Picking a Domain Name When Choices Are Scarce

For most small businesses, the obvious choice for a domain name for your website is your business name with a .com attached to the end of it. But one simple search on any of the domain name registrar websites will tell you that is not as easy of a task as it sounds. For a variety of reasons (some of which we’ll discuss in this post), many small business owners are finding that the name of their business is no longer available as a .com.

So if you can’t get your business name as your URL, or if you are starting your business afresh and the world is your choice, what do you do? If I were writing an article a few years ago about domain names, I might have offered the simple suggestion to look for a.com domain name that is short, easy to spell and easy to remember.

That’s still proper advice. But today, with many thousands of new sites coming online every year, most of the intuitive .com names have already been registered. There are, however, two main options to find a domain name that’s right for your business at a time when .com domains are becoming scarce:

(1) get specific, or

(2) buy a domain that’s already been registered.

By getting specific, I mean you could add geography or other business descriptions to your preferred domain name. For example, the name plumber.com may not be available but OakvillePlumber.com or JoeThePlumber.com may be.

Particularly, adding geography is a great idea for small business. Consumers are turning to the web — even for offline businesses like restaurants — to do some research and find out more about the establishment before visiting. By adding geography to your website, your domain will help you to be associated with local searches. Let me give you an example. When a potential customer types “Plumbers in Oakville” into a search engine like Google or Yahoo, OakvillePlumber.com has a high likelihood of being returned in the search results.

Or, you could consider a pre-registered domain that is back on the market for resale. It is very possible to find a great pre-registered .com name for your business by purchasing a premium or pre-registered domain name. These domains will be more expensive than a new name (ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars) but depending on the name and what you intend your site to do for your business, it may be worth the investment. As an added benefit, if the domain had a website associated with it in the past, the age of your domain will also help increase your search engine rankings (search engines tend to give sites extra ‘points’ the older they are — perhaps in an effort to identify more established businesses).

One parting thought — you could consider another top level domain (this is the extension at the end of the domain name). While the number of unregistered .com names is limited, there are often .net or .biz extensions available but keep in mind, .com is still the best option because it is the top level domain most consumers associate with a web address.

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Doug Shuman, featured expert on websites and domain namesAbout the Author: Doug Shuman, Register.com‘s Senior Vice President of Customer Marketing, is a 12 year veteran in the industry of marketing to small businesses. His efforts to understand what makes small businesses tick include everything from dabbling in his own start-up project to serving as a member of the National Advisory Council of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity.

32 Comments ▼

Doug Shuman




32 Reactions

  1. Doug,

    How many “Oakvilles” do you find around the world? Here is Sweden it was a rule that you should add the county letter in the domain name if you had a smaller company, like a trading company (handelsbolag in Swedish) / sales firm. O is the letter for the Gothenburg region, so an URL could look like this: “www.handelsbolag.o.se”.

    Do you have a suggestion for my long company (sole proprietorship) name, Egoist International Business Coordinator? I will continue to build my personal & bloggger brand Martin.Lindeskog.name / EGO. I have set up a new homepage that will list the different activities on my “market” in the future.

    All the Best,

    Martin Lindeskog – American in Spirit.
    Gothenburg, Sweden.
    http://Martin.Lindeskog.name/CV

  2. Doug-I’ve found that most simple names-and some complex-are already taken. 90% are blank and being parked until they can sell them for a profit. This is a business for some people.

    I try and get creative. Often you can add a dash (-) and make it work. You can also try and find something descriptive or clever. For example, wealthandwisdom.com was taken (and parked), but wealth-and-wisdom.com was available!

  3. Great advice Doug. Many domain names I have wanted to register were already taken. You do need to be creative to find just the right combination of words. Then you have to count your lucky stars if it’s available.

  4. Doug,

    Happy to see a real domainer in small biz world :)

    I always love the ‘name game’ for a website – and although short and memorable names are fun to see, but IMO they are less and less favourable – kijiji.com is cool, but what about sysxtn.com? sore to the eyes.

    As I see fit today, the best route is to buy an existing name. Expensive may be, but well worth it.

    I just got lucky I can grab noobpreneur.com about 2 months ago.

    Cheers for the great post, Doug!

  5. Another option to consider when choosing a domain name is going with something that’s descriptive about your business, rather than just your business name. For example, I have a client whose business is called ‘Edible Complex’ but that domain wasn’t available when he went to register. Instead, he chose to use PDXUrbanFarm.com as his primary domain. It’s a relatively easy to remember url that describes his business, and that makes it a winner.

  6. I abbreviated my longish domain. My domain name was PeopleToWorkWith.com but I abbreviated it to p2w2.com. :-) With the numerics, people find it easy to remember.

  7. doug can you comment on buying traffic domains in the aftermarket? how do you value them and how do you find names with traffic?

    B Smith – putting dashes in your domain is a big no-no. You will be serving the owner of the version without the dashes with free type-in traffic. Remember they are not only parking domains to resell them, but the domain names that are parked generate significant income in the form of traffic and ad clicks. Some premium domain names that are parked generate thousands of dollars a year just on traffic.

  8. also, wow – advising people to get a .BIZ for their business? i’m sorry but that is absolutely terrible advice and no one considers .biz sites to be genuine or anything other than the realm of spam web sites. This is more than my opinion, it is well established. In fact, McAfee’s anti-phishing/spyware product actually considers the TLD when evaluating a site and they have stated that .biz web sites are more likely to be problematic.

  9. Thanks for the comment. Not all small business owners are familiar with buying domain names for their business and this type of conversation helps a lot. The .BIZ extension is definitely an iffy choice. If you are an ecommerce site relyng on organic search or pay per click advertising, you should go for the .COM. But if you are interested in having a memorable domain name that you can put on your business card or off-line advertising and you really want a specific name before the extension, then .BIZ or .NET might work. For example, nyinteriordesign.com is not available as of this post, but nyinteriordesign.net and .biz are both available.

  10. Aftermarket, or premium, domains are available at marketplaces like the one at Register.com (register.com/product/domain/premiumdomainsearch), where millions of premium domains are made available for browsing and purchase. The price for these names is set by the seller but the value of the names is a little harder to gauge. Certainly names consisting of one english word are valuable. The fewer the letters the better. Any three letter .com is going to be valuable.

    But I would be cautious about buying these names for monetizing their traffic. (That’s when you put advertising on the site and make money when people click on the ads.) Since the sellers of these names are usually proficient domainers, they have already tested these names for monetization returns and have decided to sell.

    We sell most of our premium domain names to small business owners who have decided that they want a specific domain name and are willing to pay a little more for it. For example, we recently sold the name testingconcrete.com. That name probably has very little monetization value but is THE name to have if you’re in the concrete testing business.

  11. I’d have to say that locating an existing domain would be the best bet. But simple thiings, like adding numerals, dashes, etc. can loosen some names up for you. It’s still difficult but opens up some options, nonetheless. And it’s interesting to see how valuable domain names are and what goes into deciding their value.

  12. thanks for the responses. yes i would not want to buy a name just to monetize traffic, but if the name already had traffic that can be pointed to my site it would certainly be cheaper than buying clicks on adwords. It would be interesting to see which premium names had this built in traffic

  13. If you are going for a .com domain and your first choices are taken already, I think it makes sense to abbreviate. For example, kbb.com, Kelley Blue Book – short, easy to remember. Of course, this would not work for all businesses, but it’s doable if your business name abbreviates well.

    Lin Jenkins
    http://www.GoldAllianceGroup.com

  14. Hi penn mba (and Doug):

    Actually, on .BIZ extensions, I know several well-respected business sites that use a .BIZ. One example: Dane Carlson’s Business Opportunities blog, which is a VERY popular and well-trafficked site, is http://business-opportunities.biz.

    So I wouldn’t be too quick to count out the .BIZ extensions, penn mba. While I think most everyone would agree with Doug that a .COM is preferable if you can get it, I think a .BIZ is perfectly acceptable from what I can see.

    And speaking from a business person’s perspective it makes sense. It’s a business site, so .biz makes sense to my way of thinking. It makes more sense that a lot of other extensions….

    It’s not like the .info domain which seems to have picked up a bad rap.

    I’m no domain expert, but I spend 6 hours a day online and visit lots of sites. Just my observation for what it’s worth ….

    Anita

  15. Anita,

    I have used .biz for some sites and projects. The Commercial extension was only for American companies in the past, but later on it was easier to pick a .com domain for entities outside North America. Personally, I think that special extensions will have bigger role in the future, if you want to find your own niche. The extension .nu has been popular in Sweden because the word “nu” (island state of Niue) is meaning “now” in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch. It has a different meaning in French and Portuguese.

    The domain .ws (island nation of Western Samoa) has been pretty popular in networking marketing circles and by bigger organizations that want to have a “world site” domain, e.g. Institute for Supply Management. When they changed name from National Association of Purchasing Management to ISM, they redirected napm.org to ism.ws.

    I think that the next interesting domain name will be .name for private individuals. The “problem” is if you have a common surname / last name like Smith. It is like Facebook’s profile.to redirect to your Facebook profile. I have http://www.profile.to/ego as my shortcut URL.

  16. Lin, I agree that letter abbreviations do make really good domain names but they can be really hard to obtain. A lot of really good opinions and suggestions here.

  17. I guess my point is, if you are serious about making money online, then shell out the 10-20 grand for the .com. As much traffic as you can generate on a .BIZ from google, you are only sending additional free traffic to the owner of the .com because people just type it in.

    Billions and billions of dollars have been spent by companies around the world advertising their .com domain names. This is strong brand reenforcement.

    I didn’t see any .biz domains advertised on the superbowl.

  18. Good short domains left no more. Recently I started new cellulite project and it was very difficult to find out good domain with less than 3 words and no dashes in it.

    For me good strategy is to have your business in the domain and than to add a word that differentiates from the crowd. The example with the plumber, can be:

    Local – NYplumber.com

    Brand – quickestplumber.com

    Market – houseplumber.com

    Service – plumberathome.com

    and so on ..

  19. I think choosing a domain name should depend on solid keyword research for the products your business is going to offer. After all, the whole point of having an internet presence is to drive traffic to your business, and preferably, to drive FREE organic traffic to your business. If you do some research up front, you can find the most common keywords that people are using to search for your products.

    For instance, if your business sells ankle wraps, doing a keyword search would show you right away that the term “ankle wrap” is not a common term used by searchers, while “sprained ankle” is very heavily used. If I was this business owner, I’d want my domain name to reflect a keyword that lots of searchers (i.e. customers) use to find ankle treatments. I might set my domain name to be wraps-for-sprained-ankles.com.

    Searchers on the web aren’t looking for specific business names, they are looking for solutions and information. If you are worried about how the domain will look on printed matter, I would then find an abbreviated version, park it, and point it to my main “keyword rich” domain.

    Bottom line: Find out what terms your potential customers are using to find your products and then choose a domain name from those terms.

  20. Ellen, that is a great insight. Your domain name definitely drives your organic search rankings. But even more important is the content of your site and the internal and external links to your site. That being said, the logic you offer for choosing a domain name can be applied to content as well: model it on the keywords people use to search for your product or service.

  21. I haven’t seen any comments regarding using your personal name as a brand. When do you recommend using your own name as a brand and dot.com?

  22. Burgin,

    I have written a post on this topic. Click on my name to read, Martin Lindeskog Name Domain.

    All the Best,

    Martin Lindeskog
    http://Martin.Lindeskog.name

  23. The problem I have with .biz when I was searching for a domain name is it isn’t as prevalent as you would hope. You almost have to make it catchy like what del.icio.us did, otherwise it would tend to get lost. People will remember the root and often attach the .com which would then potentially place them in the laps of your competitors. I’d rather just have a unique .com domain name that might be a bit more longtail but in the end there’s no potential for a misplaced suffix.

  24. Great stuff. I was too sure about this story. But this helped a lot so thanks

  25. Great blog. Just stumbled here late on Christmas day – but I’ll definitely be back – – Happy new year to all

  26. You have sparked some of my interest and I am going to do some additional research. Feel free to check out some my blog in the near future… thanks

  27. Superb advice, Doug. Most domain names I have wanted to register were taken. You do need to be creative to find a word or a combination of words, that will work out for the best. For example may I suggest to others to use words like the county name of the city/town their business resides in; especially if that county is a great common name to countless counties around the country. For example Orange County.

  28. If you buy a domain you NEED to make sure to check that domain history. (Eg. on archive.org). It happened to me already i purchased a domain which had a bad history (which i didnt know about)…means such a domain has some kind of Google penalty, was de-indexed and i was unable to get the site into Google, even after request filed with google. So always make sure you you dont buy a “bad” domain! G.

  29. Can I ask you a question? I want to buy a host and a domain in USA, how can I transfer the money?

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