[This is part of the Blogging Foundations Starter Kit Series.]
I get this question pretty often as I encounter and engage with new bloggers who want to make sure they pick the “right” and “best” domain name for their blog. I’ll get something like this:
What should my blog name be? What should I call it?
Or it’ll be a bit targeted and a bit more strategic:
What is my blogging brand? What is the story I want to explicitly tell?
Great questions! It is a pretty important part of the process, but hopefully it isn’t one that will freeze you momentum forward!
But first, let’s recap: At this point, you know what a blog is, you have a pretty good idea of why you should blog, and you even know what your potential blogging persona is (or already is). You’ve checked out all the different blogging platforms available to you, you know which one you’re going to use and move forward with (WordPress?) and you’re ready to execute!
So, what do we call it? What’s the name? What’s the URL, the domain name, the brand? Here is an exhaustive list of a number of considerations that you may want to think about as you make your decision.
1. Make Sure It’s You!
First things first – don’t pick something that isn’t naturally you, both in who you are as a person and the content and focus of your blog. People can smell dog poop a mile away and authenticity is premium within the blogging world.
If you’re not a sports fan then a URL like “www.ultimatesportsfan.com” probably won’t work!
2. Do Your Friends “Get It”?
One thing that I challenge a lot of new bloggers with is asking if they’ve shared their ideas with with a significant other or people close to them that know them really well. The question, of course, is whether or not they “get it” and can “see” why that particular domain name and brand “works” for you.
If their response is one of puzzlement, confusion, or doubt then you’re probably on the wrong track. If your wife doesn’t “get it” then what makes you believe that a random visitor will?
Another great test is whether it embarrasses you or whether you feel like you have to “explain yourself” when you first tell someone. It should speak for itself and you should feel naturally proud of it! If not then you might need to do some thinking.
3. Make It Easy and Short
Making your URL as easy to remember, say, and spell is a critical component to your blog name. There have been a number of studies and apparently the sweet spot in terms of length is less than 8 characters long. If you can go shorter go for it.
This isn’t a golden rule at all necessarily but something for you to consider as you work through names and brands. Here are some additional questions that you might think about:
- Does the domain name “roll off your tongue”?
- Can others make sense of it?
- Is it easy to spell?
- Is it memorable?
- Does it solicit some emotion that helps it stay in the mind (and heart) of those that might visit?
- Does it explicitly have a brand or do you have to explain it?
Ultimately your goal is to make it as simple as possible while maintaining your original intent. It’s a tough balance but one that requires a bit of work, brainstorming, and strategy.
One bonus focus on this point is the spelling idea: Sure, “www.SuccessSellsSoftware.com” is a neat domain but there are too many “s” and it looks like this in the browser: “www.successsellssoftware.com”. Also, the “I before E, except after C” rule applies here too – don’t make them think about the spelling of your domain and URL!
Go easy and your users will thank you.
4. Make It Easy to Type
I purposely am calling this particular element because some people have made their entire career on buying and selling domains. In fact, some of the most successful businessmen in that segment swear by the “typing test” of a domain in terms of its success.
I believe it was Gary Kremen (owned Sex.com, Match.com, Jobs.com, Housing.com, Autos.com, etc.) who taught me this and in an article in Time Magazine he mentioned how he would close his eyes and type the domain name in the air, visualizing the simplicity in the order.
I’ll admit that I’ve done that a few (ok, more than a few) times and I totally agree with the strategy. As I type out some of the more successful blogs and their domain names I find it easy and smooth to type. I don’t have to think at all about the spelling and all the characters aren’t on the same side of the keyboard (QWERTY layout only).
5. Relevancy is Very Important
This seems to go without saying but I’ve been required to be explicit about it on too many occasions to not mention it here: Is the domain name relevant to the content that you’ll ultimately be writing about? If you’re blogging about “underwater basket weaving” and your blog URL is “www.iLikeAvocados.com” it just doesn’t connect right and isn’t relevant.
That might be a silly example but you’d be surprised (or not surprised) at how many blogs out there are terribly named. The more relevant you are the more successful you will be, especially as it relates to keywords.
6. Keywords are Strategic
This ties well with #5 and one of the things you’ll want to do is pick 3-5 very strategic keywords that you’ll want to play around with that express who you are and where you’re going to be headed with the content of the blog. These will ultimately help you narrow your focus and eventually your name.
And then comes the fun part: You can begin adding prefixes, suffixes, and more, pairing them together to form something fun and unique. Ultimately your keywords will help you rank better in Search Engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc) and will result in more traffic.
This is a good thing.
7. The Question of Your TLD
If you’ve got some creative keywords you’ll be able to do even more creative things once you decide whether or not you’re going to use the “.com” TLD (Top Level Domain) or something else (another country perhaps).
There are definitely some cultural norms as well as generally accepted understandings as it relates to the ending of domain names, such as a “.com” domain is used for “commercial” websites, which means that you’ll be making money from it but most sites have the .com because it’s the most popular (and memorable!). “.co” is typically used for companies and businesses, “.biz” for businesses, “.org” for organizations, “.net” for network or networks, “.me” for personal websites, and “.info” for more “informational” websites.
But it’s becoming more accepted to use any ending for any reason.
My suggestion is always to try your best to get a “.com” ending of your domain and then begin to think about a “.net” if you must. Type-in traffic, branding, name recognition just works with a “.com” that doesn’t with the rest of them.
Now, if you want to go even more creative (and have a little more cash to spend) begin thinking about alternative Top Level Domains from other countries, like “.io”, “.ly”, and “.do”.
You can get a full list of available Top Level Domains from other countries here. I own more than my fair share (remember, they are more expensive than “.com”), such as:
And although they are good domain names, I also strategically own JohnSaddington.com (emphasis on the “.com”) because it simply ranks better, even though I absolutely love the first one.
But, they aren’t the most creative ones that I’ve got. Check these out:
- http://ChurchCo.de – Software development and coding blog.
- http://TentBlo.gs – My personal URL Shortener.
- http://ChurchC.ms – Another blog I manage.
As you can see I’ve leveraged the ending of the domain name to complete the word that directly reflects the content and focus of the site. The possibilities are really endless here!
8. Buy a Few of Them
One strategy that can be done well is to buy up a few domain names that are relevant to your new blog. You’ll ultimately have to use one as the main domain name but if you want to capture some other keywords as it relates to your content and focus it can be to your advantage.
I typically counsel new bloggers to just chose one domain to start with. It’ll save you time, money, and it’ll help you focus better.
9. Make it Unique
You’re probably thinking this naturally already but I just wanted to jot it down just in case. You are a unique person with unique content and a unique story. Your domain name should be reflective of that!
Using some of the strategy of keywords and TLDs as listed above can help you do just that. Don’t follow current trends and thus limit yourself (see Sustainability, #12) to the life of the domain. What was once “cool” is now super-lame. Just think of all the domains that had the “2.0″ verbiage:
Sad. But, we’ve seen this historically. Do you remember phonebooks? Businesses used to name themselves “AAAxxxxxxxxx” just to be the first in the phonebooks.
Wow, did that die out and now the names suck. In fact, how many Fortune 50 businesses have the name “AAA Microsoft …”?
That’s right. None.
10. Don’t Violate Copyright
Remember to also do a search on existing domain names to see if anyone’s taken them and that you’re not violating any potential copyrights. Visit Copyright.gov for more information.
This story has been told countless amount of times because someone will create an amazing blog with amazing content that grows like a weed and suddenly, because of it’s amazing popularity, an existing large business takes notice and issues a “Cease and Desist” and demands that they hand over the domain name and a legal battle ensues.
Avoid this at all costs!
11. Think Brand
You are a brand in and of itself but the internet is a “stupid” place and sometimes they just don’t get it without you being explicit. Here are some questions for you to be thinking about:
- What is your “brand”?
- What are you promoting, both content-wise and philosophically?
- Who do you represent?
- What do you represent?
- What ultimately do you want people to do with what they read on your blog?
A few of these (or all of these) can impact the naming of your blog and domain name!
12. Think Sustainability and Long Term
If you’re not thinking long-term then you are either a “casual blogger” (see Blogging Personas for more information) or just don’t care much about making that much of an impact outwardly with your blog (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, read 20 Reasons Why You Should Blog) since it might just be for you and you alone.
But, if you’re thinking long-term then you’re going to want to choose a domain name that will last the test of time. Choosing a domain name as it relates to temporary pop culture ideas might not be a good idea or a flash-in-the-pan focus.
Most successful bloggers have been at this a long time; I’ve been blogging since 2001 and it’s only been within the last year or so that I’ve found a career around it. The point is this: If you’re looking for a short climb to the top then blogging is probably not the place for you. If you interested in a slow, steady (yet exciting) period of growth then a blog is it!
13. Reject Numbers, Roman Numerals and Dashes
Hyphenated domains (dashes) end up not being as easy to remember as well as typing. Numbers can be tough to remember as well, since you might have a bit of confusion in terms of a user trying to remember whether or not you spelled out the number.
And roman numerals are death: One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28, but can you imagine a domain name like that – “www.romans-VIII-XXVII.com”. Are you insane?!
Of course I’m not dogmatic about the numbers if it’s clever and is pulled off creatively (and strategically). I can’t be since I use one, on a personal blog “Human3rror.com” and I honestly wish I could somehow take that back. Sure, it’s clever with the 3 replacing the “E” and all that geek and hacker-speak but I still get people getting it wrong as well as pronouncing it wrong. 37signals is another example that gets away with this (strong brand).
I should have given that a bit more thought.
14. Capitalize on Emotion and Expectation
This suggestion is a bit more touchy-feely than most of the other practical pieces of advice but I’ve seen it really work. Just think of the potential and power of someone who hears your domain name for your blog and the name is so compelling (because it hits them emotionally) that they have to visit it the next time they sit in front of a internet-connected device.
It also establishes itself deeply within their conscience and memory, which of course speaks a lot toward memorability and branding! Establishing this level of emotional tie is powerful.
Creating expectation with the domain name is also strategic. For example, if you name your blog “www.HowToEarnAMillionDollarsInOneSecond.com” it really suggests something, doesn’t it? If that’s what I was looking for and that’s what I heard I’d feel nothing short of compelled to check it out. I have an expectation that the blog and site will deliver just that.
Now, you’d never name your domain that way, but you get the idea.
15. Be Willing to Spend (Maybe)
I suppose this is more of a challenge and a point to ponder rather than a rule, but it’s something I definitely want to bring up: Be willing to spend more than a few dollars to get that right domain, but only under sincere and justifiable reasons.
For example, I was willing to spend 5 figures for a domain name (Yes, that’s right, somewhere between $10,000 and $99,999) for a very strong domain name. Here’s what I thought:
- This domain is super strong; there’s nothing like it and will instantly establish brand and mind-share.
- It’s the shortest possible domain name that explicitly states what the blog is about.
- The earning potential of the domain name, over time, will clearly reap it’s reward. My goal is that if I can make back the initial investment on any domain name within the first 1-3 years then I feel comfortable with it.
- I had the capital to spend.
- I was committed to the idea of growth and had the time to execute on the vision.
If you’re idea is good and the domain is open to purchase then think about it. Don’t rush it, and get some darn counsel!
16. The Question of Your Name as the Blog Name
This is a question that I get a lot as well, which goes something like this:
Should my blog name be my name?
The short answer is this: It depends.
There’s definitely some positives about sustainability and authenticity because it really doesn’t get better than that, right? Unless you’re unmarried and planning on getting married and changing your last name, this is a safe bet because it’s you through and through.
But what if your name is incredibly hard to spell? What if it’s hard to pronounce? What if it’s just a “bad name” (sorry to offend), especially as it relates to SEO? What if your name is “John Smith”?
Also, you might want to consider a “brand” that is bigger than yourself, especially from a business perspective. The reason that I never wanted to build a business and brand around myself and “John Saddington” is because I’m thinking much bigger than who I am as a person and for what I could personally carry long-term. I wanted to create businesses that could be managed by entire teams and that I could eventually pass onto my children (if they wanted). I am just a man and temporary; a brand is an idea, and emotion, and could be eternal (or really long).
This might just be too much thought for you and you’re simply comfortable calling your blog name as your name but it’s something to at least explore and think about. There are enough examples of successful blogs that fit in both categories (but again, what happens when those people die? What happens to their blogs?).
17. Think Linguistically
I love thinking about this type of stuff. In a nutshell what I want to challenge you with is thinking about sound and meaning. There are things that just flow off your tongue and are pleasant to hear, and definitely enough examples of things that do not.
For meaning, think specifically how the elements of your domain name come together. Are they offensive to my sensibility? Do they use cultural nuances that are lost on most people except for a specific sub-culture? Are you being too creative with your name? Are you using generalities like “thing,” “stuff,” and words like “this,” and “that”? Are you using metaphors in your domain?
Is your domain name a:
- A compound word (YouTube, WordPress)?
- A phrase (Six Apart, Movable Type, Think Geek)?
- A blend (Microsoft, Facebook)?
- A tweaked version (iPhone, Flickr, Netflix)?
- A made-up word (Etsy, Vimeo)?
- An affixed word (Flixster, Blogster, Friendster)?
And let’s talk sound for a moment. Are the groups of sounds together pleasant, appealing, simplistic, and memorable? Does it just “roll off the tongue”? Is the emphasis on the syllables and consonants natural to the words that are being used? Do the sound(s) of the domain name support the brand and meaning? A great example is “Etsy” which is not just a short sound and name for a hand-made craft and good.
18. Go With Your Gut
I list this near the end because I’ve counseled a number of people who go through a list like this and eventually just “go with their gut”, which more often than not just works!
If you’re one that naturally has a hard time with making decisions you most likely have a “gut feeling” about one or two domain names and/or keywords. Just go with it (and then ask your friends).
If you’re one that naturally like to shoot from the hip and goes with their gut-feeling all the time then you need to cool your jets and walk through some of these considerations first before you hit the purchase button.
19. Be a Rule Breaker
Ultimately you can do whatever you want! Create your own rules and follow them (or break them). People and businesses have been successful using some of these strategies and none of them.
I’m not dogmatic about any of these ideas but there are definitely some really strong points to consider here, some more subjective than others.
You’ll have to decide for yourself, and at the end of the day you’ll have to live with it – just make sure you can live with it long enough to make something of it!
20. Remember, It’s Just a Domain Name
A domain name, at the end of the day, is just a domain name. Your blog, at the end of a day, is just a blog.
One of the things you’ll hear from me consistently is that you don’t need to take yourself too seriously and that if you’re not having fun with this process than you either need to take a step back, re-calibrate, and start again. You see, life’s too short to stress over domain names.
And you can always start with one and change it. I don’t care how many people are going to yell at you until they are blue in the face about “brand” and how you have to make a commitment now before you do anything. Bullpoop. You can change it later and do 301 re-directs all day long. You can rebrand every year for all I care.
Relax, have fun, and then get to blogging!
Start Searching for Availability
You’re now equipped to start searching for that amazing domain for your blog, right? Check out these 10 sites to check for domain name availability!
And let me hear if I’ve missed any other considerations!
Bonus: Kevin Rose, Tim Ferris Talk Domain Names
Please note that this podcast has some harsh language (not too bad, but could offend) but the points they make are important, especially considering how successful they’ve been with some of their projects and businesses.
[This is part of the Blogging Foundations Starter Kit Series.]