How To Choose The Best Domain Name

Domain Name Expert's advice on how to register the best Domain Name

When a better name matters.

Most of what I describe below applies to choosing a good domain name if you plan to tell it to people on the phone or face-to-face. It also applies if you want returning visitors to remember your domain name. If you only plan to have visitors to whom you have given your business card or those who will click a link somewhere, once and you do not care if they remember your domain name - then many things below may not apply, although it may help you to choose a domain that would have a higher value.

Make it short.

Make your name as short, yet as descriptive of your business or as relevant as possible. If your business is not a brand new concept then chances are, it will be a challenge, unless you have come up with a unique word, not from the dictionary, that represents your brand.

One-word domains are best but they are by now all taken. It is not very realistic these days either to expect to buy one from someone else for a reasonable price.

Two- or three-word domains are your better choice. Again, the shorter the better. It applies to the number of words as well as the length of each word.

Acronyms and abbreviations.

I usually do not recommend the use of acronyms or abbreviations, even if it makes your domain name technically shorter. The reason for this is that our brain stores information in tokens and each token relates to emotions and other information in our brain - it is called associative memory, the main mechanism by which we remember and recall things.

Let us say you are looking for a good domain for the company called "Best Domain Registration Company Inc". It would be very common for people to be tempted to register a domain trying to keep it short. But in fact, it is not shorter at all, rather the opposite! Why? Remember tokens and associative memory? The name "Best Domain Registration Company Inc" consists of 5 words, one token per each word. BDRCI is not any easier to remember! It is technically shorter, but it consists of the same number of tokens someone needs to remember in order to go to your web site! Even worse, it is much harder to remember, because each word is associated with many more anchors in your brain, while each individual letter of BDRCI is just a letter and associated with next to nothing.

So if you have no choice but to register a long domain, still use descriptive words, not a set of meaningless letters.


What about using dashes in the domain name? Use it if you must, but it is better avoided. Why? For the same reason as above - using a dash adds another token of information to remember, making your domain longer, as if you had added another word to it. Think about it, if you are talking with someone on the phone and want to tell them what your domain is, you have to specify that they must use a dash in your domain name. Likely many people will forget to use it anyway going to your competitor's web site.

Use simpler words.

Choose the simplest words possible. Pick words that are easiest to spell. You should expect that whatever can be misspelled, often will be misspelled. If you must register a hard-to-spell domain name, I'd recommend to register the most commonly misspelled variations and point to your web site so that when people misspell your domain name they would still end up on your web site.

Using numbers in your domain name.

If the number is a natural part of your name it may be OK. By the way, a number like 911 for example, is just one token, not three, because it represents one well known term. But if you are thinking of using number "2" instead of the word "To" or number "4" instead of the word "For", it is worse than using words, because it adds 2 tokens to remember - one is the number itself and another to remember that it is spelled as a digit, not as a word as most people would expect in the domain name.

Splitting the words.

It is very important to make sure that people can easily split your domain name into separate words from the first glance at it. Ask a few strangers (who do not know about your business) to read your domain name when it is written all in lower case, all words together with no spaces or other separators between them (unless your domain name has dashes in it). If you notice that people hesitate for a moment before they figure out where the boundaries of words are, you should think of another name.

Examine carefully if it is possible to split your domain in words other than you intended. Here are a few examples, some of them are real domain names - click here to see how inadvertently others got into trouble or embarrassment.

The value of extensions.

All domains have to have a top level extension like .COM or .NET, .ORG, .BIZ, .NAME or one of the country specific extensions.

.COM is perceived by the majority as the most valuable domain name. Sometimes people think of an owner of a .COM domain as the founder of the original idea and all others are perceived as followers. Other than prestige there is one very real statistical reason why .COM has a higher value. Since it is the most common domain extension, when people do not remember your domain's extension, they typically try first to go to the .COM domain. So if .COM belongs to your competitor you are giving someone else an advantage of those forgetful visitors.

.NET and .ORG are typically valued much less than 50% of .COM.

.BIZ, .INFO and .NAME are usually less than 10% of .COM

There are also 2-letter country related extensions for small countries nobody knows about but use this extension as if it meant something, for example .TV or .CC or .WS and so on. The value of those is very small.

