making them much easier for a human to remember.

To understand the concept of domain names, think of it like a phone number or address that identifies your business physical location. No other business shares your phone number or address, which is the same for the domain name of your website.

Domain names are managed by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). According to Wikipedia, ICANN is a “nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the Internet”.

To get a domain name you must register/reserve them for a length of time from a Domain Registrar. You do not own the domain name, you are basically renting it.  A Registrar is a business that has been accredited by ICANN to resell domain name registrations to individuals and businesses. Registrars will offer domain names for sale for 1 or more different TLDs.

The domain along with the TLD (this together is called the root domain) must be unique and not already reserved by someone else. Domain names are reserved in 1 year increments (can do multiple years at once) and must be renewed before it expires or you risk loosing the domain name to someone else. There are many businesses online who are official domain registrars that you can reserve your domain name from. Just like any business niche though, their are good and not so good businesses. Some will be better run than others, and some will have better prices than others. The domain registrar you choose should be a reputable brand that you know will not be going out of business soon, and has a descent set of features and price.

Our recommended Domain Registrars in no particular order include:

Mistakes and Things to Avoid

Since the mistake list is smaller, let’s review some common mistakes people make when picking a domain name.

The number one mistake in picking a domain name is:

Picking a name no one will search for.

This is especially true for companies just starting out and do not have an established brand.

Some other mistakes people make when choosing a domain name include:

  • Using Hyphens
    Looks spammy and can introduce typos
  • Using Numbers
    Is it 5 or five? Unless it is part of your brand name don’t include a number.
  • Misspelling Names
    Introduces typos as people cannot remember if it is spelled one way or the other.
  • Trademarked
    Make sure the name you picked is not already a registered trademark. If it is, you may get into legal trouble.
  • Fads
    A name based on a fad may seem clever now but in a few years may seem old fashion and out of style. Pick a name that is timeless.

Whether you are a lock smith company called “Surelock Homes” or a property maintenance company called “Lawn & Order” as a company name or brand this works, but as a domain it may not if it breaks to many rules.

With domain names you need to consider how people are searching for you.

A good domain name reflects your brand and the products and/or services you sell.

Best Practices and Strategies

So what does work when choosing a domain name? Lets take a look at a few basic strategies that cover all types of names.

  • Keep it Short
    Longer names are harder to remember and prone to typos. Keep it under 15 characters.
  • Easy to Pronounce and Spell
    Needs to be easy to memorize, not too wordy with no complex vowel combinations.
  • Avoid Double Letters
    2 words in a domain with one ending in the same letter as the next word is starting with (like “golf” and “fun”, or “golffun”), will increase the chance of typos and is harder to read.
  • Mobile Friendly
    A name that will hopefully not get autocorrected and doesn’t require symbols on secondary keyboards.

You have 3 main types of domain name. A brandable name, a keyword based name, and a combination of the 2.

Choosing the right type of domain name that is best for your business may depend on the purpose of your site, and how popular your brand is, along with the available domain names for the domain extension of choice.

Choose a Brandable Name

If you have an existing company that has been around for at least a few years, it’s often best to go with the name of your company for your domain name. For your location and service area this is already a recognizable brand which through online marketing can be promoted to expand your reach.

The one thing that can make this problematic is that if the business name is somewhat common, it may already be taken. If that is the case, you may need to then look at a different domain extensions or add a targeted keyword (that is related to your industry) to your business name for the domain name.

If you are in the midst of starting a new business then your domain name may dictate what company name you ultimately choose.

The most successful brandable name usually have no specific meaning like “Google”, “Uber” or “YouTube”. They are unique and are not similar to any competitor name. They are fun to say and snappy. The goal here is to create potential for the domain name and to build brand value over time. Your main limitations is if the name you like is trademarked or has already been registered by someone else.

Choose a Keyword Based Name

On average, 63% of top-performing websites have industry targeted keywords in their domain name.

These domain names use keywords that may describe the business itself, location, and the services and/or products offered. For example, if you run a garage that works on vehicles, you may want to register a domain name like or

Having targeted keywords as your domain name or extension that relate to the business increases the chance of your website ranking higher in search results for those keywords and other similar ones, when compared to your competitors.

Choose a Domain Extension that Fits

When ever possible a business should go for the .com extension. Approximately 47% of all websites use this extension so if someone cannot remember your extension they will most likely try this one first. Plus consumers often trust this extension more than others as it seems safer (even though the website may not be). This comes from the fact that email spam often uses other domain extensions that have cheaper domain price (like .info or .biz). Even if you plan to use another domain extension and a .com version is available, it is advisable to get it as well.

If you are looking for a domain for a charity, non-commercial organization, nonprofits, or other non government organization (NGO) then you should consider a .org extension.

If your business website is local then you may want to consider using your country code. Your website may even get a bit of a ranking boost from it for searches from that country. If there is a chance in the future that your business could expand outside your country, then a country code extension would not be a good option.

Other than that if you have your heart set on a specific domain name and it is not available on your domain extension of choice then you can consider the other extensions as most SEO experts agree that a domain extension isn’t considered a Google ranking factor (except for country codes). Just get one that reflects the business and is a word that is not already mentioned in the rest of the domain name.

  • .biz
    For business or commercial use, like e-commerce sites.
  • .co
    An abbreviation for company, commerce, and community.
  • .shop or .store
    For ecommerce sites.
  • .info
    Informational sites.
  • .me
    Great for blogs, resumes or personal sites.

Research Your Name

As we mentioned before, you are going to need to create a list of possible domain names and keywords that you want to use in a domain name. With so many domains already registered, the majority of your first picks for the domain extension you want, will most likely already be taken.

The first thing you need to figure out is if you want to have a brandable domain name or a domain based on industry targeted keywords. If you are not sure at this point, that is okay as you can research both options.

Next, you can perform some searches on Google to determine how the target audiences of your business would search for the products and/or services you offer. This is also a great way to find your competitors and see the domain names they are using.

These keywords you are using to search, should be part of your list. You can then expand your list by using a Thesaurus to look up the words you already have, to find their synonyms.

Once you are ready, you can then start matching your keywords together using a maximum of 3 in total looking for combinations you like, and that makes sense (following all the rules we have mentioned above).

If you are considering brandable names, you can also write down a list that you like. You need to do searches on these potential brand names just incase they are already used. A registered trademark search as well is a must (more on this below).

Once you have a list of names you like, you can then visit one of the Domain Registrars we recommend. You can enter your list of domains one at a time to see if it is available. Most of our recommended registrars require you to create a free account and login first before searching. When you search, these registrars will return information about the domain letting you know if it is available or not, and the yearly cost (and an upfront cost if the domain is for sale by someone who is currently has it reserved). They also list other suggestions based on the domain you entered. These suggestions will contain related keywords and other extensions. If you find one you like you should also add it to your list.

Once you have your updated list of available names that are available, you then need to make a final decision. If you have a website designer or online marketer you should consult them as well as they will have some expert insight on the choices you have come up with.

Making sure your domain name is not trademarked in the countries your business operates (or in the future will potentially operate in) is a must or you may a receive a cease and desist letter from a lawyer looking to protect their clients brand.

If you operate in the United States, checking the official government United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website is a good place to start. For those in Canada you want the Canadian Trademarks Database. It’s also good to check global sources as well like Trademarks411 and WIPO.

You also have to make sure the domain you choose is not confusing to the consumer who may mix it up with another businesses domain name. For example WordPress themselves have stepped up and started to protect their trademark. They ask businesses like plugin developers and designers not to use the word “WordPress” in their domain names. This practice in the past has led to confusion by users on what is an official WordPress service and what is not. WordPress themselves suggest using alternate variations on the name like “WP” instead.

Please remember we are not lawyers and this is not legal advice. If you have any concern over your own domain name pick and if it violates a registered trademark, then we recommend consulting a lawyer that specializes in this field.

Domain History Considerations

What you might think is a new domain name may not actually be. It could have been registered before but has just expired. If this is the case then you may want to know the history of your domain pick as at some point it could come back and bite you.

There are a few ways to check out the history of a domain:

Internet Archive

If the domain was connected to a website in the past you may wonder what type of content was on the website (or sites)?

