A total of 13.4 million domain names were registered in 2020.
With that volume, how do you choose a domain name that stands out?
Believe it or not, domain names do not have to be all that difficult to plan. You can choose a great domain name in under an hour. And you will after reading this post.
To help you find your perfect domain name, click where you want to start:
Why Domain Names Matter
Alright, so you might be wondering what all the fuss with domain names is about. Why do they matter so much?
A domain name is your blog’s name and the address of your website.
Put simply, your domain name is the first point of contact that your audience has with your brand, your blog, or your business. Your domain name is a big part of your brand.
Studies show that your first and last name directly affect the success you’ll have in life[*]. Do you think it’s any different for your domain name? Likely not.
Domain name can affect the first impression of your website visitors. Even if you don’t emulate your domain name, people will automatically make assumptions and hold on to those biases about your domain.
For example, Easy-money-fast.com is going to hold some negative biases. It just sounds spammy, right?
But getrichslowly.org sounds far more trustworthy.
Are you ready to learn how to choose a domain name? Keep reading to learn the properties of an awesome name in the next section.
How to Choose an Optimized Domain Name
You may worry about whether or not your domain name will affect your SEO ranking. This is less important than you might think.
There are two ways you can go about picking your domain:
Option #1: Exact Match Domain (EMD)
An exact match domain (EMD) is essentially a search term or keyword. It is a combination of words that describes as accurately as possible what you’re selling, like “bigfluffypillows.com”.
If someone were to search “big fluffy pillows” in Google, the owner of that domain would hope to show up in the top results.
In the past, choosing an exact match domain name used to work to rank higher in Google, but website owners started to exploit it to rank low-quality sites.
In 2012, Google released an update that prevents sites from ranking based on their domain names alone.
In other words, EMD isn’t a game-changer anymore, and it’s no longer a significant ranking factor (if it’s a ranking factor at all).
If you want to build a long-term lifestyle business you’re fully invested in, you don’t want to use an EMD because it limits your brand and what you can do with it.
There are a few cases in which an EMD might be a good idea.
- Building niche sites you won’t manage for long. Pat Flynn did this with his website securityguardtraininghq.com
- Building niche stores that sell a single product. For example:coconutbowls.com only sells – you guessed it – coconut bowls.
- Creating a very specific blog. Startbloggingonline.com ranks high but maintains its focus on blogging advice.
I personally prefer and recommend option #2:
Option #2: Branded Domain
A branded domain is a unique and memorable name for your brand that you come up with yourself (not through keyword research), like Unsettle.org.
This type of domain is a better choice because:
- It’s more personal, which means people are more likely to trust and like your brand.
- It gives you more freedom to move your business in different directions.
- It’s brandable, while a generic keyword is not.
A brand domain is exactly what you want if your goal is to create a long-term, profitable lifestyle business with a loyal and engaged audience that knows and trusts you. And you want that, right?
For example, Smartblogger.com used to be Boostblogtraffic.com until they rebranded. Why the name change?
Because their topics expanded to more than just traffic and they wanted to create a brand that better represented their mission and community. Their audience loved the change.
If you’re not convinced yet, a study done in 2017 showed that brand search is better correlated with ranking than Domain Authority. This means that if enough people Google your brand, you have more authority in Google’s eyes and it ranks you higher.
Google views people looking for your brand more valuable than whatever your authority domain is. That’s a pretty strong case for picking a memorable and compelling brand name people remember to search.
There are a few bloggers who have domains with search keywords and are wildly successful, like Sue from Successfulblogging.com and Pat from Smartpassiveincome.com. Their success comes entirely from their content, not their domain name.
Additionally, keywords aren’t always practical, brandable, or natural, so don’t worry about using them if you can’t think of any.
Bottom line: SEO keywords aren’t necessary in your domain name. The main search ranking factor that affects your ranking is your content, not your name. You will rank high as long as you write shit people want to read.
6 Properties of a Killer Domain Name
Start crafting a domain name that will help your brand connect to your audience or a name that can be remembered easily. Here’s how you can do that:
Property #1: It’s Relevant.
Your domain has something to do with the product, service, or niche you’re in. A domain name should be intuitive enough that people can instantly (and correctly) assume what you do.
There are examples of brands who avoid this and do it effectively. Rowdykittens.com has nothing to do with rowdy kittens, but it’s always good to go for the obvious.
A survey by the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) found that 55% of users expected “a very clear relationship” between domain names and websites registered under those domain names.
