The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Domain Name

Matt Donley Building Your Website

When choosing a domain name for your website, you’ll feel like it’s the most important decision you’ll ever make. Your domain name says a lot about your business, and it’s typically the first thing people see. And we all know how important first impressions are.

Domain Name = Brand Name

When you’re building an online business, your domain name will become your brand. Your brand name will represent the value that you deliver to the world, so it’s important to give it some thought. So first of all, what is a Brand?

According to Seth Godin:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.

Before we dive into some of the technical aspects of constructing a domain name, let’s look at the different types of brand names you can create.

Watch the video, or continue below for the written tutorial

Personal Brand

A personal branded domain is For me, that would be Branding your business around your name is a great way to put you in the spotlight as the expert.

I think personal branding works best for consultants, authors, life coaches, mentors, public speakers, and other “experts”. If your business is truly focused around you and your personal expertise or personality, you might consider going with the personal brand. Personal brands also have a way of elevating the person to more of a “celebrity” status, and if done right, can attribute more authority, trust, and credibility to the person.

It also gives you the opportunity to change and adapt your business as your goals and interests change. Since your domain name doesn’t say anything specific about what you do, it is much easier to make a shift in focus. However, this can also be a drawback because people won’t know what your website is about without some sort of context or recommendation.

Another drawback, is if you ever want the option to sell your website, building your business around your personal name will make it much harder to do so.

If you are thinking of using your name as your domain, consider the following:

  • Is your name easy to spell? –  When someone asks what your name is, do they immediate follow up that question with “Could you spell that for me?” Your name might not make a good domain for the simple reason that people aren’t going to be able to spell it right.
  • How long is your name? – My full name is actually Matthew Stephenson-Donley. Yup, hyphenated last name. I wouldn’t even think about building a site with my full last name, especially since the “ph” can be easily mistaken for a “v”. (see previous bullet point).
  • Nickname? – Are you going to use your full name, or a nickname? Think about how you introduce yourself to people. That is the name you’ll want to go with since that’s what people will remember you by.

Even if you aren’t planning on building your business site around your personal name, you might consider reserving your name domain for future use, just in case. It could serve as a central hub for all the projects you are working on, or act as an online resume or business card, just like Pat Flynn does.

  • – Jon is the Facebook marketing expert, and he has built his business around a personal brand.
  • – Lewis Howes is an online business guru, and runs the School of Greatness podcast.
  • – Amy is the social media expert, with a focus on Facebook Marketing.
  • – Ray creates tutorials for developers and gamers.

Generic/Descriptive Brand Name

A generic domain would be a one or two word domain that simply stated the subject of the website. If you had a site about photography, a generic domain name would be Generic .COM domains are pretty much impossible to find (because people have already registered them), and offer no trademark protection as a brand.

Descriptive domains try to tell the person what the website is about before they even get there. is an example of this. Just by reading the title, you get an idea that this site has something to do with technology used in online business.

Although Google has lessened the SEO benefits of having an exact match domain, think of it from the perspective of someone unknown to your brand. You have a clear advantage with a descriptive brand name when compared to a personal brand or a completely arbitrary or made-up brand name.

If someone comes across your domain name, they will immediately know what your site is about without needing any context.

  • – Pat Flynn’s site has a descriptive name. You understand that his site is about generating passive income. Using “Smart” in the brand name suggests that there is also a “dumb” way to generate passive income, and perhaps you’ll find more innovative ways to generate income on his site.
  • – I went with the descriptive brand name for this site as well.
  • – This site, started by Darren Rowse, founder of ProBlogger, is a good example of a successful descriptive brand name.
  • – Steve Kamb has a great way of helping nerds get in shape by relating fitness to Star wars, video games, and legos. One look at the domain name tells you the site is about fitness, but specifically for nerds.
  • – WP is the abbreviation for WordPress, so this site must be a resource for WordPress beginners.
  • – Fluent has to do with being able to speak a language. So, fluentin3months must be a site that can teach you how to become fluent within 3 months time.
  • – This site teaches people different techniques for applying makeup.

Suggestive Brand Name

Suggestive brand names use metaphors and analogies to convey meaning about the business. The meanings behind these brand names are less obvious than descriptive brands, but might still include hints in them to help you understand them.

A suggestive brand name might be a real word, or it could be a made-up word.

  • – An online community and learning resource for online entrepreneurs.
  • – Black Coffee is a brand consultancy. They have a great article on choosing a brand name here.
  • – Like the Amazon River, provides a never ending flow of merchandise for sale.
  • Mixergy – This amazing site from Andrew Warner combines the words “mixer” and “energy” to create Mixergy. I highly recommend checking out the Mixergy Podcast, full of interviews of successful entrepreneurs.
  • PHLearn – This is a site that teaches people how to use Photoshop. Once you know that, you can easily understand the tactic they took with their name. This name is very suggestive and descriptive as it has a lot of direct meaning in it.
  • – Combining the word “group” and “coupon” to describe a service that delivers coupons to large groups of people at once.

Arbitrary/Fanciful Brand Names

Arbitrary brands are real words that are used out of context. For example, Apple (name of a fruit used for a tech company), Shell (a clam shell used for an oil company).

Fanciful names are words that are invented and have no apparent meaning to them other than the representation of the brand itself. Most of the worlds top brands have fanciful names. These are the easiest to trademark.

When inventing your own words for brand names, it’s important to make the word mimic natural language in how it sounds. Unnatural sounding words are hard to say and remember, and will result in a weak brand.

  • – Here’s an exception to the rule, where they obviously couldn’t get their hands on because it was already taken, and decided to add the word “Team” in front of the domain to make it work. This is an online learning site that teaches web technology.
  • GumRoad – If you’ve never heard of GumRoad before, you’d have no clue what it is without either going to the site, or having someone explain it to you.
  • Trello – Trello is an awesome task management app that I use. This is a good example of a”fanciful” invented brand name.

Hybrid Approach

You could also combine any of the tactics above, to create a hybrid domain name. For instance, you could combine your name with a topic keyword, to create something like:

  • – A fitness blog, combining a personal brand name with a descriptive term.
  • – Another combination of a personal brand (first name only this time), with a descriptive term indicating that it is a travel blog.
  • – A personal brand (last name only) combined with a descriptive term.
  • – This combines an arbitrary brand element “banana”, with a generic/descriptive term “hobby”.

Technical points to consider

  1. Easy to remember – Regardless of the type of brand name distinction you choose, you should pick a domain name that’s easy to remember. There are a number of different ways to make a domain easier to remember, including making it short, creative, Your brand name won’t be as valuable if people don’t relate
  2. Easy to spell – You should avoid using weird spellings, special characters, hyphens, and numbers (is it 1, one, or won?) in your domain. You should also avoid words that are commonly misspelled. You don’t want to lose out on traffic because people spelled your domain wrong. IF you told someone your domain, would they be able to spell it without having to ask you?
  3. Easy to say – How easy is it to vocalize your domain? Do the words flow together naturally? When you say the domain out loud, is it clear what you are saying, or is there confusion? Think about how you would introduce yourself in a video or on a podcast “Hi, this is Matt from”  In addition to being easy to say, does the name have a distinct sound or rythym to it? Is it fun to say? Phonetics are a widely studied area in brand names.
  4. Logo – How do the words look in a logo? If it’s a relatively long brand name, you might need to place it on multiple lines. Are there any design opportunities for repetition or alignment of letters?
  5. .COM is still the best domain extension – Although there are a ton of domain extensions now available, .COM is still the most common domain in use.
  6. Distinct and unique – You don’t want your brand name to be confused with another brand out there. Choosing something really distinct will help it be easily remembered as well.
  7. Shorter the better – The shorter your domain name is, the better. Aim for 10-20 letters in your domain name, or 2-3 words. This makes your domain more convenient to type in and easier to remember. Any more than that and it just looks like you picked the domain name because all the others were taken.
  8. Limit or avoid filler words – “” is taken, so you consider going with “” instead. Adding filler words such as “thebest” or “top” dilute your brand, so it’s best to avoid them.  If the domain you want is taken, you might still be able to purchase it at a premium, or you can brainstorm some different words to use instead.
  9. Use a Thesauras – When brainstorming your domain name, it’s really helpful to find synonyms to words you find are descriptive of your business.
  10. Avoid Trademarked terms – Although every situation is different, it is usually best to avoid using a trademarked term in your domain.

As you’ve probably noticed, many of the websites I cited in this article violate one or two of these rules. There will always be exceptions to the rule, so don’t worry if your preferred domain doesn’t abide by every single rule. You should aim to follow at least 6 out of the 10 rules listed above.

Remember, the value of a brand doesn’t originate from the words you use in the brand name, it comes from the products, services and knowledge you provide. That perceived value is then transferred to your brand name as a result of your efforts. So regardless of what you choose for your domain, its not nearly as important as the content you deliver, and the reputation you develop.

See if your domain is available

Once you’ve come up with a few ideas for domain names, check to see if they’re available. You can use the tool below to check domain availability, and purchase it from Bluehost. If you need to purchase a hosting package, make sure you check out my tutorial on setting up your Bluehost hosting.