Search Engine Journal

How to Choose a Domain Name

Over the past 20 years, I’ve registered hundreds of domain names for business purposes.

What follows are 11 tips to help you choose the best domain name to register.

1. Businesses Don’t Own Domain Names

The first thing to keep in mind is that you are registering a domain name, not buying it.

Nobody really owns a domain name in the same way that they own an automobile or a house.

There is often a false sense of ownership with domains.

This is just something to keep in mind when approaching the registration of a domain name.

2. Should a Domain Name Match Your Business Name?

A domain name should match your business name, only if it matters to you.

Google’s domain is owned by a business called Alphabet.

But Google isn’t named Alphabet, that’s just the name of the company that owns the Google brand.

Similarly, you might want to brand your online business with something more appropriate and keep the business name in the background.

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For a local business, yes, it makes sense to register a domain name that matches the brick and mortar business.

But for a strictly online-facing business, you may be free to consider a possibly better domain name.

3. Should You Use Choose a Domain Name with Keywords In It?

Good quality of domains with exact match keywords in it, in my experience with affiliate sales, tend to convert at a higher rate.

I imagine that when a searcher reviews the search results pages (SERPs) and sees the domain name with the keywords in it that she may think, “Aha, this site has what I want!”

Click, click, click.

Keywords in the domain name quickly tell the potential site visitor that this is your specialty.

If you want a taco, would you feel your odds of finding taco satisfaction are higher at “Joe’s Tacos” or at “Laura’s Margarita Cantina?”

And if you want a margarita, would you choose “Joe’s Tacos” or “Laura’s Margarita Cantina?”

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The keywords in the domain infer that the site not only has what they want but actually specializes in it.

Keywords in the domain name are often considered in terms of potential ranking value.

In my opinion, that’s overstated.

The true value is in attracting visitors that have a greater intention of converting into a sale.

When a consumer walks into Joe’s Tacos, the odds are high that they will be going home with a belly-full of tacos.

4. Keep the Domain as Short as Possible

I try to keep a domain name to no longer than three words.

My preference is for domain names consisting of two words.

Yet it’s unavoidable that a word like “search” needs the word “engine” to keep it company.

And that’s fine.

5. Domains That Convey Meaning

Sometimes it makes sense to register a domain that conveys a meaning.

SearchEngineJournal.com is a great domain because the words “Search Engine” tells you it’s a website about search engines. Then the word “Journal” conveys that this is a news site.

There used to be a trend to add the suffix “watch” at the end of domain name, with keywords in the prefix of the domain name, like WidgetWatch.

I never liked it because if you think about it, that word, “watch, is adversarial within that context and in my opinion, needlessly so.

So a visitor unacquainted with a “-watch” site might assume that WidgetWatch was a site that keeps tabs on Widgets in order to report the latest negative thing the widget did.

When choosing a meaningful domain name, it may be useful to think about the qualities you want your site to be associated with.

So just write down the words of those feelings or qualities that you want the visitor to feel.

  • Friendly.
  • Cheapest.
  • Fast.
  • Zippy.
  • Best.
  • Experts.
  • Nerds.
  • Friends.
  • Family.
  • Trustworthy.
  • Healing.

Or You Might Want Visitors to Associate Your Site With a Place

  • Office.
  • Showroom.
  • Store.
  • Palace.
  • Oasis.
  • Online.
  • Zoo.
  • Hangout.
  • Zone.
  • Cafe.

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Now, review synonyms for the quality that you want a site visitor to associate with your site and play around with the words to find the right match.

6. Don’t Use Hyphens in Domain Names

Is it OK to use hyphens in a domain name today?

Absolutely not.

Avoid using hyphens in a domain name.

Keywords in domains are not so important for ranking as to resort to cramming keywords into the domain name with hyphens.

It makes the site look sketchy and spammy.

Also, there is no ranking benefit from using keywords in the domain name.

7. Consider Registering Domain Name Variants

People mangle words in all kinds of crazy ways.

I remember a theatrical venue that had a Cabaret Seating section and I was told that half the people calling for tickets were asking for “Cabernet Seating.”

So, this may be arguable but based on my experience, I believe it’s important to register reasonable domain name variants.

