Domain name research is a crucial first step when starting a new website or online business. Your domain name helps establish your brand and identity online, so taking the time to find the right domain can pay off in the long run. An effective domain name should be memorable, descriptive, easy to spell, and have available extensions. With so many options to choose from, performing thorough domain research helps ensure you make the best possible choice for your needs. Follow this comprehensive guide to learn proven tips and strategies for researching and selecting the ideal domain name.
Brainstorm Keyword Ideas First
Before starting to look at potential domain names, take some time to brainstorm keywords and phrases related to your site or business. Make a list of words that describe what your website is about and what topics it will cover. Think about words people may use when trying to find your site via search engines. The keywords and phrases you brainstorm will help guide your domain research and provide inspiration for domain ideas.
Aim for keywords and phrases that are:
- Relevant to your brand, products or services
- Easy to understand and spell
- Unique and distinctive
- Short and memorable
Avoid generic terms that could apply to any website. Be as specific as possible to make it easy for people to remember your domain and associate it with your brand. Spend time developing a strong keyword list before moving onto actual domain search and selection.
Check Keyword Difficulty
Once you have a list of potential keywords, you should check the search difficulty for each term. Keyword difficulty helps determine how hard it may be to rank for a given term in search engines. The harder the keyword, the more competition there likely is for that term.
Use SEO tools like Moz’s Keyword Difficulty tool to input your phrases and see their difficulty scores. Low difficulty keywords are easier to rank for, while high difficulty keywords will take more effort to rank well in search engines.
Ideally you should aim for domain names based on mid to low difficulty keywords. Avoid high difficulty keywords for your main domain name unless you plan to invest heavily in SEO. Checking keyword difficulty scores early allows you to focus your domain research on easier to rank keywords and phrases.
Perform a Competitive Analysis
Conduct a competitive analysis to see what domain names your competitors are using. Search for their websites and make note of their main domain names and extensions. See if any use keywords relevant to your business niche. Research whether they have trademarked their domain names.
Also look at their overall domain strategy. Do they use separate domains for different products, locations or brands? Or do they use a single consolidated domain? Look for any patterns or themes they follow when naming domains that could inform your own domain selection.
Researching your competitors’ domains can help inspire your own domain ideas while making sure you avoid too closely duplicating a competitor’s domain. Use what you learn during competitive analysis to guide your brainstorm.
Brainstorm Domain Name Ideas
Use your keyword list and competitive research to start brainstorming actual domain name ideas. Aim for names that are:
- Short, simple and easy to remember
- Communicate your brand identity and keywords
- Unique enough to stand out
- Easy to say and spell out loud
- Versatile for possible expansion
Ideally your domain should be your brand name or contain your most important keywords. Some tips when brainstorming:
- Use your brand name, product name or slogan as a starting point
- Include your location if relevant
- Add keywords like “online”, “shop”, “store” etc.
- Use hyphens to combine multiple keywords in one domain
- Make up new words combining keywords
- Use suffixes like “ly”, “ify”, “r” etc. to create unique domains
Brainstorm a large list of many possible options at first. Avoid judging or discounting any ideas during the initial brainstorming phase. Be creative and explore different keyword combinations. Write down all domain name ideas for consideration.
Shorten Your Domain Name List
Review your brainstormed list of domains and start crossing off less ideal options. Eliminate domains that are:
- Hard to spell or pronounce
- Too long or complex
- Trademarked or too similar to competitors
- Use trademarked terms you don’t have rights to
- Incorporate low value keywords
Try saying potential domains out loud to identify any awkward phrases. Eliminate domains incorporating multiple hyphens or numbers when possible. Narrow your list down to your top five to ten domain candidates.
Review your shortened domain list again later with fresh eyes. Repeat the pruning process until you have just three to five strong, viable domain name candidates left. Take your time narrowing down – finding the ideal domain is worth the effort.
