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 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 irrespective of who your ideal customer is.

Length counts. I have 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. - 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 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 is the best way to alert people that someone is en route.

Is the name memorable? Mailchimp is memorable and brandable. 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.


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.

These are a bit more niche-specific: