How To Choose A Domain Name

Thinking up a new domain is tough. So I decided to look at existing domain names for patterns. I figured if I could understand how the best domains are formed, it would be easier to come up with good ones for myself and to help advise my clients.

I've noticed that good domain names seem to fall into two general categories. They seem to be either

  • exact mach domain names, or
  • branded domain names.

But how do you go about choosing a domain name for your new site? It is thought that branded domain names are best. They're usually shorter and easier to recognise than exact match or keyword rich domain names. On the other hand, exact match domain names can sometimes come across as spammy.

Please note that any domain names I use as examples in this article may or may not already be owned by someone else.

Exact Match Domain Names

Suppose you sell dog beds and you specialise in selling low cost dog beds. You might be tempted to come up with a domain name like lowcostdogbeds.com or cheapdogbeds.com.

These domain names sound great because they consist of the very search terms people interested in what you sell, will type into Google.

Domains like this are called exact match domains (EMD). In the past these keyword rich domain names did well - mostly because they ranked in Google for the search term they were based on. For example, the search term car insurance quotes currently gets 500,000 searches per month on Google, so the exact match domain carinsurancequotes.com sounds like a winner.

But Google issued an EMD update to the search algorithm in 2012 which was supposed to diminish the success of EMDs. The stated reason Google didn't like EMDs was because people using EMDs were clearly gaming Google. Other sites without keyword loaded domain names would be trying to reach page one positions through hard work, great content and good technical practices. Meanwhile spammy sites just bought keyword rich domain names to rank with little effort.

Exact match domain names still rank but stand a better chance if the content on the site is good. Having an EMD may even give a good site, an extra lift in the search results.

Exact Match Domain Names In The Top 500

I checked the top 500 domain names, and I only noticed two exact match domains in the top 500 list at the time of writing this post. Most in the list were branded domain names. The two exact match domains that jumped out at me were

  • buydomains.com
  • cheapflights.com

Branded Domain Names

Branded domain names are generally safer, more popular and tend to create a better impression than exact match domain names. Further, there is always the possibility of creating a brandable domain that contains a partial word of your keyword phrase.

Types of Branded Domain Name

Many famous sites use branded domain names. These I noticed fall into four broad categories

  1. the same name as the business they represent - the business may have been online from the start or may have existed long before the internet
  2. a made-up word, that sounds good,
  3. a single word or modification of a single word
  4. two or three word combinations that somehow embody the purpose of the site where one of the words might also be a keyword

Some examples of these are from the top 500 domain names are :

Domain Names Based On : Business Names

  • forbes.com
  • washingtonpost.com
  • bbc.com
  • reuters.com
  • theguardian.com
  • samsung.com
  • lefigaro.fr
  • harvard.edu
  • microsoft.com
  • disney.com

Domain Names Based On : Single Words

There are some sites that have managed to obtain a single dictionary word domain name. But most of the English dictionary word domain names have now gone. Examples of these are:

  • medium.com
  • amazon.com
  • apple.com
  • adobe.com
  • live.com
  • booking.com
  • archive.org
  • change.org
  • wired.com
  • nature.com
  • about.com
  • box.com
  • blackberry.com
  • variety.com

Domain Names Based On : Made Up Words

Here the domain is either an imagined word, or it is an everyday word with a new ending appended to it., such as -ly, -ify, -able, etc.

  • spotify.com
  • google.com
  • digg.com
  • disqus.com
  • weebly.com
  • mozilla.com
  • vimeo.com
  • twitter.com
  • mashable.com
  • scribd.com
  • gravatar.com
  • bitly.com
  • canva.com
  • trello.com

Word Combinations

It's much easier to think up great branded domain names when you combine two or three words together as in the following examples from the top 500 domain names.

  • tinyurl.com
  • seomoz.com
  • dropbox.com
  • paypal.com
  • feedburner.com
  • gofundme.com
  • stackoverflow.com
  • evernote.com
  • dailymotion.com
  • myspace.com
  • slideshare.com
  • aliexpress.com
  • linkedin.com
  • wordpress.org
  • facebook.com
  • github.com
  • hugedomains.com
  • techcrunch.com
  • mediafire.com
  • sciencedirect.com
  • goodreads.com
  • tripadvisor.com
  • lonelyplanet.com
  • lifehacker.com

Notice the way these break down :

  1. made up names like mashable.com, or spotify.com,
  2. dictionary words -such as as apple.com. adobe.com or booking.com
  3. clever word combinations made up of two or three ordinary words as stackoverflow.com, or, gofundme.com

I advise that you use one of these methods to come up with your domain name. The easiest by far is to use the made up word or the word combination method.

Branded Domains - Made Up Words Examples

Think about different ways of spelling a word that sums up your service simply. For example a commenting (discussion) system for websites has a domain name of disqus.com which is a phonetic way of spelling discuss.

Or going back to our dog bed business, you could think of a word that is vaguely to do with dogs or sleeping - e.g snooze - and then change that word until you find something that is available. For example snoooze.com

Or you can take a word that is to do with your topic, or just a cute word that is nothing to do with your topic and add a common word ending to it as did mashable.com and spotify.com - who added -able and -ify to the end of ordinary words. So sticking with the dog beds idea we might end up with a common name or word for dog, followed by a word ending. So we may have houndacious.com or woofington.com

Branded Domains - Consecutive Words Examples

Here you use two or three words to sum up your brand. This method has the advantage that it can include a keyword too. For example in our dog beds domain name example, including he word dog in the domain name helps locate the what the service is. So you might come up with sleepydog.com or doggysiesta.com or snoringdog.com or dozingdogs.com or caninecomfort.com Once you start down the word combination road, the possibilities are endless.

Whatever you do, make sure there isn't another site that has a very similar domain name to the one you've chosen. For example if sleepydog.com is an existing large successful site selling dog beds, it would be a mistake to buy sleepydogs.com for your own site.

What About Other TLDs?

So far we've only mentioned the .com top level domain, but of course there are many others. The older, more familiar ones are .org, .net and even .co. Then of course there are the country level top level domains like co.uk, or .fr.

But there are also the brand new TLDs, such as .accountant, .club, .world, or .recipes. There are many new TLDs to choose from and so you may consider one of those. The downside to the new TLDs is people are generally unfamiliar with them.

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