Perform Initial Domain Availability Searches
Once you have narrowed down your list to your top domain name candidates, it’s time to start checking availability. Use a domain registration site to perform a “bulk whois” search on your domains to check their availability.
Make sure to check availability of both the .com version of your domain along with other popular extensions like .net, .org, .info etc. Note down which of your preferred domain candidates already appear to be registered.
Also research availability of similar versions, like plurals and alternate spellings. A preliminary availability check will help you quickly narrow down your list further to the domains that can actually be registered.
Evaluate Key Domain Factors
As you research potential domains, keep these key factors in mind:
- Length – Shorter domains with one or two words work best.
- Easy spelling & pronunciation – Important for conveying your domain name verbally.
- Memorability – Is it easy to remember the domain after hearing it once? Catchy and clever names can help.
- Versatility – Will the domain name still work even if your business expands or changes?
- Keywords – Does your domain name include your most relevant and distinctive keywords?
- TLD extension – .com is ideal, but alternate TLD’s can also work well.
- Domain hacks – Using prefixes, suffixes and hyphens to create catchy or clever domain names.
- Ease of typing – Avoid hard to type or complex characters when possible.
- Capacity for branding – Names that uniquely represent your brand identity are best.
Keep these key factors in mind as you evaluate potential domains. The ideal domain name will check most of these boxes.
Perform Detailed Availability Searches
Once you have evaluated your list and identified your top candidate domains, it’s time for more detailed availability checks. Use a domain registration site to perform detailed WHOIS searches on each of your domains of choice.
WHOIS searches provide availability information along with registration details if the domain is taken. When domains are registered, look for:
- Registration date – Recently registered domains may not be fully developed yet and could possibly be acquired.
- Registrant info – You can research current owners of taken domains to potentially contact them about purchasing the domain.
WHOIS info allows you to thoroughly research if any options are viable or completely unavailable. As you research, create a spreadsheet with columns for domain, availability status, WHOIS details and notes.
Check Trademark Potential
An important step in vetting your possible domain names is to check whether they could potentially infringe on an existing trademark. Use trademark search tools like the USPTO’s TESS database to research any names you are considering registering.
Even if a domain is currently available, it could still infringe on an existing company’s trademark rights if too similar to their name or brands. That company can come after you later even if you register the domain first.
Carefully check trademark records and steer clear of any domain names too similar to existing marks. You want to avoid potential legal issues down the road. Thorough trademark vetting protects your brand investment.
Research ‘Expired’ Domain Names
In addition to searching for unused, currently available domains, you can also research ‘expired’ domains that were previously registered then allowed to expire by their former owners. These expired domains already have existing history and potential traffic value if relevant to your niche.
Use online expired domain tools to check domain name history and look for previously registered domains that:
- Contain your preferred keywords
- Have solid backlink profiles and potential SEO value
- Don’t have spam or abuse history
- Weren’t used for commercial competitors
If you find a quality expired domain that aligns with your business, you can try to snap it up once it becomes available again. The right expired domain with SEO history can give your website a boost in search engines.
Research Domain Age
When evaluating potential domain names, look up when the domain was originally registered. In general, older domains tend to have more authority in search engine results.
Use online WHOIS lookup tools to check the creation date for any domains you’re considering. Look for domains first registered many years ago. Avoid domains registered very recently, as these are more likely to be spam or low-quality.
An older domain registration date can give your website a small boost in credibility and SEO value. Though not strictly necessary, domain age is a useful factor to research.
Evaluate Comparable Domain Sales
If you have your eye on a domain name currently owned by someone else, you can research comparable domain sales to estimate potential acquisition costs. Online archives of previous domain sales like DNJournal.com let you see recent sales prices for similar domains.
Search for recently sold domains containing your target keywords or in your industry. See what quality domain names in your niche sold for. Use comparable sales data to benchmark how much acquiring your desired domain name might cost if you decide to contact the current owner.
