So your new idea is bursting from your head, and you’re ready to get going with the website. The only thing on your mind is what you’re going to call it, and what the domain name will be. What’s your next move? Rush ahead and register the first name you think of, or perhaps give it a little more consideration? Remember, slow and steady wins the race, and registering an awful domain name is not the best start for a new idea.

Too much choice is bad

Freedom of choice is perceived as generally a good thing, but when faced with a choice of just one thing or another, most people find it quite simple to make a decision. Red or blue? Sweet or sour? Dark or light? Hot or cold?

If you had millions of options to choose from, you’d find it quite a bit harder. The problem with picking a domain name is that there is too much choice.

Sure, a lot of common words are already taken, so you might have to get creative… But having so many choices available and being too creative can be bad!

Imagine you wanted a domain name for a business selling paint. You might choose paint.com, but that’s probably gone. You get creative.

paints.com…. gone! paintz.com… gone! wesellpaint.com… gone! we-sell-paintz.com… gone! Paintz-r-wot-we-zell.com… available!

But who is going to remember the exact spelling and punctuation to visit your site? It quickly becomes a marketing and branding nightmare before you’ve even started putting the site together.

What makes a catchy site name?

Although country specific domains, such as .uk and .jp, are worth using to capture a local market, the recognised standard for domain names is .com. As such, if you can come up with a short and snappy domain name that is available with a .com extension, you are on to a winner.

Cleverness is not the same as being creative, and being clever with your site name can also help. For example, if you still need a domain for selling paint, what if payntz.com were available? The cleverness is in that it is pronounced like “paints”, but includes the word “pay” – it’s a store where you pay for paint. However, the human brain is wired to rearrange letters in words to make sense of them. It’s all fun and games until someone misreads the domain as “pantyz.com” – but more on embarrassing choices shortly.

Some of the more popular sites have made up or misappropriated words as their domain names. Think of Flickr, which is deliberately misspelled. Think of Twitter, and of what twittering means – it’s a short sound used by birds, often to pass on information (or warnings), which is a little like the Twitter site itself.

Creating a long site name that says exactly what you do but is punctuated with hyphens and underscores is not recommended. It will be difficult to remember, and seems less professional. Short and sweet is the key.

Finding alternatives

Most domain registrar sites these days will return suggestions should your first-choice domain not be available. These suggestions are normally based on dictionary and thesaurus modifications to your entered name.

It is worth the time to do your own research into alternative words to use, as these suggestions can be hit and miss…and at times hilarious!

Your business sells wooden door handles, so wooddoorhandle.com seems viable. But when it isn’t available, the system suggests acaciaentrancewaybrandish.com. Acacia is a type of wood, a door is an entranceway, and handle can mean brandish if you take it literally. The suggestion is an awful domain name, not only for the misrepresentation of the business through literal thesaurus replacements, but it is also difficult to spell and composed of quite long words.

The impact approach

Another way to choose a domain name is to use a word that is a sound. For example, bing.com – that’s the sound a lightbulb makes when someone has a good idea in a cartoon. If you associate that sound with the search engine, then bing! You’ll find the right answer.

Other sites might be boom.com, wahey.com, smash.com, and so on – all will leave an impression on the intended customer. Maybe our paint business could choose swishswish.com, representing the sound of a paintbrush on the wall.

Sell the lifestyle

Focusing on the product is one way to name your site, but your customers are more likely to be interested in the end result. Is the paint business selling paint, or are they selling a way for you to change the home you live in for the better?

Well, realistically they are selling paint, but from a marketing point of view they are selling a lifestyle – an enhancement for your home at a bargain price. They might choose lifestylerefresh.com to demonstrate how your rooms can be rejuvenated.

Maybe they could go with swishinteriors.com, combining the sound of the paintbrush and the double meaning of swish – it can also mean something new and upmarket. But beware of other double meanings…

Avoid embarrassing mistakes and bad double meanings

If there’s a chance your website name could be read in the wrong way, you can be sure someone will do it.

The Expert’s Exchange website was once well known for this – expertsexchange.com – as was online writing equipment emporium Pen Island – penisland.net.

Our paint business might do well to avoid “Paint it” as they can’t help with medical conditions that include chest injuries.

The Grandma Test

The best test for anything on the internet is to think how easy it would be to explain to your grandma. If you had paint.com, she’d get it straight away.

If you had we-sell-paint.com, she might ask why it was so long – after all, the grocery store is called the grocery store, not the we-sell-vegetables-and-other-food-store. She’ll question your misspellings, and be offended if it has a double meaning.

If you can make it simple and straightforward, you’ll already be in a better place than a lot of your competition.

*Note: All domain names suggested in this article are for illustrative purposes only. Some are already be in use, and their use within this article is to be taken as a demonstration of a process only, not a recommendation or referral!