5 Stupid-Simple Steps to Choosing Your Business's Domain Name

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that question... Well, I'd probably only have about $30, but that's a lot of gelato. And I get it. Choosing a domain name for your website is serious stuff. It's usually one and the same as choosing a name for your entire business.
09/15/2015 05:50 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2016


This post was originally published on Unsettle.org

"How do I choose a good domain name?"

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that question...

Well, I'd probably only have about $30, but that's a lot of gelato.

And I get it. Choosing a domain name for your website is serious stuff. It's usually one and the same as choosing a name for your entire business.

If only you could start a website without a domain name and think about it for awhile.

But you can't. You absolutely must have a domain name to start a website, and I don't want the domain name to hold you up from taking action.

Believe it or not, domain names do not have to be all that difficult to choose. You can choose a great domain name in under an hour. And you will, after reading this post.

Stress-free since '93.

Why Domain Names Matter

Alright, so you might wonder what all the fuss is with domain names. Why do they matter so much?

Put simply, your domain name is the very first point of contact that your audience has with your brand, your blog, or your business.

Your domain name is part of your brand, and it's a big part of it.

Studies show that your first and last name directly affect the success you'll have in life. Do you think it's any different for your domain name? Likely not.

Even if you don't emulate your domain name, people will automatically make assumptions and hold on to those biases about your domain.

Easy-money-fast.com is going to hold some negative biases. It just sounds spammy, right? But Getrichslowly.org sounds far more trustworthy.

There are a few properties of an awesome domain name:

4 Properties of a Killer Name

Property one: Your domain has something to do with the product, service, or niche you're in. There are examples of people who avoid this and do it effectively (for instance, Rowdykittens.com has nothing to do with Rowdy Kittens), but it's always good to go for the obvious.

Property two: Your domain name should be short. A good rule of thumb is that it should be between 1-3 words. If you're considering a longer domain name, think about how difficult that would be for people to remember, and for you to say if you were to tell people about your website at a party. What's easier to remember: Unsettle.org or Buildalifestylebusinessyoulove.com?

Property three: Your domain name absolutely must be memorable. That means it shouldn't be spelled in a weird way, it shouldn't use words that people don't use in normal English, and it doesn't have a ton of hyphens, dashes or words in it. If I had chosen Unsettle-your-career.com instead of Unsettle.org, it may have communicated what the site is about a bit better, but it certainly wouldn't have been as memorable.

Property four: The final property that makes a great domain name is that it should be in line with your branding, or the mood you want to convey. For example; if you heard the name HelloGiggles.com, you wouldn't expect the site to be a serious blog, right? And it's not. It's fun site for young girls. Consider how the Canadian bank Tangerine differs from TD Canada Trust. They're both banks, but TD definitely conveys a more corporate, serious, bankerly type feel than Tangerine, which is fun, young and fresh.

What Should It End With? (.Com vs .Net or .Org)

SEO "gurus" might tell you that you absolutely must have a .com domain. They say that Google favors .com domains to the point that if you have a .com, you'll show up in search engine results more.

The logic behind this seems to be that because a .com is a top-level domain (as is a .net, .org, .gov and .edu), Google will recognize it and rank results with a .com domain higher than another.

This is simply not true. Matt Cutts, who is the head of the web spam team at Google debunked this.

So if we're being real, the only reason that a .com is better than the others is because a .com is easier to remember.

You can work around that and rock a domain with a different suffix by using the suffix in conversation. For instance, when I'm referring to Unsettle in conversation, I always say "Unsettle dot org", because I don't own the .com, and I know that would be the assumption.

There are plenty of awesome domain names that aren't a .com, and some that are very popular:

  • Problogger.net

  • Leadpages.net

  • Bit.ly

  • Fizzle.co

  • Unroll.me
  • So, while a .com is preferred, it's not necessary and a different domain ending won't ruin your search engine rankings.

    What About Using Your First and Last Name?

    If you've ever considered starting a blog or website, this question has probably run through your head.

    Should you just use your first and last name or some variation of that as your domain name?

    The answer to this really depends on what you're building.

    Why you should consider using your first and last name:

    • You are looking to establish yourself as an expert in your topic: If you're looking to become a coach or consultant or even an author in your field, using your name could make sense.
    • Your branding is going to mainly consist of you and your personality: First of all, let's just start by saying that you are not your business. But, if you plan on using your unique personality to brand your business, using your name can be a great way to bring it all together.
    • You don't have a clear vision of what your website will be in a few years: Maybe you're thinking about going in a different direction in a few years - or maybe you're simply unsure of where it will go. If you are starting a food website but may switch gears eventually to include parenting, then using your name will make it so you don't have to start from scratch.
    • Your name won't change: If you're already married or not planning on taking your spouses' name when you do get hitched, then you're in the free and clear.
    • You're indecisive about a domain name and it's holding you back: You can always change your domain. But you can't get back time - and time wasted could mean another month in a job you don't love.

    Why you should not consider using your first and last name:

    • Your name is difficult to spell or pronounce: You don't want people having a difficult time finding you (that's lost money).
    • You want the option to eventually sell your site: Even if you don't think it will come up, it's still a good idea to consider this.
    • You plan on changing your name: Whether you just don't like your name and plan on changing it one day or want to take your spouses' last name when you get married, it's just a hassle to change things over.

    There are plenty of people who have used their first and last names as a domain name a la marieforleo.com, but the decision is yours - and there's no right or wrong answer.

    Now that we've addressed that, we can go onto how to choose a domain name that you'll love.

    How to Choose a Domain Name in 5 Simple Steps

    I'm going to walk you through exactly the process I used to pick Unsettle as my domain name in under an hour.

    It's simple, and I've condensed it into five steps just for you.

    Step 1: Start Brainstorming

    Now that you know what makes a great domain name, you can start brainstorming.

    The first step is to brainstorm words and phrases related to your topic.

    Don't screen out a word or phrase just because you don't like it. List any word or phrase that comes to mind. Write down all of the words you can think of. Even if you hate them.

    Step 2: Make a Date With Your Thesaurus

    You have a list of words and phrases related to your topic, so now it's time to find synonyms for those words.

    I use Thesaurus.com for this. If you're working in a Word document, you can highlight the word, right click, and see a list of synonyms.

    Write down all of the synonyms. Even if you hate the word, just include it in your list.

    Don't be afraid to go on a word spree here. It's okay to go down a rabbit hole - the idea here is quantity, not quality. Yet.

    Find synonyms for your synonyms. It took me at least 5 levels of synonyms to find Unsettle. It all started with the word "redesign".

    Step 3: Let a Software Do it For You

    Don't you wish you could just wave a magic wand and have a bunch of ideas you would never have found otherwise?

    Well, you're in luck. The internet is a pretty nifty place, and there's a website fort that.

    There are many domain name generators, but my favorite is probably Panabee. Start plugging in words from your list and let the software generate ideas for you.

    Write down the ones that you like.

    If you scroll down on Panabee, you'll find a list of other synonyms for your words. You may find that you discovered all of those synonyms in Step 2, but if not, include them.

    Step 4: Cull the List

    Now that you have dozens and dozens of words and synonyms for the original words you came up with, plus the additions from a domain name generator, go down the list and cross out any that you don't like.

    Here are some tips:

    • Cross out any potential names that are over 3 words long
    • Remove any potential domain names that don't align with the brand you're going for
    • Remove any that aren't easy to spell or remember

    If you're unsure, run it by somebody you trust. Sometimes we get too emotionally invested in something but it doesn't make sense to anybody but ourselves.

    Narrow your list down to the three that you like the best. Then...

    Step 5: Find Out if The Domain is Available

    Now that you've narrowed down your list of potential domain names, you just need to check to see if they're available.

    There are dozens of websites you could use for this, so just try Name.com or Godaddy's Domain Search. Unless you already have hosting and know how to change the domain nameservers over (don't worry if you don't understand that), then don't buy the domain from these sites. You're just seeing if they are available.

    Check your favorite three domains. We already know that a .com is not necessary, but if you like two the same amount and one is available in a .com and the other isn't, then let the .com availability be the tie-breaker.

    And a quick word of caution: most domains that are 1-2 words in a .com are actually premium domains so will cost a lot. For instance, my name, which is very common, is almost $2,000.

    If you have the budget for it, then go for it! But if you're a normal person and don't want to spend the amount of a (junky) used car on a domain name just to have the privilege of a .com, then you have a few options:

    • Take out a letter (Like Pat Flynn's foodtruckr.com)
    • Change the end of the word (ie I could have chosen Unsettled, or Unsettling)
    • Consider a .org or .net instead of a .com.

    If you're still trying to choose between two or three, crowdsource it! Find out from a few people you trust which they prefer.

    Now, It's Time to Take Action

    Lock down the domain name. If you don't have hosting for your website yet, I would just buy the domain through the web host so you don't have to fuss around with changing nameservers over. Again, if you don't know what that means, that's okay. It just shows that you should probably buy the domain with the host.

    Whether you buy your domain through a third-party domain provider or your web host, I always find that when I take action on something, it helps me gain momentum.

    And there's no way you got this far and don't want to take action.

    About Sarah: I used to have to ask for time off. Now I can travel whenever I want and work from anywhere with Wifi. I write and podcast at Unsettle.org where I encourage people to never settle for careers they don't love. Find your perfect lifestyle business idea with her free course so you can stop settling and start building your dream.