Domain name sales archives help you estimate potential acquisition costs so you can plan your budget if needed. If costs seem prohibitive, this can also guide your decision making.
Search by Keyword
Many domain registration sites like GoDaddy allow you to search available domain names by keyword. Enter your desired keywords or phrases and browse through the suggested domain options that incorporate those terms.
Keyword-based domain searches can uncover unique domain name combinations you may not have thought of. Look through all the suggestions and add any promising available options to your list for consideration.
Domain searches by keyword also show you how other people are incorporating or using your own keywords in their domains. Look for patterns or creative combinations for inspiration.
Look for Prefixes and Suffixes
Brainstorm and search for domain names using creative prefixes and suffixes that relate to your business or keywords. For example:
- Prefixes like “best”, “tip top”, “super” etc.
- Suffixes like “ify”, “pedia”, “hub”, “ly” etc.
Fun prefixes and suffixes can be attached to your keywords or business name to create short, memorable domain names. Experiment with different combinations.
Keep in mind some common affixes like “ly”, “app” or “ify” are increasingly overused or trademarked as standalone domains. But using prefixes and suffixes in moderation can help generate unique domain ideas.
Consider Domain “Hacks”
For alternative domain options, consider using domain “hacks”, which mix and match suffixes across domain extensions to spell specific words or phrases. For example:
- suchas.com (such as)
- variation.com (vari-ation)
- actnow.co (act now)
Keep a list of popular domain extensions like .co, .io, .me etc. Mix and match extensions with prefixes/suffixes to brainstorm potential domain hacks relevant to your business.
Domain hacks can create short, clever and memorable domain names incorporating your keywords or brand name. They are tricky to find available, but can be a unique domain solution.
Verify Social Media Username Availability
Once your domain name is registered, you will want the same name for your social media profiles and handles. So availability checking should include verifying that matching social media usernames are also obtainable.
Search platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn etc. to see if your preferred domain name is available as a username. Avoid domain names where the matching social handle is unavailable.
You want to secure consistent branding across your domain name and social media usernames whenever possible. Checking availability upfront helps prevent issues down the road.
Use Comparison Tools to Evaluate Alternatives
Domain comparison tools allow you to enter multiple domain names for side-by-side analysis and scoring based on key factors like branding potential, length, spelling, memorability and more.
Comparison tools like DomComp provide at-a-glance rankings so you can easily identify your strongest domain name candidates.
Enter all your shortlisted domains to directly compare them and make data-driven decisions based on each domain’s comparative score. Use comparison tools as a final check before selecting your ultimate domain name.
Acquire Your Final Domain Name
Once you have thoroughly searched and evaluated all options, chosen your final domain name, verified full availability and passed trademark vetting, it’s time to officially register your domain!
Take the following steps:
- Decide on domain extension – .com is most common
- Choose your domain registrar – many options like GoDaddy, Bluehost etc.
- Determine registration timeline – 1-10 years typically
- Register your domain – make payment to secure registration
- Set up account credentials – create owner login details
- Configure domain settings – like privacy protection, nameservers etc.
New domains can take 24-48 hours to fully propagate across DNS systems globally. Once registered, you can point your domain to a website hosting account or parked “coming soon” page while you develop your actual site.
Take time to research domain registrars and select one that offers a good value. Register for as long a term as possible to secure your domain name rights. Congratulations – you now own the perfect domain name for your business!
Choosing the ideal domain name for your website or brand is no small decision. A thoughtful, thorough approach to domain name research will pay dividends for your business down the road. Follow the proven best practices outlined in this guide to identify available, brand-appropriate domains aligned with your core keywords and business niche.
Allow yourself plenty of time for extensive research and availability checks. Brainstorm creatively, perform competitive analysis, consult professional tools, consider key factors and search expired domains. Do not rush the process – finding your perfect domain is a key investment in your brand and online presence. With focus and diligence, you will discover the ideal domain to drive your business forward online.