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8 Best Practices for Choosing a Domain Name

22 min read

So you have decided you want an online presence, likely with your own website. That’s great! But how are people going to find you?

In order to make yourself visible to the online world, you need a domain name. This task may seem simple, but there is a lot more to it than one might think.

You can’t risk choosing something random because, to put it bluntly, once you register your domain name you’re basically stuck with it forever. To change it, you have to purchase a new one and then promote it to your customers.

So to make things easier, I’ve created this guide to help you understand the importance of choosing the right domain name, some tips on how to find it, and what to do if it’s taken. Plus, we’ll go over how to register it.

Let’s get into it!

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What Is a Domain?

Just like physical shops have an address people can visit, ecommerce businesses have a domain address people can use to visit the virtual store. A domain (or domain name) is your online business address on the internet.

And just as you need to either buy or rent a physical space, you also need to do the same with a domain. The only catch is that you can’t purchase a domain name forever, unlike a building. Instead, you have to pay a monthly/annual fee to a registrar to use it.

Domain names have two elements:

  • the domain name itself — e.g., Etsy
  • and a top-level domain (TLD, or domain extensions) — e.g., .com

There are numerous domain name and extension options. So let’s get into the guidelines that’ll help you best analyze your options.

The Best Practices for Choosing a Domain Name

Choosing the right domain name is super important for your business because it is how people will find you virtually. Use the following best practices to come up with your perfect domain name.

Use Your Brand Name

Your customers will most likely remember your store by your brand name (e.g., Alibaba), so that’s what they’ll type into search engines. So you should try to use your brand name for your website domain (e.g., alibaba.com). It’s professional and distinct — plus, you should really own the domain that uses your brand name, anyways.

If you use your brand name, that gives you room to expand your inventory in the future. So you won’t have to create a new website and domain name every time you venture into new products.

Using your brand name is great, but make sure to invest resources in building and promoting it so that people know to search for it as your domain name.

Use Keywords Related to Your Website Content

When brainstorming domain name ideas, consider descriptive keywords that give context to first-time visitors.

For example, if you used artshop.com or a domain name extension like .art, it shows that the domain deals with art.

So choose a domain name that describes your products. Also, try to avoid generic names that your customers would confuse with other businesses. An example of this would be the generic name “Codeless” which brings up three different companies that all do different things.

Generic business names like “Codeless” are often used by many businesses. Try to find a domain name that is unique

But do keywords improve your organic search rankings?

In 2009, Google’s John Mueller mentioned that “it does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL.” And a 2017 study of the top 10 keywords in 10 major industries found that 63% of top page results have keywords in the domain links.

The study mentioned notes half of the keywords are not exactly in the domain name; they are category titles

However, in 2020, Mueller actually advised against having keywords in the domain name. He argued that if you want to explore a different niche in the future, it won’t fit into the keyword-rich domain that you may have spent years and resources building.

With all of that advice in mind, it’s up to you whether to use keywords in your domain name or not.

If you do choose to use keywords, do some research to identify keywords that your customers use to search for your products. At the very least, your keywords should have:

  • Decent search volume (over 1k)
  • Low competition (different tools have different metrics)
  • High cost-per-click (the average price that advertisers pay for each ad click in paid search results)

Most SEO tools like Ahrefs and Moz will be able to show you these metrics.

Ahrefs metrics for the keyword “flower shop”

After choosing your keywords (e.g., flower shop) feed them into a domain name search tool of your choice. But before settling on a domain name, know the five best practices below.

Consider Your Location

If you target local buyers primarily, you can add location information to your domain name to give more context to your store.

For example:

  • bostonart.com tells customers that the art shop is based in Boston.
  • 617art.shop uses Boston’s area code. Ideally, the targeted customers would know the area code.
  • sincityarts.com uses Las Vegas’s nickname. It’s perfect for a store that targets buyers in Las Vegas, or those who admire the city.
  • artsupplies.ca uses a country-code domain extension for Canada. Domain zones that belong to specific countries target people in those countries specifically.
  • artsupplies.miami uses geographic domain extensions — domain zones that belong to a city, province, or continent. This one would show that the shop is based in Miami, Florida.

Like other keywords, location information limits your scope if you want to expand to other locations in the future. But you can always buy domain names for different locations and redirect all of them to the main domain.

Keep It Short, Easy to Pronounce, and Spell

No one wants to type a long domain name every time. And when it’s easy to say, it’s also easy to remember. So how short should your domain name be?

One survey from Domain Registration found that the most popular domain names are two words long with about 12 to 13 characters.

It’s also a good practice to make it a brandable domain name. So think Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc.

Overall, the shorter and easier to say, the better.

Avoid Numbers and Punctuation Marks

Numbers and punctuation marks make the domain name less memorable and harder to type. Honestly, using numbers and/or punctuation marks can be plain annoying.

If you’re looking for ways to modify your domain name, read on for some modification ideas.

Avoid Spammy and Unusual Extensions

People are wary of extensions like .br or.xyz because they look spammy and unusual. Instead, you should try for .com because people trust this extension.

