Choosing your domain name (and equivalently your website’s name) can often be a difficult task. Coming up with a good name can be difficult enough, and this problem can then be worsened since quite a few domain names are already registered. This can be annoying since you could come up with a great site name (let’s say Your Great Name), only to find out later that YourGreatName.com and/or YourGreatName.net are registered.
This means that you must then either try and re-choose your name (and then have to re-check if the equivalent domain is free to register), or that you register a less well-known domain extension (YourGreatName.org, YourGreatName.info etc) of your original idea.
There is a third option – and this is to try and buy YourGreatName.com and/or YourGreatName.net off their owners. However more often than not this could be quite expensive (with sellers requesting $xxx or even $x,xxx+ – i.e. hundreds or thousands plus) in order to sell the name to you. Hence this article won’t consider this third option; however if you are thinking of doing this, always use a domain Escrow service (i.e. from Escrow.com, Moniker Escrow etc) for high-value domain transactions.
This article will look at the following aspects of choosing a domain name for your website:
* Choosing your website’s name
* Choosing your domain name’s extension (.com,.net etc)
* Where to register your domain
* Protecting your domain
Choosing Your Name
Having an idea of your aims/objectives, and also an idea of your website look/layout and content as discussed in another article can help you in choosing a name. You want your website name to suit your site’s topic area, and you also want it to be as memorable as possible. Whilst having a relatively short domain (4-6 letters long) can help with making your name memorable, remember that some of the most popular websites and brands (Facebook, Microsoft etc) aren’t necessarily short – more importantly they are pronounceable and they look good.
There are some good tools out there that can help you to come up with a website name, such as NameBoy, Dot-o-mator, MakeWords, Domain Exposer and BustAName. Even resources like a dictionary or thesaurus can help you in choosing your site’s name.
Once you have decided upon a name, do a quick search in Google and see if there are any websites with similar names to yours. Especially if the websites have the same niche as yours, it is not a good idea to have a website name very similar to another website’s name.
Whilst a less common issue, also be wary of whether your chosen name conflicts with any existing trademarks or registered names. You can run a trademark check on a website like Business Link (a UK site). Please note that, as far as I’m aware, Business Link only looks at UK-registered trademarks.
To re-emphasise the most important part of the first paragraph above: You want your website name to suit your site’s topic area, and you also want it to be as memorable as possible. Also be wary of websites/trademarks with similar names to your chosen name.
Choosing Your Domain’s Extension
As the old saying (in domaining circles) goes, “.com is king”. It is the most popular TLD (top level domain – i.e. ‘domain extension’) around, and has been for many years. Hence if possible, try and register the.com version of your chosen website name.
Of course, since “.com is king” and it’s the most popular TLD, there is a chance that the.com version of your chosen name is already taken. In this case, you must either choose another website name entirely or look at registering one of the other available TLDs. For the purposes of this section, we will assume that you choose the latter option.
When some of the other TLDs were first introduced, they were assigned a particular meaning – i.e. “.net” were for ‘networking’ sites, “.org” were for organization sites, “.info” were for information sites and “.biz” were for business sites. However nowadays, particularly with.net and.org, such associated meanings aren’t as strong and so using one of the above for any type of website is more acceptable (in fact my first popular website – which is still running nowadays with 9,500+ members – used a.org TLD). “.net” especially is a very popular TLD for any type of website.
Also remember that many different countries now have their own TLDs – known as ccTLDs (country code top level domains). For example, the United Kingdom has “.co.uk” (along with “.org.uk” etc), China has “.cn”, America has “.us” etc. Hence there are a range of options to choose from – if your website is more of a local one (i.e. and not specifically targeting an internationally diverse audience), choosing your specific ccTLD may be a good idea.
In terms of popularity,.com is the most popular. The Chinese ccTLD.cn recently became second most popular..net is third most popular, and.org is the fourth most popular (going on Verisign’s list of recent domain registrations). It can be a good idea to be mindful of this – some people will simply chose the.net TLD if the.com TLD is already taken, for example.
