How to Pick a Domain Name Check List
Sometimes people have a great idea, but their website never really goes anywhere because of a problem with the domain or branding. A domain name won’t (generally) make or break a business, but there are some things you should consider when purchasing a domain name. Your time is valuable, so we’ve put together a handy checklist on how to pick a domain name the smart and safe way.
Included are some tools to help you with your keyword research (an important part of picking a domain name) along with some practical tips for helping you come up with great domain name ideas. Coming up with the ideas is the easy part sometimes. The difficult part lies in making a decision on the best domain name to use.
With that in mind, you’ll also be given some advice on how to make the final decision on the domain name for whatever project you happen to be working on. Even if you’ve picked domain names before, don’t let that stop you from reading as there may be some things you’ve never thought of before. Here’s a quick look at how to pick the best domain name possible.
Know Your Niche
One of the most important steps in picking a domain name is knowing your niche or topic very well. If you’re unsure of what people are typing into search engines to reach content such as you wish to deliver, it is a good idea to start a list of what you think people will type into a search engine to find your content. This list will begin to give you some ideas on what domain name you should go with. Beyond what you personally think they’re going to use to find the content, lies the truth – what they will actually type into the search engine, to find your website.
One way to get this information firsthand is to spend some time on the social networks that cover your niche or topic. From Facebook groups to Myspace groups, the big social networks most likely have groups of people interested in the topic of your website. Browsing their portion of the web can give you an idea of the types of people who are attracted to the topic (your demographics) and also the language they use to talk to each other (special jargon or urban lingo.) All this can give you a heads-up over your competition by giving you ideas on a domain name that will ‘click’ with an audience and make it easy for word of your website to spread.
Beyond the big social networks, spending time on blogs and forums, seeing what people are talking about when it comes to your niche or topic can be a great place to come up with ideas for domain names – possibly even some that are still available. Imagine you happen across a new word or term that quickly becomes popular and you own the domain name for it. Browsing forums and blogs can give you a feel of the pulse in your niche or topic.
Applying all this knowledge to domain names is the tricky part. The ability to know what’s going to be popular and what’s going to fizzle in any one area is a hit or miss thing. The more you entrench yourself in the online realm that surrounds your topic or niche, though, the more you’re going to be able to recognize new trends as they arrive and capitalize on them with strategic domain name purchases.
Knowing your niche or topic inside and out will go a long way in helping you pick the right type of domain name. Once you know what type of domain name you should get, it’s time to start researching the actual keywords and phrases that you’ve jotted down. This next part is important as well, so don’t think about skipping past it and making a quick, rash decision you’ll regret a few months down the road.
There are tools available online that will help you figure out great new keywords that might be used in your domain name. SEO Book has the Keyword Suggestion Tool that’s really nifty (http://tools.seobook.com/keyword-tools/seobook/). It gathers data from a lot of different sources and tables them together, making it easy for you to see similar phrases for just about any keyword.
The Google Adwords Keyword Tool (https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal) is another great free tool to help you come up with keyword ideas for domain names (and other reasons too.) WordTracker (http://www.wordtracker.com/) offers a free trial and a paid subscription service for keyword data. Both companies will show you their estimates of how many people type in a particular keyword or keyword phrase each and every day on average. This data is important because you can use it to make sure you make the best decision possible when you choose a domain name based on keywords.
Generic or Specific?
One thing to consider when researching a domain name is whether you want to go with something that’s generic in a domain name, or something specific that can act as a brand. Sometimes generic term domain names can be hard to acquire, so going with something that’s easily made into a brand might be a better choice.
On the other hand, having a great keyword or keyword phrase in your domain name is going to have an impact on your search engine performance. Different people will argue as to how much of an effect it will have, but there are few who say it has no effect at all.
When it comes down to it, you should really try to stick with what makes more sense for your particular company or website. Sometimes a generic keyword phrase with a .com at the end works better than smithandsonselectricalandplumbingservices.com. That’s an extreme example, but hopefully you’ll see why the generic keyword rich domain name would be a better choice – for a lot of reasons.
You should start to keep a list of possible domain names you want to use for your next project. You shouldn’t be very restrained at this point, jotting down as many domain name ideas as you can. The more raw ideas you have at this stage, the easier the next steps are going to be as you begin to do keyword research to compare phrases and come up with new ideas.
Check Domain Availability
Once you have a short list of possible domain names you’d like, the nest step is to go to a Registrar and see if the domain names you want are even available. A good place to check availability of a domain name is Whois.net.
Network Solutions is another popular place to check domain name availability. Some websites, like DomainTools, give you extra information if a domain name is already taken, which is useful. With DomainTools, you may signup for a free membership which gives you some nice basic tools or one of the paid membership, giving you expanded capabilities for tracking and buying domain names.
Sometimes though, you only want to know if a domain name is available or not. And not only that, but if it’s not available, some suggestions on possible alternatives would be nice. Luckily, there are a lot of websites that offer this functionality.
Check Domain Variations
If the domain name you’re wanting isn’t available, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start to come up with variations of your favorite domain name idea. Adding words or a prefix or suffix can be an easy way to keep the main phrase you want while still being able to claim a .com domain.
There are other websites out there that make coming up with a similar domain name easy. There are too many to list here, so we’ll only list two that take slightly different approaches to the same problem. If you search around, though, you’re going to find a lot of websites that will help you with keyword variations for domain names.
• Psychicwhois.com offers suggestions for domain names as you type them in, letting you know which ones are taken and which are available.
• Bust a Name is another website that can help with checking domain name availability and offer suggestions at the same time.
A lot of other websites exist that do similar things. Hunt around until you find one that you’re comfortable with. Once you find it, start typing in the names on your top ideas list, jotting down any suggestions that come up that might be better than your original idea.
Ask Real People
You’ll want to be careful with this – only sharing the domain name ideas with people you can trust not to rush out and buy them – but if you have a group of close friends you can trust, asking them to choose one domain name or another can help you decide which is better. It’s hard to get great advice from such a small sampling of people, but this also gives you a chance to talk about the domain name out loud – does it sound ok? Is it easy to pronounce? Talking out loud with other people about your domain name ideas can sometimes help answer these questions without the need for formal market testing.
Own them All
If you can’t make up your mind between one or two domain name ideas, why not buy several of them? You’ll want to make sure there’s only one primary domain used – that the others 301 redirect to the main domain – but having a few domains for occasional type-in traffic isn’t a bad idea. You’ll want to be as above board about this as possible, but branding yourself a little differently online isn’t always a bad thing.
Live and Learn
There are, of course, a lot of other websites and tips and ideas for coming up with the best domain name for a project. Part of the fun of the Internet, though, is finding things out on your own sometimes. Hopefully this guide has “taught you how to fish” rather than simply given you a fish. With the knowledge of fishing for keywords and domain names, you should be able to find tools and come up with ideas that work for you.