Choosing a domain name
There are only two hard things in online business.
Customer validation and naming your startup.
- Me. with apologies to Phil Karlton
I like keeping my options open. When starting a project I often use a fire-and-forget name and allow myself to change it later. I like finding that one perfect domain because it’s such a permanent fixture, and I periodically reconsider the domain up until the time the current favourite is good enough. However, perfect is the enemy of good enough. Good enough is often better when you’re competing on more than one axis (e.g. time-to-market, seo, branding).
The elusive perfect domain
A perfect domain can result in various benefits. A domain that contains oft-searched-for words in your target, er, domain, results in an automatic SEO boost in that anyone searching for those words are more likely to find you without you having to spend money for adverts. If the words searched have the same order and spelling as your domain, Google is more likely to think they’re searching for you.
I say “more” likely, because there are so many moving parts that it’s impossible to predict how well you’ll compete in the SERPs. If Microsoft is playing in the same arena, you’re probably going to be on page 20, not 1.
A sexy domain name gives automatic credibility. Like good design, it’s a “peripheral cue” that you’ve done your homework. In a world where headlines are important, your domain is the ultimate headline. When your best headline has been long forgotten, your domain name will still be working hard every day.
Why you shouldn’t wait
Putting off selecting a domain reduces the time available for you to increase your web footprint. If you register a domain immediately and start populating it with useful content, by the time you launch, Google’s more likely to trust you. You’re not a fly-by-night. You’ve been around. Searchers have arrived and found your content useful.
Things to keep in mind
Clever names are fun and all, but if it’s hard to spell then customers will get it wrong. My last app, Tudumo, suffered from this. It’s a todo list. To-do-more, right? Hey! Smart! No. Annoying because years later, people still mis-spell it. Tudomo, todomo, todumo, etc etc.
.com or not. It depends on the customer segment. If you’re selling to hyper-aware techies or marketers, you’re ok - you can be funkyname.io and they’ll get it. Tradespeople are focused on their business, not your smart niche naming games. Get the .com if you can. Don’t call your company del.i.ci.ou.s irrespective of who your ideal customer is.
Length counts. I have fieldservicealert.com. Alerts for field service, right? Easy to say, right? Hard to mis-spell. Should get snowflake-query benefits from field, service and alert combinations and alternative spellings. But long. Is that important? No idea. Will it be used on a phone? Will people be clicking on it, or typing it in? What can it be confused with?
Syllables count. I have some domains that are short (7 characters) but some parts of the domain are pronounced as an acronym. etachat.com - short, but long.
What if nobody is searching for what you’re making? You immediately lose the SEO benefit. It’s nice to have the canonical bestdomain.com but if nobody uses those words together…maybe you’re wasting your time. However, maybe it’s a new offering and you can own the best name. Maybe enroutealert.com is the best way to alert people that someone is en route.
Is the name memorable? Mailchimp is memorable and brandable. FieldServiceAlert.com isn’t. Was it fieldalerts? Servicealerts?
In the end, you pays your money and you takes your chances. The perfect domains are taken and you can buy them for $20k or you can get something good-enough and move on, and spend $5k building up the brand.
- Start with any good-enough domain, use an HTTP redirect to push SEO juice to a replacement domain.
- Break the app into multiple domains, each focused on a narrow niche. This might help target the niche but loses the cumulative benefits. Maybe try a few and redirect them to a single site later. You also lose the brand benefits. 37Signals is a name that has huge branding, at least in the startup community. They’re now basecamp, but the 37S name will be out there on the web for years to come.
The current problem
Unfortunately I’ve found about 26 (yes, twenty-six) domain names for my current app and I’m having a hard time choosing between them! Should I choose exact-match? What if people aren’t searching for what I’m making? Do I use more popular keywords or more descriptive keywords? Should I use something unique and brandable or stick to generic? Should I use multiple domains, targeting different niches? Do I insist on a .com, or is .net or .co ok?
Here’s the range. Favourites bolded.
- enroutealert.com - self-descriptive, I think
- onroutealert.com - for literal spellers
- vanalert.com - short, two syllables
deliveryalert.net - my current deployed app but possibly too focused on deliveries. I want to serve tradespeople as well. No .com, so lose people guessing at the domain
- etachat.com - short, but four syllables
- etaalert.com and alerteta.com - has some of the benefit in the name, but ee-tee-aye-ah-lert sounds a bit clumsy
- truckcontact.com - nothing to do with eta or en-route. No mention of texting or apps.
- routechat.com - two syllables, describes a differentiator (chat), but I don’t do routing and but the benefit of chat isn’t obvious
- arrivealert.com - sounds like a Red Bull advert
- etacat.com - A bit random. Like mailchimp. Short, no seo benefit, maybe brandable
- fieldservicealert.com - five syllables, generic so it’s usable by various customer types
- fieldservicealerts.com - just in case
- deliveryreminder.com - there’s no schedule so it’s not really a reminder pickupreminder.com
- fieldservicetext.com - might be too focused on the text-chat part
- fieldservice.co - exact name, short, the .co might be an issue with non-techies who expect .com
- drivertouch.com - keep in touch with the driver. Also, touch-based apps (ie on devices.) Might be considered dodgy
- fieldprofit.com - generic. might be ok for a blog or marketing site. ‘Profit’ is good as a motivator/benefit but doesn’t say what the app does
- servicealerts.net - alerts for field service
- fieldservicemanager.net - focused on the role of the user or purchaser of the service. Not .com
These are a bit more niche-specific: