How to Find the Perfect Domain

How to choose the perfect domain for your SaaS product when all the best domains are taken.

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It's 2019, and all the good domains are taken

Sure, you didn't expect your first choice to be available, but there must at least be something suitable that isn't being held hostage by domain squatters.

The most popular TLD (top-level domain) by far is ".com", accounting for over half of the 350 million or so domains in existence today. By some estimates, over 100,000 new domains are registered every day. By contrast, the Webster's Third New English Dictionary contains around 470,000 entries. It's safe to say that all the words are used up, several times over.

You're going to have to settle for some obscure made-up word or awful misspelling, right?

Not so fast! True, most of the desirable .com domains are already registered. But the good news is that it's still possible to come up with a pretty good domain for your new product or business.

Domain horror

It's pretty hard to screw up too badly when procuring a domain. After all, the worst thing that can happen is that you end up not using the domain (unless you paid a premium for it, in which case more's the pity).

If you find a domain that might work, go ahead and pick it up if you can. Rare is the Internet entrepreneur who doesn't own a small stockpile of spare domain names, just in case.

Having said that, it's worth being a little careful before committing your brand and reputation to a domain, and especially before spending a small fortune on a premium domain. There are a few things that could go wrong… here are some of them.

Country-specific domains

One of the most popular ways to find a good domain that matches your brand is to use a country-specific domain. There are over 200 different country-specific domain extensions, and many are available for general registration. A few of the most popular TLDs:

  • .io (British Indian Ocean Territory)
  • .ly (Libya)
  • .ai (Anguilla)
  • .to (Tonga)
  • .it (Italy)
  • .es (Spain)
  • .is (Iceland)
  • .vc (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)
  • .sh (St. Helena)

You'll probably recognize some of these companies:

  • bit.ly
  • donate.ly
  • embed.ly
  • musical.ly
  • intercom.io
  • draw.io

Domains ending in .es, .ly, are popular because they lend themselves to clever English word endings, like "clever.ly".

In 99.99% of cases it's not going to be a big deal, but when building your company's brand on a country-specific domain, it's important to keep in mind that your domain name may fall under the jurisdiction of that nation. Though it may seem unlikely, a lot of people were freaked out when Libya siezed one .ly domain without warning.

It should go without saying that you probably shouldn't base your domain name in a nation that is officially designated as a "state sponsor of terrorism". Not very many registrars support TLDs for Iran (.ir), Syria (.sy), Sudan (.sd), or North Korea (.kp). Fortunately those are pretty crummy domain endings anyway, so it's not much of a loss.

Made Up Words

You're in luck, Xobni.com is available! Xobni (pronounced zob-nee) was a company that made applications for Microsoft Office, once upon a time.

The problem with Xobni is… there are so many problems with Xobni. How do you spell it? How do you pronounce it? Imagine trying to explain these domain names to your grandma on the phone:

  • Amedisys
  • Cadabra
  • Furtzii
  • Iggli
  • Kiip
  • Magoosh
  • Qdoba
  • S8te
  • Teaosophy
  • Zippier
  • Zumper

Even worse are made-up words that sound like common words but are spelled differently:

  • Speesees
  • Naymz
  • Takkle
  • Flickr
  • Svbtle
  • del.icio.us

Making up a word is a risky move, but it can also give you a brand that's recognizable and easy to trademark. A few brands have hit it out of the park with their made-up words:

  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Mozilla
  • Reddit
  • Xerox
  • Kodak
  • Shopify

Rule of thumb: make sure your made-up brand is easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and doesn't leave people scratching their heads. Just because a random string of letters ".com" is available doesn't make it a good brand name.

Dropped Vowels

Look, I know Internet companies are supposed to be hip, and trendy, and while we know that made-up words may not be so great, dropping vowels from common words is just the way to identify with the kids these days. And hey, the domain is available! What luck!

Just look at Flickr, Mapstr, Lisnr, Plumbr, Quikr, and Callr. They can't all be wrong, right?

Well, first of all, Flickr died years ago when Yahoo bought it and breathed death into it. So Flickr isn't exactly a good example of being trendy.

Unless you plan to spend a fortune on SEO and paid advertising, the chances of your ideal visitor typing "Plumber" into Google and coming up with your trendy "plumbr.com" domain are pretty slim.

All these domains have the same problem as made-up words: how the heck are you going to explain this to your grandma. They might look pretty good on your logo, but it's going to end up causing a branding problem in the long run.

