12 Tips for Finding a Great Domain

Posted By Ryan Stout on 02/17/2011

The right domain name can make or break your site. (example: here, here, here) Finding the right domain can sometimes take hundreds of hours and sometimes thousands of dollars. This article will show you the best methods for finding a good domain.

Types and Styles of Domains

In the domain world today we see four main types of domains, I will referrer to them as compounds, randoms, appendages, and mutations.

Compound Domains are formed by combining two (or more, but usually two) words together. Compounds are common for blog names and businesses as well as some web 2.0 sites. Examples: facebook, purevolume, allcrunchy

Randoms are domains that have no direct tie to a real word, but are often easy to pronounce and remember. "Randoms" appeal to those looking to have a strong company brand name. Example: Fandango, Blogger

Appendages are domains that have letters added to the beginning or the end to produce a new word that is easy to remember. Examples: Shopify, Friendster, Quizlet

Mutation Domains are created by dropping a letter or overlaying two words Examples: Flickr, Travelocity

What to Look For in a Domain

There are three important factors in domain choice:

  • Must be Readable/Pronounceable - If you are going to go with a domain that is not made up of common English words, then people had better be able to spell it from hearing it once and be able to pronounce it easily so they can tell it to their friends.
  • Must be Memorizable - I used to work for a company that was fortunate enough to grab the domain web.com, while this seemed like an amazing domain purchase, I soon realized that the domain wasn't as useful as it seemed. web.com is extremely generic and believe it or not easily forgotten by most. A domain like yahoo.com is much easier to remember.
  • Keep it short - The general rule here is keep it less than 3 syllables, and 2 is better. Anything much longer and not only does it get harder to remember, but no one wants to say it or type it.
  • Letters Only - Hyphens and numbers can be tempting, but it just throws people off. Not a single site in the top 400 sites has a hyphen (though a few do have numbers)
  • .COM only - I learned this one the hard way. When launching a new social network, I chose stage.fm It seemed like a pretty good domain, and I figured since most of the music community had heard of last.fm, the whole .fm thing wouldn't be so bad. Instead of following last.fm's lead, I copied their mistake. Last.fm does do well, but it is not because of their domain. Not only do less musicians know what the .fm thing is than I thought, but search engines won't treat a non-dot-com domain the same as a dot-com. Dot-com sites naturally get a boost from the search engines, and even get indexed more often. Long story short, go with what works, even if its a little harder to remember.
  • Describe Your Site - There's nothing better than being able to look at a url and know what the site does. (Example: CommissionJunction.com, WishListr.com) The real value is it makes SEO easy - more below.
  • Don't Follow the Crowd - Flickr started a trend where er was shortened to just r (mutation domain) to create a new group of domains. Most of the new sites with the dropped e failed, while not entirely due to their name, they failed that had Flickr been able to purchase flicker.com, they probably would have. Even worse is del.icio.us They have managed to fix their mistake by getting delicious.com
  • Plan Ahead - So you have a domain that is pretty good, but you're not sure people are going to be able to spell it. The best solution is to buy every possible misspelling you can get your hands on. Just be sure to redirect to the real domain, that way search engines don't get confused.

How your Domain Affects your Search Engine Placement

A lot of SEO blogs claim that search engines no longer use the words in your domain as keywords in searches. While there is some evidence for this, doing a search for something like search engine news, you will notice the first five results have the words "search engine" in it. So you might wonder what is going on here. It turns out that there is a simple explanation, in addition to the keywords on a page google also creates search results by looking at the words in anchor tags that point to the site. So how does your domain come into play? Simple, the most common text when people link to a domain is the domain name its self. Often times people take the initiative to split the domain into its words. So how do you find out what keywords should be in your domain? The best way I have found so far is to create a list of words associated with your site, then check them on Google Trends. It gives you an idea of how much search traffic each search word gets.

Tips to Find a Good Domain

  • Use Tools - There are lots of good tools out there. (we of course have our own personal favorite) The worse thing you can do is just keep trying domains on a slow service like godaddy. This is 2007, and there are better ways. BustAName for example lets you enter in words that relate to your site, and it will try every combination and tell you which ones are available.
  • Be Persistent - Most good finds don't come after 20 minutes. Come up with a list of words and try all combinations of those words. Then try to think of one new word per day for a month (go to a thesaurus if necessary). By the end, you should have something a lot better than when you started.
  • Know When to Quit - There are plenty of good domains still available believe it or not. But sometimes there aren't in your field. Pretty much everything you can ever think of with books and music and a few other fields it taken. The good news is if you're not in one of those fields and you're willing to be flexible, you can probably find something good. Most people give up too soon. When you do give up, give domain resale markets a try. Most of the time, everyone wants $100k for areallycrappydomain.com, but you never know. Reselling usually is a process that takes even longer than just regular looking.
  • Get Help - My wife became really addicted to BustAName after I launched, and she has been able to find better domains for some of my projects that I ever could have. The main reason is she's just more creative than I am.


No one ever said finding a domain was easy. But if you are willing to put in the time, you can come up with a winning combination.

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