Coming up with a good domain name is hard. It’s even harder when you finally pick a favorite, only to find out that it’s already taken.
I bought this domain — codysee.com — at the beginning of 2014. It’s one of the first domain names I ever purchased, but even then I knew that I had gotten lucky. A seven-letter dot com of my name for $15 a year? Take my money! That will never happen again.
And it didn’t. Every domain name I have purchased since then has been a struggle to find something short, simple, memorable, and available — all without paying a premium-domain price.
It took a couple of years to develop a reliable system for finding good, available domain names. Once I did, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share it. Wouldn’t I just be making it harder for myself the next time I needed to buy one? Maybe, but the process is more creative than technical, so I think I’m safe.
I’ll explain in a bit. Before I get to that, there are some things you should know.
Guidelines for a Good Domain Name
Everyone has their own opinion on what makes or tanks a domain name. Some are generally agreed upon, like I previously mentioned.
A good domain name is…
Short. Long domains take a long time to type. Nobody likes that. Unless you’re going for something funny like What The F*@# Should I Make For Dinner, it’s better to keep it short.
Simple. Is it intuitive or does it cause confusion when you look at it? Something that can cause confusion is when a word ends with the same letter as the beginning of the next word (e.g. in the previous domain name, “whatthe” means “what the”, but since “what” ends with a “t” and “the” starts with “t”, it’s not immediately obvious).
Memorable. You should be able to say the domain name in conversation without an explanation.
Available. Because if it isn’t available, you can’t use it, unless you can afford to buy it from the current owner.
In addition to these, I have a couple guidelines of my own.
- I rarely buy domains more than two words long.
- I only buy dot coms.
My reasons aren’t great and the counterarguments are equally strong. Mark Manson (.net) and Wait But Why are both successful examples that oppose these guidelines, and they do exponentially better than me. I’m just a snob.
As time goes on other top-level domains will gain popularity, like .net, .biz, .co, but I doubt any will ever replace .com as the default. Lengthy domains feel cheap, like whoever owns them settled for less than they wanted, and they usually did. I wouldn’t bet on thewanderingjouney.com to succeed as a travel blog. It sounds like a plan B.
You should be proud of your domain name, otherwise you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage to those who are. If the one you want is already taken, there’s still a small chance you can get it, and it’s worth a try.
How to Get an Already Registered Domain Name
Some people buy and hold domain names in case they decide to use them in the future, but would sell them for the right price. I’m one of those people. If you see domain name registrars listing the domain name you want as premium, or brokers offering to mediate the purchase for thousands of dollars, that’s an option, or you can contact the owner directly and see if they’ll sell for a lower price.
Just because a domain is taken doesn’t mean it’s worth a few grand. I once offered $600 for a domain name whose owner wanted $2,400. They came down. I went up. We never reached an agreement, but they were willing to negotiate.
You never know the other party’s situation. They could be planning to let it expire and would love to sell it for a few hundred dollars, or less.
But how do you contact them? Here’s a little-known fact that someone told me early on: WHOIS privacy protects people from seeing (and bots from scraping) registrant contact information. It does not block emails from getting through to the owner. It’s just a deterrent — an intimidation tactic to scare scammers away.
If your dream domain is parked (e.g. registered, but dead as a website), try this. Ask if they’ll sell and make an offer. It’s usually a long shot, but it only takes a minute and you have nothing to lose.
Personal Brand? Use a Pen Name
This idea only applies to people looking for a domain name to build their personal brand. That’s quite a few people though, so I wanted to call this out specifically.
If you have a common name like Alex Smith or Ashley Johnson, your odds of getting yourname.com are near zero. Too bad you can’t choose your name, right?
Except you can, and it’s actually a pretty good idea.
Stan Lee, Fergie, and J. K. Rowling all share this in common — those aren’t their real names. They’re pen names, or pseudonyms.
Now is your chance to start over. Are you a Catherine who always wanted to go by Kat? Is your gaming handle SpiderJimmy? Try it out and see if you can find a domain name that works. It doesn’t need to be crazy; adding another consonant or vowel to your last name might be all you need.