When you read the brand name, it speaks volumes to what it actually does – it’s food for your flight.
Property #2: It’s Short.
Your domain name should be as short as possible. A good rule of thumb is to keep it between 1-3 words.
According to a review of the top 250 websites in the world, it shows that the average characters for a domain name is around 7 to 15 characters. 70% had less than 8 characters. It's also common to have 7 characters or a 2-word domain.
If you’re considering a longer domain name, think about these things first:
- How easy is it to remember?
- Is it easy to spell?
- Does it differentiate your brand from your competitors?
- How does it sound verbally when you talk about it?
What’s easier to remember: Unsettle.org or Buildalifestylebusinessyoulove.com?
A shorter domain name is easier to remember, type, recognize, and brand. It looks clean and simple in logos and social media.
That’s why some bloggers use abbreviations of long domain names; for instance, Chris Guillebeau often styles and brands his website name, The Art of Non-Conformity, as AONC, and designyourownblog.com is styled as DYOB.
You can skip the abbreviation step by making your name short and simple from the get-go.
Property#3: It’s Memorable.
Your domain name absolutely must be memorable. That means two things:
- It has a simple spelling
Avoid words that people don’t use in normal English, or have a ton of hyphens, dashes, words, or capital letters in it. If I had chosen Unsettle-your-career.com instead of Unsettle.org, it may have communicated what the site is about a bit better, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as memorable.
- It conveys emotion
To be memorable, your name has to convey emotion. Use power words to make your audience feel on board with your cause and remember you. Unsettle is a power word that evokes a radical change, while “Change-your-career.org” doesn’t have quite the same effect, does it?
Property #4: It’s Brand-Related.
A great domain name should be in line with your branding, or the mood you want to convey.
For example; if you heard the name HelloGiggles.com, you wouldn’t expect the site to be a serious blog, right? And it’s not. It’s a fun website for young girls.
Consider how the bank Tangerine differs from TD Canada Trust. They’re both banks, but TD definitely conveys a more corporate, serious, bankerly feel than Tangerine, which is fun, young, and fresh.
These domain names and brands speak to their target market.
Property #5: It’s Unique.
Your domain name has to stand out from the crowd.
Before buying your domain, make sure there isn’t another popular website (in your niche or otherwise) with a similar-sounding name. The last thing you want is getting stuck with a domain name that is too close to that of a competitor or breaches copyright.
Let’s take a look at the food blog niche.
Pinchofyum.com is pretty popular. You wouldn’t name your food blog “pinchoflove.com”, or worse, “apinchofyum.net”. Best case scenario is that it’s confusing. Worst case scenario is you’re contacted by trademark lawyers.
Property #6: It Fits Your Long-term Vision.
What kind of website are you creating?
A niche site focused on a very particular subject or a lifestyle blog that covers everything from fashion to DIYs?
It’s important your domain name can scale along with your business. If you want to cover a wide range of topics, pick a name that gives you room to grow. Don’t choose the domain “allthingsgreentea.com” and start blogging about shoes two months later.
On the other hand, if you plan on blogging about a very particular subject, a specific name will be a better fit.
For example, Cassidy from succulentsandsunshine.com blogs about all things succulents – and only succulents, while Joanna from Cupofjo.com covers motherhood, design, fashion, food, travel and more.
Don’t just randomly choose a domain name without having a clear business idea first.
.Com vs .Net or .Org: Which Domain Extension Is Best?
SEO “gurus” might tell you that you absolutely must have a .com domain. They claim Google favors .com domains to the point that if you have a .com, you’ll show up in search engine results more.
The logic behind this seems to be that because a .com is a top-level domain or TLD (as is a .net, .org, .gov and .edu), Google will recognize it and rank results with a .com domain higher than another.
This isn’t true. In 2012, Matt Cutts, who is the head of the web spam team at Google debunked this:
And a study done in 2020 found that people rely on social media, paid ads, and other digital marketing platforms. This means that a .com name isn't as important for SEO as once thought.
In the end, your domain name and TLD will depend on the niche you want to focus on. So don't be afraid to try out the other domain suffix including .org, .net, .io, or .ai.
If we’re being real, the only reason that a .com is better than the others is because a .com is easier to remember.
You can work around that and rock a domain with a different suffix by using the suffix in conversation.
For instance, when I’m referring to Unsettle in conversation, I always say “Unsettle dot org”, because I don’t own the .com, and I know that would be the assumption.