But if the .com version of your dream domain is unavailable, either go back to the drawing board or choose from other TLDs, like .clothing, .boots, .store, .jewelry, etc. These can add more context to your domain name. Like keywords, though, be careful not to limit yourself to one product if you don’t want to.

If you’re wondering whether your desired TLD looks spammy, verify it using Spamhaus’s tool. The lower the percentage, the better.

Here’s what the tool looks like. Note that misspellings in your domain name may seem suspicious too

Avoid Trademarked Names

Distinct domains could be protected by a trademark. Using a similar domain or having similar content to a trademarked domain exposes your business to copyright, abuse complaints, and legal complications.

As an example, AI writing tool Jasper AI, formerly known as “Jarvis.ai”, received trademark complications for its name in early 2022. Its domain and brand closely resembled Tony Stark’s “J.A.R.V.I.S” AI from the Marvel movies — and with Disney lawyers at their doorstep, Jasper AI’s CEO decided to rebrand.

Google also notes that:
“If a trademark owner feels you have violated a trademark, the owner may file a UDRP or URS complaint, requesting that your domain be canceled, transferred, or suspended… Google will honor the UDRP or URS decision.”

Once You Find a Suitable Domain Name, Buy It ASAP

Consider that in the first three months of 2022, data from Verisign found that 8.8 million domains were registered. That’s about 97K domain registrations every 24 hours, or roughly 1 domain every second.

Many people are interested in domain names, so this rapidity of domain registration is not surprising.

You’ll even find people making a business out of domain registration. For example, founder Mike Mann runs multimillion domain selling businesses. He predicts profitable domains by checking keywords with traffic potential and registers them to resell at a higher price. He utilizes bots to register over 14k domains in less than 24 hours.

So once you find that perfect domain, take it! Along with that, buy any misspellings of your domain name to redirect mistyping customers to the right domain.

New vs. Existing Domains

If you’ve come up with a domain name but it’s already registered to someone else, here are some things to consider.

With a new domain, you start with a clean slate — zero spam, zero backlinks, and zero penalties. But it’ll take longer for search engines to trust it. In contrast, an existing domain with good SEO that search engines already trust can give your site a head start.

Here are some checks you’ll want to do for domains that are already registered:

  • Head to google and type in site:YourDomainName.com (e.g., site:ecwid.com) to verify that the domain name still appears on search results. If the site doesn’t appear on Google, there is a chance that the site may have been penalized, removed, or blacklisted. You can further check with free tools like Mxtoolbox to see if the site is blacklisted.
  • Next, analyze the domain’s history. You can see when the domain was first recognized by Google, archived URLs, what the website looked like, and other details of the domain’s past on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
  • Then use Ahrefs (or a similar tool) to analyze the domain’s backlink profile. These are all the links that direct visitors to your site and is an important factor for getting Google to recognize your domain.

And if you’re ready to buy a taken domain, here are your options:

Check if the Domain is for Sale

First, access the domain using your browser to see if it’s for sale by copying and pasting it into your browser. The domain could be redirected to a sales page to buy the domain.

Sometimes, you can get lucky and find the domain is for sale. But maybe not so lucky for $100.000 USD, as in this case

It could also lead to a page with the seller’s information.

Keep an eye out for any banners that may list the domain for sale

If it’s up for sale, you should be able to buy it from the domain’s owner.

Buy from the Domain’s Owner

There are three ways to buy the registered domain:

  • Buy it directly from the owner. Look up the owner’s contact information using ICANN’s registration data lookup tool. You can then negotiate a fair price based on the domain’s value and the market value for similar domains (authority and keywords). You can also pay a domain broker to negotiate a fair price.
  • Buy it through a trusted online business marketplace, for example Flippa. You simply place your bid, wait for the seller to contact you, and then buy through the site.
  • Buy the domain name through a backorder service. Backordering means booking to buy an expired domain if the owner doesn’t renew it within their grace period. Domain registrars offer these backorder services. Generally, you buy a backorder credit and wait until you get the domain. It should be a last resort because the registrars can’t guarantee you’ll get the domain name.

Learn more: How to Buy the Perfect Domain Name for Your Store

Modify your Domain Name

Alternatively, modify your domain name while keeping the best practices above in mind.

  • Add “the” to your domain name —“theflowers.com”
  • Add location information —“nycflowers.com” or “flowers.nyc
  • Add an action phrase — “buyflowers.com” or “shopflowers.com”
  • Change the domain extension — “nycflowers.shop

Come up with a New Name

If all else fails, you’ll just need to come up with something new. But don’t fret; the internet has created many tools that can help. For example:

  • Use a domain name generator like namer.ai
  • Domain generators will generally find domains that are available

  • Use AI writing tools to generate ideas
  • AI writing tools can be incredibly useful for the initial brainstorming process. Like with this example done on Jasper AI

  • Use Google Keyword Planner to find keyword ideas, then run a domain availability check on a domain registrar of your choice
  • Google Keyword Planner is a great tool to use to see trends and search volume for specific keywords

  • Use a domain name thesaurus to come up with domain name ideas
  • Synonyms can be an easy get-around to get the same meaning of an existing domain name

How to Register and Secure a Domain Name

So once you find a perfect domain name, shop around to compare prices from various registrars.