This section gives an (albeit brief) list of some of the more common TLDs and ccTLDs available to register. However don’t worry too much which one you choose – the search engines will rank your website mainly based on the quality of its content (amongst other things). Simply owning a.com TLD doesn’t mean your website will be ranked highly with the search engines. As an example, if “Toys.com” was just a small one page website, whilst “LookAtOurToys.org” was a very popular, 100-page website, the search engines would almost definitely rank “LookAtOurToys.org” higher than “Toys.com” when people searched for “Toys”.
In total there are dozens of different TLDs and ccTLDs around, and so don’t worry too much if the.com version of your particular domain is taken. The quality of content on your website is much more important than the TLD you choose.
Where To Register Your Domain
Firstly, I feel it’s important to say that many website hosts allow you to register domain names through them. And whilst this is convenient, it is usually recommended to register your domain name yourself at a domain name registrar and keep your hosting and domain name(s) separate. This allows you to have more control over your domain(s) and also if you ever wish to move hosts, you don’t also have to worry about moving your domain name out of your old host to your new host etc.
Probably the most popular domain name registrar (the company you buy your domain off) is GoDaddy.com. However they aren’t the cheapest domain registrar around (to get competitive pricing with GoDaddy you usually have to search the internet for GoDaddy coupons to bring their prices down). Having said that, their domain control panel is relatively well laid out and easy to use.
There are a range of other registrars about – I personally use and recommend Moniker. Name.com, NameCheap and eNom also all come recommended. Have a browse around them, check out their pricing and features and choose a registrar based off that. Also, if you know people who already have domains at any of the above, ask them what they think of the domain control panel – having easy access and control of your domains is very useful.
Have a brief look around the various domain name registrars mentioned and consider registering your domain(s) there. By all means register your domain name(s) at your host or a different registrar to the ones listed above; I’m just making some suggestions to speed up your research.
Protecting Your Domain
By protecting your domain, I don’t mean legally protect it (i.e. via trademarking or registering your website name – which would be quite expensive). I’m referring to basic security measures like ensuring your domain is ‘locked’ and that your contact information is kept up to date.
A domain can either be “locked” or “unlocked” – by default after registering a name, it should always be “locked”. Locking a domain prevents it from being moved to another domain registrar. So be sure to check that your domain is locked after you register it.
Always keep your domain’s contact information up to date – there are numerous reasons for this. One of the main reasons is that when your domain becomes close to the renewal date, your domain registrar should e-mail your e-mail address on record to remind you to renew it. If your e-mail address is wrong or out-of-date, you may not get this e-mail and in a worst case scenario the domain could end up expiring and you could lose control of it (or be forced to pay a $60 redemption fee depending on how recently the domain expired).
The following is more of a general internet security point, although it’s still one to be very mindful of. Make sure that your e-mail address on record for the domain has a secure password that is hard (if not near impossible) to guess. It may seem relatively innocent, although having a weak e-mail address password could be a disaster if someone guesses it – they could then try moving your domain to another registrar and you wouldn’t get any of the notification e-mails since your account has been compromised. The same applies for your domain name account passwords – make them difficult to guess, otherwise someone may simply be able to come into your account and hence take control of your domain name(s).
Security can be something that people perceive as a time-consuming after-thought, although simple measures like ensuring your domain is locked, keeping your contact details up to date and having secure passwords can stop a range of potential hack attacks.
Choosing a website name isn’t always easy, nor is picking out another TLD if the.com version of your site name is taken. Hopefully the above information will have helped you in making that decision easier, and also in understanding that the TLD you end up choosing isn’t the most important factor in how well ranked your website is. However having a site name (and so domain name) you are proud of and like is important, so do choose wisely.
Christian Perry is a staff member at a website host offering PHP Web Hosting.