There are plenty of awesome domain names that aren’t a .com, and some that are popular:
So, while a .com is preferred, it’s not necessary and a different domain ending won’t ruin your search engine rankings.
A survey made by the ICANN found that most people don’t care about your domain name extension anyway. The survey reported:
- 29% “don’t pay much attention” to your domain extension
- 34% only visit sites with “familiar” domains
- 37% base their visitation upon search engine results (regardless of domain extension).
Don’t feel compelled to pick a .com if you can’t find it. Here are the main top-level domains you can choose from for your blog:
Also, new TLDs started emerging to provide brands more freedom and novel territory. This is useful especially for businesses who want to be unique and stand out from their competitors. Some examples of new domain suffixes are .tech, .space, .actor, and more.
What About Using Your First and Last Name?
This question has probably run through your head: “Should I just use my first and last name or some variation of that as my domain name?”
It really depends on what you’re building. Here’s when should consider using your first and last name:
- You want to establish yourself as an expert in your topic: If you’re looking to become a coach,consultant or even an author in your field, using your name could makes sense. Because your expertise is your main asset, using your name helps consolidate your personal brand.
- You want to write about several topics: If your topics don’t fall into one particular category, using your name takes off the pressure to pick a perfect domain that can accurately cover it all. Nat from nateliason.com writes about all sorts of interesting (and unrelated) topics: psychology, self-education, philosophy, health, finance, travel, and more. You don’t always need to focus in one narrow area to succeed.
- Your branding is going to mainly consist of you and your personality: First of all, let’s just start by saying that you are not your business. But, if you plan on using your unique personality to brand your business, using your name can be a great way to bring it all together.
- You don’t have a clear vision of what your website will be in a few years: Maybe you’re thinking about going in a different direction in a few years – or maybe you’re simply unsure of where it will go. If you are starting a food website but may switch gears eventually to include parenting, then using your name will make it so you don’t have to start from scratch.
- Your name won’t change: If you’re already married or not planning on taking your spouses’ name when you do get hitched, then you’re in the free and clear.
You’re indecisive about a domain name and it’s holding you back: You can always change your domain. But you can’t get back time – and time wasted could mean another month in a job you don’t love.
On the other hand, this is when you should not consider using your first and last name:
- Your name is difficult to spell or pronounce: You don’t want people having a difficult time finding you (That’s lost money).
If your full name isn’t ideal for your url because it’s long or has an awkward spelling, you could try a variation using your first name like these successful bloggers:
They mix their main topic with their name, which creates a unique, personal and hard to copy url.
- You want the option to eventually sell your site: Even if you don’t think it will come up, it’s still a good idea to consider this. An url attached to your persona is going to be a hard sell, to say the least.
- You plan on changing your name: Whether you just don’t like your name and plan on changing it one day or want to take your spouses’ last name when you get married, it’s just a hassle to change things over.
There are plenty of people who use their first and last name as a domain name, like:
Their business revolves around their online persona, so it’s a great fit. In the end, the decision is yours – and there’s no right or wrong answer. Now that we’ve addressed that, we can go onto how to choose a domain name that you’ll love.
How to Choose a Domain Name in 7 Simple Steps
I’m going to walk you through exactly the process I used to pick Unsettle as my domain name in under an hour. It’s simple, and I’ve condensed it into seven steps just for you.
To prove that you can pick your own domain today in less than an hour, I’ll brainstorm the name of a running blog from scratch using the steps below.
If you already know that you want to use your first and last name as your domain name, skip to step #7.
Onto the steps!
Step 1: Start Brainstorming
Now that you know what makes a great domain name, you can start brainstorming. Pull out a pen and paper and brainstorm words and phrases related to your topic.
Do your brainstorming in paper first and then copy your list of words to a word file or Google docs. Don’t screen out a word or phrase just because you don’t like it.
List any word or phrase that comes to mind, it can be a noun, verb, or adjective.
Here is an example of words I wrote down when I was brainstorming for Unsettle. Don’t mind my messy writing.
Write down all of the words you can think of. Even if you hate them.
Example: Let’s say you want to start a blog for runners. Here are some potential words you would use for your name:
Step 2: Make a Date With Your Thesaurus
You have a list of words and phrases related to your topic, so now it’s time to find synonyms for those words. I use Thesaurus.com for this.
If you’re working in a Word document, you can highlight the word, right click, and see a list of synonyms. Write down all of the synonyms. Even if you hate the word, just include it in your list.
Don’t be afraid to go on a word spree here. It’s okay to go down a rabbit hole – the idea here is quantity, not quality. Yet.
Find synonyms for your synonyms. It took me at least 5 levels of synonyms to find Unsettle. It all started with the word “redesign”.
Example: Time to find synonyms for those running words.
- Running -> dynamic
- Runner -> racer
- Run -> race
- Runs -> sprints
- Fitness -> strength
- Fit -> trained
- Sweat -> perspiration
- Go -> set off
- Speed -> momentum
- Grit -> daring
- Mile -> no synonym
- Marathon -> no synonym
- Fast -> dashing
- Pace -> motion
- Fuel -> ignite
- Coach -> trainer
- Movement -> flow
- Move -> propel
Then look for synonyms of the synonyms, go as deep as you need to go.
Step 3: Add Connecting Words
Now that you have some specific words about your topic, make a different column with words that could combine well or connect them. If you want your domain name to be longer than one word, this is an important step. In this column, add linking words like these:
Step 4: Let a Program Do it For You
Don’t you wish you could just wave a magic wand and have a bunch of ideas you would never have found otherwise?
Bust a Name lets you add a long list of keywords and generates dozens of combinations with all of them, while Panabee helps you refine and find “the one” because it works best with just two keywords at a time and it gives you a ton of new suggestions and variations to your original words.
Dump all the words from your list (including the connecting words) into Bust A Name and let the program generate ideas for you.
Then, pick the best combinations, and plug the words from those combos you liked into Panabee. You can insert each word by itself or in pairs.
Write down the words and combinations you like the most. If you scroll down on Panabee, you’ll find a list of other synonyms for your words.
You may find that you discovered all of those synonyms in Step 2, but if not, include them.
Step #1: Plug your whole list of keywords into Bust a Name. You will get a lot of domain name combinations.
Step #2: Make a list of the domains that caught your eye. You can save them by clicking the >> button. You don’t want to be too strict at this point (we’ll do that later), only ignore the combinations that truly don’t make sense, like “offstrength.com”.
Step #3: Add each word from your new list of possible domains to Panabee. In this case, you want to add mile, momentum, daring, sprints, and sweat in all sorts of combinations. Panabee will give you dozens of modifications and additions.
Here’s what happens when I combine daring + sprints:
Step #4: Write down any variations you like for each word combo you plug in.
Step #5: If you want to find just one outstanding word, plug in the most representative word of your topic and take a close look at variations that sound nice:
Step 5: Finding a Unique Word
Single word domains are harder to find because most of them are taken or being sold at thousands of dollars.
If you’re determined to get a one-word domain and couldn’t find one you liked in Panabee, here’s a simple workaround: Create a unique domain name by adding or subtracting letters or adding suffixes to the main word. Here’s a simple step-by-step:
- Pick a word that represents your niche well. If you’re a food blogger, “food” or “recipe” are ideal.
- Remove vocals if the word can retain the same meaning and pronunciation, like flickr.com.
- Add these suffixes at the end
- “O” (like backlinko.com)
- “Ista”/ ”ist” (like foodista.com)
- “Ify” (like shopify.com)
- “Holic” (like chocoholic.com)
- “Able” (like doable.com)
- “Ish” (like techish.com)
- “Ite” (like wanderite.com)
- “Tastic” (like runtastic.com)
- “Ducate” (fooducate.com)
- “Er” (stitcher.com)
- “Licious” (like wholesomelicious.com)
- “Ific” (like thinkific.com)
After you’ve found your possible candidates, it’s time to…
Step 6: Cull the List
Now that you have dozens and dozens of words, synonyms, and domain name combinations and their variants, go down the list and cross out any phrases you don’t like.
At this point, you should have the domain name list you got from Bust a Name and more domain ideas from Panabee. Filter your list like this:
- Filter #1: Cross out any potential names that are over 3 words long.
- Filter #2: Remove any potential domain names that don’t align with the brand you’re going for.
- Filter #3: Remove any that aren’t easy to spell or remember.
- Filter #4: Discard any names that sound similar to a competitor.
If you’re unsure, run it by somebody you trust. Sometimes we get too emotionally invested in something but it doesn’t make sense to anybody but ourselves. Narrow your list down to the three that you like the best.
Filter #1: Remove names over 3 words long
Domains like becomeabetterrunner.com or runsweatsleeprepeat.com are off the list.
Filter #2: Remove irrelevant names
Domains like daringmove.com or fastdash.com don’t sound intuitive, so off they go.
Filter #3: Remove complicated names
Domains like marathonperspiration.com or findrunningmomentum.com aren’t as simple.
