Choosing a domain name is almost as hard as choosing a name for your child, but unlike choosing a name for your child, you can’t fall back on your parents’ and grandparents’ names if you run out of ideas. You have to choose a name, and you’ll probably have to live with it for as long as your site stays in business.
So how do you do it? How do you choose that name which could make or break your site?
Stop! Forget About That Horrible Pun Right Now!
If I had a nickel for every website I’ve visited with a horrible pun in its title, I’d be retired on a tropic beach right now. CycloAnalyst.com, OptimEyes.com, SureLockLoans.com, and more—they make you smile and they’re memorable, so what’s wrong with them?
They aren’t professional. Plus, some people won’t get the puns. Spelled in mixed case, you can catch the allusion to a famous fictional detective in SureLockLoans.com, but spelled in lowercase, surelockloans.com just looks like a stupid name. And what does “sure lock” mean anyway? (I think this was a real problem—I just checked and they went out of business.)
One perceived advantage of pun names is that they’re memorable, but most pun domain names I’ve seen are hard to remember because they’re an awkward phrase. I may be able to remember that my optometrist’s business sounds like “optimize” and that it’s spelled weird, but that just means I might type in “optimieyes.com” or “optimeyze.com” or some other combination. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to remember a more boring name, such as “OxfordEyeDoctor.com”
Keyword Matching: Not Necessary, But Useful
Old SEO advice seems to stick around, so you may have read some old articles about choosing “exact match domain names.” These are domain names which contain the exact search phrase you most want to rank for. For example, if you want to rank for “antique wooden chairs,” you would buy AntiqueWoodenChairs.com or, if that wasn’t available, AffordableAntiqueWoodenChairs.com.
Obviously, multi-word long-tail search terms can get a bit ridiculous with exact match domain names—have you ever visited a site with an eight-word domain name? I have.
Luckily, the advice you’ve probably been reading is out of date. Google no longer places as much emphasis on exact match domain names, so you can choose something shorter and a little less exact.
It still helps to put part of your keyword phrase in your domain name—even if Google doesn’t give you any points, it makes it clear to potential visitors that your site is about the subject they’re interested in.
Let Computers Do Your Thinking For You
If you have a keyword phrase you want your site to target, why are you reading this blog post? Go to any domain name registrar site and type your phrase into their domain name suggestion tool. They’ll give you dozens of potential domain names.
Most of them will stink, but it will only take you a few minutes to scan all of the possibilities and see if one works for you. Then you can register it and have your new WordPress website up and running within minutes.
The Dyslexia Test
Although I just said that you can buy your domain name immediately, I don’t necessarily recommend that. One test I like to perform is the dyslexia test. That’s where you purposely try to read a domain name wrong to simulate what people who read your domain name quickly will think they read.
For example, read the following domain name quickly and then look away. Think about what you just read and then look back and think about what the domain name owner wanted it to say: tithetouched.com
This fictional site could be about a religious person touched by the power of tithing away part of his or her income: TitheTouched.com. But if you read it quick, you may assume it was an adult site: TitHeTouched.com. You can assume the people expecting an adult site won’t spend too much time on a religious site and that people wanting to visit a religious site won’t click on a link they think belongs to an adult site. A poor domain name, in this case, can ruin your business.
Before I register a domain name, I always look for possible anagrams in the name just to be sure I don’t lose traffic to mistaken first impressions.
The Spelling Test Addendum
As a side note to the dyslexia test—make sure you spell your domain name correctly! Web browsers will not put wavy red underlines under misspelled domain names, so it’s up to you to check your spelling.
Also, unless you decided to ignore my advice about pun names, make sure you correctly use homophones such as which or witch. If you have doubt about the spelling of your domain name, send it to the most grammatical person you know or look up each word in your domain name in the dictionary.
Take Time To Cool Off
Here’s proof that I’m a geek: I get really excited about domain names. When I think I’ve come up with a good name, I just can’t wait to buy it. I worry that someone else might come up with the same domain name in the same super-tiny-micro-niche I’m planning on entering. I start to feel like not getting the domain name will be the end of my business career, and that if I don’t buy it now, I’ll be a failure in life.
This is all nonsense. I have never once thought of a domain name and had someone else buy it first. But I have bought plenty of domain names and never ended up using them because they were bad choices. Probably hundreds if I must be brutally honest.
I’ve discovered one of the best things to do is to wait a few days between thinking of a domain name and buying it. That way I can evaluate it more dispassionately.
I also usually use this time to write my initial WordPress blog posts in a text editor, which usually helps me clarify my mission for that blog—which also helps me realize whether or not the domain name I choose accurately reflects the eventual content of the site.
Remember also that domain names share another feature with baby names—even though it’s a pain, they can be changed later if necessary—so don’t worry too much about what name you choose. Focus on the content and you can fix your domain name later.