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Choosing a Good Domain Name and Avoiding Cyber Embarrasment

Mark Kruger January 31, 2006 5:51 PM Project Management, Hosting and Networking Comments (6)

I am often tasked with helping a customer decide on the domain name for a brand new site. This is a daunting task because people have very specific ideas it - even if they are not enthused about anything else regarding the site. The choice is an important one. Your domain name is sort of like the headline on a newspaper article. It should reflect something regarding the content and nature of your site. Here are my tips for choosing a domain name.

Make it as easy to spell as possible

If your company is "Avacodo, Macadamia, Watermelon, and Cantaloupe PC", I do not think you should go with "" - unless your help people with carpal tunnel and you are trying to drum up business. Many business owners have trouble distinguishing between the name of the business and the domain name of the business. Just because you have your name as a part of the business doesn't mean you should have your name as a part of the domain - especially if your name is hard to spell. Remember, people have to type the domain into the address bar. Sit down and type your new domain name 3 or 4 times to gauge how easy folks will be able to do it. If you struggle with it they will too. "Ok," you say, "if I can't put my full company name in the domain, what else can I use?" How about referencing what you do. If you are fruit growers, how about something with the word "fruit" in it. You can always prepend your initials to make yourself feelbetter (like

Watch out for Similar Sites

If the spelling of your site is similar to the spelling of another site you will get cross-traffic. This may not be what you want. If the other site is inappropriate it's going to make some folks upset. Take your domain name and deliberately mispell it in the browser a few times to see what else is out there. A good example is Barnes and Noble. The book site is, but if you misspell it and add and "s" at the end (i.e. you get a redirect to a stock tool. Notice something else. If you miss the "e" in "Barnes" you still get the book site. Why? Because a wise web person at Barnes and Noble registered both domains. That's a very good idea if it's in your budget. Domains are cheap these days. Get as many as you can afford in order to avoid confusion.

This especially holds true if you get a domain that is not a .com domain. If you register a domain with a .net extenstion for example you can bet that folks are going to type in .com out of habit. Make sure that whoever owns the ".com" version of your desired domain doesn't have anything embarrassing or folks will remember your site - but not in a good way.

Avoid Embarrassing or odd-looking Combinations

See if you can see what is embarrassing about any of these domains. I've used Mixed-case notation to make it more obvious what they are supposed to be.

  • - An agent/attorney search engine.
  • - A great site with resources for IT folks and others.
  • - help for finding therapists of various stripe.
  • - an extranet for an Italian power company
When they are capitalized this way there isn't anything odd about them. But if you look at them another way you get:
  • - for that special someone.
  • - when you just aren't feeling yourself.
  • - I hated to include this one, but is pretty awful don't you think?
  • - when you are feeling egomaniacal.
These are all humorous takes on domains, some of which have long standing pedigrees. It's not just a funny take though - it's difficult to come up with domains that make sense. For instance a friend of mine wanted to start a site called "full life ministry" but when he put it together it was "fulllifeministry" - which looks like it includes the word "feministry", making it seem like a quirky science involving Ann Rand and Lithium (stare at it a while).

Personally, I prefer short and cryptic to long and explanatory. I think it's easier for someone to explain "" than "" - even though the latter is a well-known retail name and the former is an acronym.

If you have a funny "domain naming" story plese feel free to comment - right after your ick-clay on the ad-ays ;)

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  • Shawn's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Shawn | 2/1/06 4:26 PM
    Here's one foryou from a few years ago in the dotcom boom days.

    I was managing the interactive efforts of a large ad agency, we were tasked with obtaining a 'rather generic' domain name from a third party so our client could remain nameless for competitive reasons.

    After a couple weeks of increasingly larger offers, the guy finally, yet reluctantly, accepted a six-figure offer. When the domain was pointed and he figured out who the client was, he was floored. It turned out he was a junior-level employee for said company and had registered the domain as part of marketing strategy he wanted to present to his superiors but was getting nothing but closed doors. He only accepted the offer because he didn't think his campaign would ever get heard. He was promoted 2 weeks later.

    (and yes, the whois records were in his name - but no one at the company bothered to look before giving us the assignment)
  • mkruger's Gravatar
    Posted By
    mkruger | 2/1/06 4:53 PM
    Wow... that's a wild story. Thanks for sharing!
  • bob's Gravatar
    Posted By
    bob | 2/2/06 11:15 AM
    a few years back, during the dotbomb bubble, i worked for a domain name registration company. we brokered several six-figure deals between major corporations and third parties who happened to own useful or generic domains.

    one of the most fun stories involved a new dad who'd registered a very short generic domain for his (then very young) kids to use when they grew up. a major corporation offered him a six-figure sum for it, which he accepted and placed in a trust for the kids. the corporate subsequently chose not to adopt the marketing strategy that required the name so the domain was never used by them but a deal's a deal.

    a few other tips on picking good domains:

    - you can use hyphens in domain names ( works so much better!)

    - think about cross-media applications. is the domain easy to pronounce or spell over the phone or in a radio ad?

    - be careful not to come up with names, acronyms, contractions or (in english) apparently meaningless terms that turn out to mean something offensive in another language, or happen to be slang for something offensive. a quick google should be sufficient to check this out in most cases.
  • antony's Gravatar
    Posted By
    antony | 2/2/06 4:49 PM
    Of course sometimes, you don't get a choice, especially if your company name is Scunthorpe. Spam and profanity filters love that one.
  • mkruger's Gravatar
    Posted By
    mkruger | 2/2/06 4:59 PM
    Antony - ouch... that is really unfortunate (ha). Um... good luck with that one.
  • scott's Gravatar
    Posted By
    scott | 7/15/07 2:09 AM
    thanks for the good information.

    Keep it up!