Domain Name Trends: Alternative TLDs, Suffixes, and Repeat Letters
A few different trends have occurred over the past several years to combat the limited availability of desirable domain names. They deviate from the guidelines I mentioned earlier, but their novelty has a unique appeal.
These ideas are worth considering too.
Include the Domain Name in a Word
The popularity of alternative TLDs has allowed for something creative to happen: Using the domain extension as part of the word(s) in the domain name.
Delicious did this. They took advantage of the .us domain extension along with a subdomain to spell out the word del.icio.us.
My favorite example is eev.ee, which also doubles as an alias / pen name.
Be careful with this idea though, because some domains have restrictions for who can own them. Make sure you’re eligible to use it before deciding on a TLD.
Add a Suffix to the Primary Word
If the word you want isn’t working with any available domain names, tweak it by adding a suffix, even if that means creating a new word.
Here’s a short list of Suffixes I run through when thinking up new domain name ideas.
Repeat Letters in the Primary Word
Sometimes the simplest solution to finding a domain name that works is repeating a letter in the one you want.
It’s an easy fix and could work for you.
Try Adding Generic Words
This is the closest I can get to coming up with a domain name for you.
I have a private list of words that I go through when the domain name I want is taken. They’re generic filler words that don’t always work, but when they do, the result is pretty good.
Here are some of the not-so-secret ones, including examples.
- the (The Awl, Wirecutter)
- get (Harvest)
- hq (abbreviation for “headquarters”. Credit: Glen Allsopp)
- monthly (Texas Monthly)
- quarterly (Lapham’s Quarterly)
These work best for news websites and SaaS companies, which may or may not be ideal for you. Hopefully they help. If not, try making your own secret generic word list so you have something to reference in the future.
How to Come up With an Original Domain Name
When all of these strategies fail, it’s necessary to preheat the creative oven and cook up some original ideas.
The following method has never failed me. It’s an exercise adapted from one of my college English classes, focused on thinking of new words when you’re stuck. The exercise itself is easy to replicate, but the words are always different, making it the perfect method for finding domain names.
- Set a timer for 1 – 2 minutes.
- Write the primary word in your ideal domain name at the top of a list.
- Start the timer, then write down whatever words come to mind.
- If necessary, repeat the process for every word in your ideal domain name.
- Mix and match the results, and go through the previous ideas again until you find something that works.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m into weightlifting and want to start a blog / news website on the topic — somewhere multiple authors can write about things like competition results, new research, and interviews.
The first decent domain name that comes to mind is lifthub.com. All of the registrars I checked listed lifthub.com with a premium price of around $3,000. I want to find something for less than $20.
So I did the exercise. These are the results.
Some of these words aren’t great. That’s normal, and if you only come up with good words, you need to stop self-monitoring and give yourself permission to suck. When you do, you’ll make a longer list, and something in that long list is bound to be at least a step in the right direction.
Out of all of these words, I feel like weights, workout, and bulk stay close to my original intent of bodybuilding and have the most potential. After mixing and matching these words and going back through the previous ideas, I came up with this list of new names.
It looks like theworkout.com and bulkhq.com are both taken at this time. Bulkhub.com is also premium, so that won’t work either.
Weightsweekly.com is available though (or at least it is as I write this). I’d probably go with that. It sounds legit, has some nice alliteration, and checks all the right boxes.
Domain Name Registrar Recommendations
That’s all I have to say on unearthing quality domain names, but if you’re not sure where to buy them, I’ve purchased domains from most of the major registrars and have some recommendations.
First, most web hosting companies include a free domain name when you get a hosting package. It’s convenient, but you give away the freedom to easily switch hosting companies. Unfortunately, web hosting is a fast-moving industry where companies fall apart overnight. It’s good to be prepared by using separate providers in case that happens.
Second, if you have any desire to own more than one domain name, buying from a registrar is really the only practical way to go.
I really like Hover. They only do domains, so there’s no upselling for other services. The interface is simple and they offer bulk discounts on annual renewals for hardcore domainers. They handle all of my domains now, and I recommend them to do the same for you.