.US is a special case - there is a mixed perception here - on one hand it belongs to the USA but since the .COM was originally from the USA the .US extension is somewhat redundant. Although some people are using it.

There are 2-letter country extensions like .CA, .UK, .AU, .DE, .FR, .IT, .CN and so on. The value of those extensions depends a lot on the purpose. For example some businesses which focus only on local markets use those extensions intentionally to show their national pride. Although some visitors may not know it and still think that they are following a .COM leader. Some others may still go to the .COM first just to realize later that it is not the web site they were looking for.

Having said all this here is my advice about extensions. Try to come up with a good .COM name. If not available, i would rather take time and search for another good .COM than registering anything else while someone else owns a .COM. Once you find a .COM you like, also register .NET and .ORG too. Ideally you may want to register your country extension too and depending on the size of your project, may be register BIZ, .INFO and so on down the list as much as your budget allows because you do not want anyone else to capitalize on your idea if/when it takes off.

Choose registrar wisely.

Price is important, but when it comes to your domain, you are putting a lot of trust in the company where you will register it. Your entire business or a large part of it will depend on availability of your web site and ultimately on you being able to control your domain smoothly. You do not want to risk registering somewhere based only on lowest price and then be unable to reach them by phone 24x7 in case of emergency. Please be aware that some companies claim to be located in the US, even having an address and a phone number in the US but the entire operation is in China or India and the US phone number only has an answering machine. The only way to reach technical support is to e-mail and get a reply from someone who barely speaks English, never mind that you may have to wait for more than a day for a response which may then only ask for more details rather than helping you. Do your research and deal only with reputable companies.

Protect your domain name.

As your first line of defence - lock it. Ask your registrar (the company with which you registered it) how to do it. If you do not do it, someone may have an easier way to transfer your domain away from you.

Never allow a situation where your domain record has an inactive e-mail address listed under administrator's contact information. If anyone but you gets access to that e-mail address you may lose your domain.

Set an auto-renew feature if your registrar has it, so that your domain would be renewed automatically rather than sending you reminders which you may miss and lose your domain as a result.

Beware of fraud. There are companies that lookup domain name records and mail invoices which appear to come from some Internet Authority. Others may trick you into transferring your domain to them and paying them exorbitant fees while letting you believe that they are your current registrar or that that they have any authority. Some called it fraud, some called it deception and after legal action they modified some phrasing to make it barely legal but still unethical. Do your own research, Google any of these: "Domain Registry of America" or "Domain Registry of Europe" or "Domain Registry of Canada" along with words "scam", "fraud" or "legal". Click here to see how their letters look. They even arrive in an envelope that appears to come from the government. Do not be tricked!

Your domain name in print.

I recommend the practice of capitalizing the first letter of each word of your domain wherever you use it - on your business cards, in print or on the internet. It gives readers more comfort and allows the eyes and the brain to instantly unconsciously recognize the words rather than wasting reader's attention and concentration thinking about where one word ends and another one begins. Also it helps to stick your domain in the reader's memory. A while ago I was recommending that each owner to test if their server (hosting provider) actually works with capitalized letters, in the event someone decides to type preserving the case. Although most people are aware that case does not matter in domain names and type it all in lower case anyway. Properly configured servers should work either way. I no longer insist on such testing because even if your hosting provider did not configure your server properly, the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox convert all URLs and domain names into lower case. It does not matter how people type it, but it does matter how they will see it in your printed materials. So pick the trend that makes sense - capitalize the first letter of each word.

What is www anyway?

In short - nothing, a rudimentary element that made history and even causes nostalgia to some people, but now has no purpose. Its legacy is so great and because it is hard stamped into their memory, some people still use it, even though they know that it is redundant. Although most people no longer use www, all properly configured servers must work with www as well as without. Test yours by the way, make sure it works with www as well as without it. And when someone asks you about your domain - do not waste your time mentioning www. Although in print sometimes it may look nice.


I hope it was helpful. If you have any comments or would like to hire me to help you with your domain name or a web site - do not hesitate to contact me - use the Contact Me link on the main menu.