The Internet Archives Wayback Machine allows you to visual explore more than 680 billion of pages saved over time. If the website connected to the domain before had any sort of traffic, then at some point the Wayback Machine most likely saved a copy of the homepage at least once, if not multiple times over time. Other pages as well most likely exist in the archive.

With the Wayback Machine you can peruse your domain through history to find out the type of content it had and if it could potentially cause problems for you in the future.

Domain History Report

Companies like DomainTools and offer domain reports that are paid services which let you know the history of the domain from the beginning to see when it was registered, when it changed hands, IPs assigned, and other DNS records it has had.


Sites linking to the domain is also an important consideration (for good or bad). If the domain you like had been registered before within the last few years, then most likely their are still other websites that link to it. You can find these backlinks by using paid tools like Ahrefs or by performing searches of the domain root on Google.

What’s wrong with having backlinks? Are they not good for search engine optimization (SEO)? Yes, in most cases they are. Search engines use them as an important indicator of trust by other websites, but unfortunately backlinks may also be considered as SPAM. To many backlinks or links from bad website neighborhoods may actually cause ranking problems or even a manual penalty from search engines like Google.

You also want to look at the content of the pages where the backlinks originate. The content may be harmless or it could be content that you do not want associated with your business. For example negative reviews of the previous business that had the domain, SPAM, or even porn.

If you find a domain has a lot of backlinks you may want to consider a professional SEO expert to take a look at it to determine if it is a domain worth investing in.

Protect your Brand

To protect your own brand, you may want to consider purchasing various domain extensions, as well as misspelled versions of your domain name. This prevents competitors from registering other versions and ensures your customers are directed by search engines to your website, even if they mistype it.

Protect your Domain

You have gone through all this work finding the perfect domain for your business website.

You now have to get a website built and market it once it goes live. You will be investing a lot of time and money and in return your website will become your number one sales tool.

Don’t throw it all away by not protecting your domain name. Make sure you don’t make any mistakes by following these rules.

Always Register the Domain Name Yourself

Everything about your website marketing is based on your domain. If you loose control of it then your brand is in jeopardy.

That is why you should never let anyone else register your domain under their account at a domain registrar. Always use your own information for the Registrant, Administrator, and Billing contacts.

If you let someone else do it, you never know what could happen to or with that person. You could loose contact with them over time or a disagreement could happen and your domain name could be held hostage for leverage.

Lock the Domain

By locking a domain this prevents it from being transferred to another Domain Registrar. Domain hijacking can happen where someone may attempt to steal an unlocked domain by pretending to send a seemingly legitimate request to the Domain Registrar that the owner requested to move the domain to another account at another Domain Registrar.

Domains can only be unlocked by the account who owns it. When a domain is unlocked a Auth Code is required to initiate a transfer.

Set your Domain to Auto-Renew

We always recommend to set a notification in your calendar 2 months before your domain expires as a reminder so you can renew it. We also recommend renewing it manually as when you do, you can review all the contact information is correct for the domain and that your credit card on file is current. When registering a domain, ideally you want to do it for multiple years at once. This makes it easier to manage and may give a small SEO ranking boost as it shows the search engines the website should be around for awhile.

Domain Registrar’s will also send the domain contacts email reminders if it is getting close to a domain name expiring.

That being said, unfortunate things happen and the domain by accident may not get renewed by the owner. If that happens, after a certain time period the domain will be released to the open market and it may get purchased by someone else. Hopefully the mistake gets discovered before the expiry date as the website and any emails connected to the domain would become inaccessible.

The easiest way to prevent all this from happening is to turn on auto-renew for the domain. This way if you do forget, the domain will get renewed as long as your credit card information on file is current.

In Conclusion

Your domain name is important, but it is just one factor in branding, SEO and digital marketing. There are so many other factors including the page content, keywords, and speed of your website. You need to bring them all together for a successful marketing strategy.

Deciding on a domain name is one of the first steps in bringing your business online. If you want to start your journey off on the right foot, contact us now and we can schedule a consultation and discuss the best way to move forward.

About the Author

Tom Homer

Building custom dynamic websites is our specialty. With over 25 years experience in software design and development I have been helping  small businesses invest in their future.

Article Author Tom