If your domain name is “WidgetExpert”, then you might want to consider registering “WidgetExperts” because people tend to add an “s” to the end of a singular domain name.

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People may remember your domain name wrong in many different ways, so try to anticipate that and register the domain name variants then redirect them to the correct domain.

Singular and plural variants are common mistakes but also actual spelling mistakes might be something to think about.

Redirect all of them to the actual domain and you might even pick up some links from sites that linked using the wrong version.

One last benefit is that this is also a proactive defensive measure that will block future competitors from registering a variant of your domain name.

8. Defensive Domain Registration

Defensive domain registration is registering domains that a competitor might register in the future.

It is arguably prudent to register the singular and plural versions of a domain name and also the .net, .org, .biz, .info, and .us versions as well.

If your site visitors are international and/or in the English language, then it may be useful to register the .ca, .co.uk versions of the domain name as well.

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One can choose to not register those domains.

But in the event of a competitor registering one of those variants, the publisher will have to go through the headache of hiring an attorney to send a cease and desist request to someone (possibly in a developing country) with the hope that the competitor will be afraid enough to turn it over.

Good luck with that.

I don’t like headaches.

Registering those extra versions is not only defensive, but those extra domains could come in handy for other purposes later on.

For example, at one time I temporarily redirected a website to the .net version while the .com was under repair.

9. What If the Dot Com Domain is Already Registered?

Dot com is the prime version in the United States.

If someone else already has a site on the .com and only .net or .org are available, unless it’s a keyword domain, then maybe it isn’t worth it to spend the time developing a site that someone else owns the dot com version.

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If someone is simply hanging on to the domain and not doing anything with it, it’s possibly OK.

But site visitors really like to see that dot com in the URL.

10. Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD)

Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) are domains that are specific to a country.

Domains in the .ca, and the .uk registry are ccTLDs.

Site visitors tend to prefer ccTLDs that are specific to their country.

So if your clients are in Australia, it might make sense to use the .au version of the domain.

Traditionally, ccTLD domains tended to convert a higher rate within their respective countries.

11. Has the Domain Been Previously Registered?

Some domains have been previously registered.

This may or may not be an issue.

Since the old days of SEO and up to the present time, there is an issue with penalties that stick to a domain name.

What happens is that sometime in the past, a spammer used a domain, burned it (penalized by Google and unable to rank) causing the spammer to let it drop (to let the domain registration lapse) so that the domain becomes available again.

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What sometimes happens is that when the next business registers that domain they will find it impossible to rank it for anything meaningful.

The site might pop into the bottom of the top ten once a month for a few days but then it drops back to the second, third page of the search results or worse, nowhere.

Before registering a domain, it’s wise to visit Archive.org where entering the domain name will show whether the domain has ever been registered.

If the domain has been registered, Archive.org (also known as The Wayback Machine or the Internet Archive) will show an interactive timeline that can be clicked to view previous versions of the websites associated with that domain.

As I understand it, Google does not provide a way to remove a legacy penalty from a domain that received a penalty years earlier.

The Google Search Console will not report that there is a manual action.

So there is no way to submit a reconsideration request for a penalty that the Google Search Console does not acknowledge.

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The first time I heard of this happening was to a newbie SEO professional around 2005 who couldn’t figure out why his SEO site didn’t rank.

So the folks over on WebmasterWorld figured it out for him and one of the forum members contacted Google’ head of webspam, Matt Cutts, on behalf of the SEO newbie.

Cutts confirmed that there was a penalty from a previous registration.

Unknown to the SEO professional, the site had been used to spam on behalf of adult affiliate sites.

So Cutts said he would take care of it and the penalty was subsequently lifted.

Recently in 2019, a person popped up on one of Google’s Webmaster Hangout Videos with symptoms curiously similar.

The site had indeed been used in a spammy way years earlier.

The publisher submitted the URL directly to Google’s John Mueller.

I watched the domain to see if it was able to rank for its own domain name and about a month and a half elapsed before it finally did.

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Aside from Cutts way in the distant past confirming that a legacy penalty had affected a site’s ability to rank, there’s been no official comment from Google about what causes that.

Choosing the Best Domain Name

There are many considerations for choosing a domain name.

It’s not generally a simple thing.

The above advice will help increase your probability of success.

Good luck!

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