Unintentionally Awkward

"Let's eat, Grandma" vs. "Let's eat Grandma".

Spacing and punctuation can make a big difference in meaning! Unfortunately domains have no spacing or punctuation, so multiple word domains just run together. Even if you CamelCase your domain when printed, it will inevitably get downcased when shared.

There are hundreds of examples of terrible branding failures—just search for "worst domain names" (possibly NSFW). Here are a few of my favorites:

  • expertsexchange.com - Experts Exchange
  • penisland.net - Pen Island Pens
  • gotahoe.com – Go Tahoe
  • oddsextractor.com – Odds Extractor
  • auctionshit.com – Auctions Hit

You get the idea.

How to Find a Great Domain

Now we get to the meat of it: how do we actually go about finding a great domain?

Use an Alternative Top-Level Domain

Dot com is still king, and .net is still queen, and .org, .edu, .gov, and .us fill out the court. But fortunately it’s 2019, and there’s no shortage of new TLDs (top level domains).

Gone are the days when people would be confused if your domain didn’t end in .com. Though my dad still adds “.com” to every web address I give him, no matter how much I insist:

Me: Ok dad, go to mydomain.io
Dad: Ok I typed mydomain.io.com - it’s not coming up.
Me: (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

According to Wikipedia, in addition to the 255 country-specific top-level domains, there are over 1500 new generic top-level domains. Some of my favorite:

  • .info
  • .biz
  • .email
  • .shop
  • .ai
  • .me
  • .co
  • .io
  • .fm

There are hundreds more, including industry-specific domains like:

  • .boutique
  • .rentals
  • .cruses
  • .flights
  • .holiday
  • .marketing
  • .coffee
  • .florist
  • .plumbing
  • .photo
  • .today
  • .academy

…and some really wacky ones:

  • .ninja
  • .uno
  • .guru
  • .win
  • .vodka
  • .sucks
  • .lol

The list of domains literally goes on, and on, and on.

Use Power Words

Sometimes making up a compound word does make sense, especially if you can combine your brand name with a power word. Job hunters have been using power words to embellish resumes since forever. Power words spice up any sentence, and they can spice up your domain. Try adding one of these words to your domain:

  • Ask
  • Build
  • Get
  • Make
  • Launch
  • Lets
  • Call
  • Choose
  • Drive
  • Do
  • Forge
  • Follow
  • Find
  • Host
  • Meet
  • Send
  • Spot
  • Zoom

We made a handy spreadsheet that can help you design a domain: Grab a copy and customize it for your brand:

Copy Our Domain Designer

For even more inspiration, check out Michael Faulkner's Top 100 Power Verbs (PDF).

Buck Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom is that your domain should be as short as possible, without hyphens or special characters.

That probably isn't bad advice, but on the other hand, beggars can't be choosers.

It's also worth considering that increasingly, Internet users don't don't bother typing your domain - more than likely they'll just search for your company's name and click the link.

That being the case, there's an argument to be made that a longer domain might actually be better, if it matches your brand. Most search engines display the domain name underneath the search results. If you had to choose between a badly spelled short domain versus a longer, descriptive domain with hyphens, choose the latter.

If your website is named "The Vietnamese Restaurant Directory", which of these seems easier to identify at a glance?

  • vnfooddir.com
  • vietnamese-restaurant-directory.com

Pony Up

Finally, if you find a good domain that's for sale, and you've got the cash, it's probably worth it to swallow your pride and buy the domain at a premium. It may hurt a little, but you can think of it as an investment in your brand. Paying extra for the perfect domain is not that unlike paying a designer to create the perfect logo. It's going to be easier to remember, faster to find, and yield returns on your investment.

Legal Mumbo Jumbo

Finding a great domain is exciting. Keep in mind that it's not the end of your branding exercise.

If your domain name is confusingly similar to another product or service in your industry, you might want to reconsider. The last thing you want to hear when your company begins getting traction is "cease and desist" (especially after you've invested in your brand).

If you're unsure about whether you'll run into copyright violations, it's not a bad idea to consult an attorney. They can help you do copyright and trademark searches, help you register your own trademarks, and generally help to keep you out of trouble.

On Your Own

Here are some great resources that we've used in the past to help us think up great domains:

Get Creative

So there you have it: there's still an abundant supply of great web domains if you're creative enough.

Any other tips and great ideas for finding domains? What's your favorite domain? Let us know in the comments!

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