For example, Porkbun is currently renewing nycflowers.shop at ~$25 per year,

Most registrars have 1st year domain promotions you can take advantage of

while Namecheap renews the same domain at ~$31 per year.

Price hunting applies to domain names too

Find A Domain Registrar

Besides having the best domain price, a legit domain registrar has the following basic features:

  • Reliable tech support
  • A solid track record
  • A range of extensions (TLDs)
  • Industry security standards (SSL certificates, Whois ID protection, etc.)
  • An easy domain transfer and registration process
  • Basic domain and email management tools (email forwarding, URL forwarding).

With that in mind, below are my most highly recommended domain registrars.

Porkbun
A domain name from Porkbun comes with free SSL certificates that protect your site visitors’ information, like their credit card numbers. It also comes with free Whois privacy protection (to protect your personal information from people who look it up on ICANN’s Whois directory).

It also includes free email and URL forwarding (redirecting one URL’s traffic to another URL or a similar scenario with email). In addition, your account will have security measures like two-factor authentication, login notification alerts, and more.

Porkbun homepage

Namecheap
Namecheap is famous for its competitive domain prices, and it has been in the business for over 20 years. The domains come with free Whois protection, plus protection from DNS (Domain Name System) spoofing and cache poisoning. But typical of big brands, their customer support is wanting.

Namecheap homepage

Google Domains
Google Domains is fast and very secure. They provide:

  • Free Whois and RDAP privacy protection that protect your contact information
  • Cloud DNS support, which scales to meet high traffic demands
  • Protection from DNS threats like cache poisoning and DNS spoofing.

Google Domains also comes with free email and domain forwarding, automatic domain verification (useful for connecting to Google Search Console), and easy access to ecommerce platforms.

Google Domains homepage

Hover
Hover domains come with free Whois ID protection. Plus, the more domains you have in your account, the less you pay for renewals. Besides hundreds of extensions to choose from, they also make it easy to connect to ecommerce platforms and other services.

Hover homepage

Secure Your Domain

Your domain name is a huge part of your business, and you want to make sure it’s as protected as possible. The first thing you can do to guarantee protection is register your domain name yourself rather than using a third-party. That way, only you will have access to the domain’s password.

Next, use the following checklist to secure your domain:

  • Enable two-factor authentication
  • Activate REGISTRAR-LOCK status, which prevents unauthorized domain transfers.
  • Enable Domain ID Protection so that people won’t find your contact details on the Whois directory and RADP
  • Limit the IP addresses that can access your domain account
  • Change your password regularly
  • Set up domain status notifications to get notified whenever someone logins
  • Register misspellings of your domain name and redirect them to the correct URL. It prevents competitors from buying the misspellings to hijack your traffic.

How to Connect a Domain Name to Your Store

You may be looking for an ecommerce platform as well as a domain name for your online business. Fortunately, there are platforms that allow you to check many tasks off your ecommerce to-do list at once.

Ecwid by Lightspeed is a great example. When you sign up with Ecwid, you get an Instant Site, which is a free ecommerce website with a built-in online store. You also get a free domain for your Instant Site: https://store12345.company.site, where 12345 is the ID of your store and .company.site is the Ecwid domain.

But you don’t have to settle for the default domain name. You can easily customize it to better fit your business and make it simpler for customers to locate your store. Use your brand name instead of your store ID, like awesomestore.company.site. Here’s how to do that.

You can also buy a domain name from a registrar of your choice if you don’t want to have .company.site as your domain extension. Once you have your own domain name, all you have to do is connect it to your Ecwid store using this guide.

After signing up for Ecwid, you’ll also get a free SSL certificate for your store. SSL certificates are vital for online stores as they keep your customers’ information safe from hackers and thieves.

To Sum Up

Your brand name is the best domain name. It’s professional and allows you to expand your inventory in the future without worrying about the niche. But you can also use keywords that describe your product.

The problem is that you’ll hardly find a short and keyword-rich .com domain that isn’t already registered. In that case, you can modify the name by adding location information or an action phrase like “buy” to the domain name. However, avoid adding numbers or punctuation marks because they make the domain less memorable.

As soon as you find an available domain that suits your needs, buy it!

Don’t let picking a domain name hold you back from selling your products. Ecwid by Lightspeed makes it easier than ever to start an online store, and with our help, you’ll be promoting your store in no time. Get started now!

Do you want to learn more about starting an online store?

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About the author

Jessica La is the SEO lead at Appetiser App Development with over 3 years in the Tech Industry. When she's not writing content driven by data and meaningful human narratives, she's on the hunt for the next sci-fi book. Keep in mind, she is completely unapproachable without having her morning coffee.

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