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helpChoosing a Domain Name

Choosing a domain name

The domain name is the alpha-numeric phrase that lets you find a particular website (e.g. yahoo.com, google.com). 

Remember, you'll spend time and money helping people get to know your website's domain name (e.g. printing business cards and brochures, getting people to link to your website, developing name recognition, etc).  This is the main way people will find you on the internet and by email.  So it is an important decision.

Here is some general orientation and advice for selecting your domain name...

About domain names

Most domain names are made up of several parts:

When someone talks about a domain name, they are usually referring to the combination of top-level and second-level domain (i.e. ready-set-go.biz is my domain name).

Your domain name

Domain names can be from 2 to 67 characters long.  Remember the domain name will be a part of your email address also.

There are several things to think about when selecting a domain name:

  • Is the domain name available? (Check now!)
  • (If not a .com) Is the .com version of the domain name available?
  • Does the domain name reflect the identity of your organization?
  • How descriptive is the domain name and what images/feelings does it evoke?
  • Is the domain name memorable? How easily can you type it in after hearing it just once? 

Aim for short and simple.  We want it to fit easily on business cards.  We want it to be easy to remember.  We want it to be easy to type in.

Obviously, you should consider the name of your organization or campaign.  Acronym abbreviations can be useful.  You should also consider what keywords might be relevant to your brand.

There are several domain name generators listed here that may be useful to help jumpstart your creativity.

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Top level/first-level of your domain

The most common and well-known top level domain is .com.  This is generally intended for commercial websites, but is so well-known that every website owner should be concerned with the .com version of its domain.

Non-profit organizations are typically found with .org domains. Organizations that are not non-profit should not use a .org domain name as their primary domain name.

Other common top-level domains include: .net, .info, .us and .biz

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What to avoid

Here is a good article on issues of domain names and trademark infringement.

You should also avoid words that are easily misspelled -- unless you can also purchase the most common misspellings.

While they are allowed in a domain name, you should generally avoid adding hyphens ("-") as part of your primary domain name.

Don't be too clever.  If it's hard to pronounce or hard to spell, it will be hard for people to find you.

Also be careful to check for unintended consequences:

  • LumberJacksExchange.com looks fine with capital letters inserted.  But remember domain names are not case-sensitive -- and  lumberjacksexchange.com might read quite differently.  They probably would be much better off with lumberjackexchange.com
  • TherapistFinder.com got into similar trouble -- since something else can be read into therapistfinder.com
  • PublishIt.com is another example of a domain name that may suggest something other than what was intended.

Avoid websites that will be easily confused with other websites.  For instance, in choosing a domain name for St Mark's UMC in New Orleans, we realized that  most of the obvious variations on "St Mark's" were already taken.  Eventually, we came up with frenchquarterumc.org -- which also helps the site come up in search engines for people looking for resources in the French Quarter.

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Narrowing the field

Get a second opinion.  Ask friends, colleagues, clients, what they think of your different options.

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Get your .com too!

While you may choose a non-.com domain for your main domain name, it is also helpful to purchase the .com version of your domain name.  Because .com domain names are so common and have been around for so long, people will often type in .com out of habit.  By purchasing the .com version of your domain, you can make sure that these folks are able find you quickly and easily.

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Other variants

As business expenses, domain names are very inexpensive (typically $10 per year).  So it may be worth your while to purchase variants of your domain name.  For instance, if we are considering thegreatplace.com, we might also consider these options:

Alternate top level domains: You might want to consider purchasing alternate top level domains, such as:

  • thegreatplace.org
  • thegreatplace.net
  • thegreatplace.biz
  • thegreatplace.info

The most important alternate top level domains are: .com, .org, .net (but especially .com!)

Plural variants: If people may or may not think of your name as a plural, you may want to consider buying the alternate plural version.  In our example, this would be:

  • thegreatplaces.com

Hyphenated variants: In some names, it may be useful to purchase the hyphenated version of the domain name.  However, ideally you would leave the hyphens out in your main domain name.

  • the-great-place.com

Other variants: You may also want to purchase other variations on the theme, such as:

  • greatplace.com

Typo/misspelled variants: If you have a domain name that is easily misspelled, you may also want to look at typos, such as:

  • thegrateplace.com
  • thegraetplace.com

How many is enough? How many domain names you purchase is completely up to you.  Consider your budget and your brand, as well as what's available.  Then use some common sense about how many domain name variants will be worthwhile for your purposes.

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www and subdomains

People will naturally look for you at www.yourdomainname.com

However, you can also setup subdomains.  It may be useful to have additional areas of your website, such as:

Depending on your plans for your website, you may want to consider how your domain name will work with such subdomains.

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Final decision

In the end, rules are made to be broken.  You may have noticed that the domain name ready-set-go.biz breaks many of the rules above. 

I was excited enough about the slogan "Ready Set Go!" that I was willing to settle for a .biz with hyphens, since other variations were already taken.  In this case, I felt that the benefit of using this slogan outweighed the downsides of (1) other similar domain names being taken (2) using the less than ideal hyphens ("-") and (3) a less than ideal top level domain (.biz). 

After all is said and done, you'll need to decide what seems best to you.

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Choosing a Domain Registrar

It is very important to protect your domain name(s)!  Make sure you find a reputable domain registrar.  You'll spend time and money helping people get to know your website's domain name (e.g. printing business cards and brochures, getting people to link to your website, developing name recognition, etc).  If you go with a cut-rate option, you may be placing this valuable resource at risk.

See also: Let your web host register your domain name? (No!)


Ready-Set-Go! consulting currently uses and recommends Moniker.com for high-quality domain registrations at a competitive price.

  • Moniker is a leader in domain name registration security, with an impeccable reputation and over 2 million domain names registered with them.
  • Moniker has been around almost as long as the domain registry business itself.  Moniker was founded in 1999 and enjoys the leadership of Monte Cahn, a veteran of the business since 1996.
  • Moniker offers competitive, consistent pricing (not dependent on coupons or special promotions).
  • Moniker provides toll-free telephone support.
  • Moniker is straight-forward without hard-sell marketing distractions.
  • Moniker is an ICANN accredited domain registrar (i.e. no hidden middle-man).
  • Moniker is based in the United States and thus regulated by U.S. law, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.
  • Whois domain privacy only costs $1 extra (keep your personal contact information private).
  • You can pay with credit card, check, or paypal (surcharge on paypal use).

Other options:

  • NameCheap.com - NameCheap offers consistent, competitive rates and a clean, professional, no-pressure interface.  Ready Set Go! has hosted several domain names there.  Coupons are available online, but will not work for renewals. No telephone support is available. FYI NameCheap is an Enom reseller (not an ICANN* accredited registrar).
  • GoDaddy.com - GoDaddy is known for its rapid growth in the industry and aggressive marketing.  Ready Set Go! used and recommended GoDaddy for years.  However, researching their promotional offers has proven to be tedious.  Their coupons rarely work on renewals.  So long-term, they have not proven to be as cost-effective as originally anticipated.  GoDaddy provides telephone support, but it is not toll-free. GoDaddy is an accredited ICANN* domain registrar.
  • Network Solutions - Network Solutions was the first domain registry company (began registering in 1993).  As a result they have great name recognition and a lingering reputation.  As a result, they continue to be one of the largest registries.  However, they still charge $35 per year for domain names (i.e. .com, .org, .net, .info), while the typical market pricing for domain names is now around $10 per year (excluding specialized Top Level Domains such as .coop).  Network Solutions is an accredited ICANN* domain registrar. They provide toll-free support.

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Why does ICANN matter?

ICANN oversees domain name registration processes.  They set certain standards for how the process should be fairly administered.  Registrars that are ICANN accredited have shown that they meet ICANN standards.

There are many companies that sell domain names without ICANN accreditation -- through reseller programs of ICANN accredited registries.  However, if you use these middlemen, you cannot be as confident in their policies and procedures -- or  the quality of their services.  With an ICANN registry, you know that the business has has made a financial investment in establishing itself in the domain registry business. 


Chris Paige

efax 206-350-3758
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Ready Set Go!
Business development and project management solutions
for your small business or non-profit organization