Filter #4: Remove copycat names
Find your top competitors through a roundup article or a simple Google search:
You would remove domains like runsncake.com or racepacejenny.com.
3 final candidates: Let’s say your filtering resulted in your favorites: runific.com, daringruns.com, gritformiles.com
After you’ve picked your final candidates, it’s time to…
Step 7: Find Out if The Domain is Available
Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of potential domain names, you just need to check if they’re available. There are dozens of websites you could use for this, so just plug them into Bust A Name’s quick domain checker.
You can havewill get the option to buy your domain from a list of sites, but unless you already have hosting and know how to change the domain nameservers over (don’t worry if you don’t understand that), then don’t buy the domain from these sites.
You’re just seeing if they are available. Check your favorite three domains. Picking the winner. Let’s assume all 3 domains are available in some form. Here’s how you pick the one:
- Filter by extension:. We already know that a .com is not necessary, but if you like two the same amount and one is available in a .com and the other isn’t, then let the .com availability be the tie-breaker.
- Filter by length: The shorter the better, so if you have to choose between a domain with two letters and another one with three, pick the one with just two (if you like them the same amount).
- Filter by price:. A quick word of caution: most domains that are 1-2 words in a .com are actually premium domains so will cost a lot. For instance, my name, which is very common, is almost $2,000:
- Crowdsource it. If you’re still trying to choose between two or three, crowdsource it! Find out from a few people you trust which they prefer. You can ask:
- Your friends and family
- Your twitter followers
- In Facebook groups of your niche
- Through polls in your Instagram Stories
If you have the budget, then go for it! But if you’re a normal person and don’t want to spend the amount of a (junky) used car on a domain name just to have the privilege of a .com, simply check if it’s available in a different domain extension or choose one of your domain names that isn’t taken (they cost around $10).
What If My Preferred Domain Isn’t Available?
If the domain you like the most isn’t available in any domain extension or you don’t have the budget to purchase it, here’s what you can do:
- Take out a letter (Like Pat Flynn’s foodtruckr.com)
- Change the end of the word (ie I could have chosen Unsettled, or Unsettling)
- Look for different extensions for these variations.
Example: Let’s check the availability of our top candidates:
Runific isn’t available in .com, so we’re down to daringruns.com and gritformiles.com (unless you really like runific.org). “Daringruns” is shorter than “gritformiles” and it’s available in .com, so now we check the price:
It’s not for sale for thousands of dollars, so daringruns.com is our winner!
Bottom line: You finally know how to choose a domain name.
Creating the perfect domain name for your website means you have to look inward first. Think about the goal of the website, the possible expansion, what you're going to sell, how you'll use it to connect to your audience, and so on. Take advantage of the tools available to make things easier for you.
Now, It’s Time to Take Action
Once you figure out your domain name, it’s time to claim it.
Buying your domain name
You have to two options for locking down the domain name:
- Option #1: Purchase the domain from an independent domain registrar.
These websites specialize in selling domain names. When you buy from them, you have more control over your domain name because it’s not attached to any hosting service, so if you decide to switch hosting providers at any point in the future, the transfer of your domain is easier.
You will have to make some minor tweaks inside your hosting service to add your domain (change nameservers), so if you’re not a techie, here’s an easy hands-off option:
- Option #2: Get a free domain from your web hosting company.
If you don’t have hosting for your website yet, I would just buy the domain through the web host so you don’t have to fuss around with changing name servers over. Again, if you don’t know what that means, that’s okay. It just shows that you should probably buy the domain with the host.
With Bluehost, your domain will be free. I use Bluehost for a few of my sites because their customer service is great, my sites are always up, and you get a free domain name when you sign up. If you sign up with Bluehost, my recommended hosting provider, you can get a free domain name.
Sign up for Bluehost here: https://www.unsettle.org/bluehost (Disclosure: this is an affiliate link. If you choose to buy through my link I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for the support if you choose to).
BONUS: To get you to take action and actually start your website, when you use my referral link above to start your website and email me your receipt, I will send you a free 52-page training tutorial to help you turbo-charge your website (even if you’re not a techie). If you sign up with Hostgator, the domain won’t be free but you can still register the domain with Hostgator if you prefer their hosting.
After you buy your domain, read this to set up your website with Bluehost and WordPress. Whether you buy your domain through a third-party domain provider or your web host, I always find that when I take action on something, it helps me gain momentum.
And there’s no way you got this far and don’t want to take action.