Before you can have a website, you’ll need to pick a domain name.
What is it, and how do you choose the right one?
What’s a domain name?
In short, your domain name is your address on the web.
(The domain name of this website is quantawebdesign.com.)
Most websites in the USA end in .com. Other common endings (called TLDs) are .net, .org, .edu, .gov, .biz, .info, and .us, though there are others in use as well.
Domain Name Decisions
You want to find a domain name that describes you, is not too long, memorable, and not easily confused with another. Let’s consider the factors that go into choosing a good one.
Domain name basics
A domain name may be up to 64 characters long, and may contain:
- letters A through Z
- numbers 0 through 9
- the hyphen – symbol
These may be used in any combination.
(Capitalization doesn’t matter; quantawebdesign.com is exactly the same as QuantaWebdesign.com.)
Choosing a name – the memorability factor
In a nutshell:
The domain names that people tend to remember best, and that are most effective, tend to:
- be fairly short
- contain only letters (no hyphens or numbers)
- be easily spelled
- have a .com ending
- be unique; not easily confused with another
The trick is to choose a name which sounds good, is easy to type, and most importantly, easy to remember.
You might use your name, or your business’ name, as your domain name.
These names tend to be easiest for folks to remember. Although, honestly, emptymirrorbooks.com and quantawebdesign.com are a little long. I wish they were shorter.
Think of the really big websites you know: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, eBay, Twitter, Netflix. They are short. Some aren’t even “real” dictionary words. But they are all short, and very memorable.
But, you can use anything you want for your name – a made up word, the title of one of your creative works, or just something you like. (I picked greenvelvetsofa.com for a personal website, just because I thought it sounded cool.) It’s up to you.
Once you’ve settled upon a few possibilities for your domain name, ask for opinions from family, friends & colleagues. Which do they think is most memorable? This kind of feedback can be invaluable.
After you’ve narrowed it down to a handful, see if the domain names you’re considering are available. (Once you know a name is available, you can register it so that you can begin using it.)
What about numbers?
Numbers have the potential for confusion. For example, If your domain is velvetsofa7.com (I just made up the name), will folks remember that you use the number 7, rather than the word “seven”? They might type in velvetsofaseven.com instead, and that won’t bring them to your site.
It’s best to avoid ambiguity and avoid using numbers.
.com, .net, or .org? & other domain choices
People tend to expect that a domain name will be a .com and tend to remember them best. So, your first choice should be a .com domain.
If the .com domain you want isn’t available, you have a couple choices:
- Find a .com domain that is available. This is probably the best option.
- Consider a .net name as alternative. For example, in planning to create a website for poet Ted Joans, I registered TedJoans.net, as TedJoans.com was already taken. Dot net names tend to be slightly less memorable than .com names; folks usually expect websites to end with .com.
You can always play with your name so as to find a .com domain that is available. Perhaps you can add a short descriptor to the domain name.
For instance, when I wanted to register a domain name for my bookselling site, I found the domain name I was considering, EmptyMirror.com, was already taken. But EmptyMirrorBooks.com was available, and that’s the one I registered. It’s probably a better name anyway, because it makes clear what the focus of the site is.
As another example, if I had decided to stick with a .com address for the Ted Joans site, one good alternative would have been TedJoansPoet.com I could have registered TedJoansPoet.com or something similar in order to be able to get a .com name.
.Org names are a fine choice for non-profit organizations. However, .com addresses will work for non-profits, too.
What about hyphens?
The trouble with hyphens is that they are hard to pronounce and remember.
When someone asks you what your website’s address is, it is easier to say, “Denise Raphael dot com” than “Denise hyphen Raphael dot com,” and it is more likely that they’ll remember the unhyphenated address.
However, they provide an alternative when a better domain name isn’t available.
For instance, the domain name michaelmcclure.com was already in use by a painter of the same name, so Beat Generation poet/playwright Michael McClure uses michael-mcclure.com instead.
It’s possible to register a domain name of up to 64 characters.
But in practice, that’s just too long (the previous sentence is 64 characters!)
Ideally, you’ll choose a domain name of about 20 characters or less.
The 2-character domain names were registered long ago, mostly by large corporations (for instance, hp.com and bn.com) and are no longer available.
3 and 4-character domain names are seldom available for registration, and when they are, it’s mostly because a current owner is auctioning the domain name to the highest bidder.
It’s hard to come by a memorable 4-character domain name that hasn’t already been taken.
Domain names using between 6 and 15 characters (and one to three words) are probably most common.
Sites for your creative work
Will the new website be used to promote a project (i.e., book, CD, or event)? If so, you’ll want to give some extra consideration to the name you choose.
For this example, let’s imagine your name is Sage Allen Suede and you have a new CD titled “Silver Lily Summer.”
If the site will never be used for another project, it will be fine to register the domain reflecting the CD’s title, silverlilysummer.com.
But wait a minute. Sage is planning to release more CDs. It would be cumbersome – and not very good marketing – if she had a separate website for each CD. Silverlilysummer.com won’t make much sense if the next CD is called “Wild Hibiscus Winter!” It would be difficult to maintain multiple websites, and hard to sell additional CDs to people who were buying one of them. Since she has multiple projects, it’s wise to keep them all in one place.
So, in this case it’s a better idea to register a more general name. For instance: sageallensuede.com or sageallensuedemusic.com or even sagesmusic.com. This one domain name will allow you to keep all your projects under one umbrella. People won’t have to remember the name of your latest project in order to find your website. All they’ll need to remember is your name.
About secondary domain names
It is possible to register a secondary domain name and to redirect it to the primary one’s homepage, or even to a particular page on the website. For example, let’s suppose Sage’s primary domain is “sageallensuede.com.” Sage could register “silverlillysummer.com” (to use for marketing purposes) and set it up to redirect to her primary website. When someone typed silverlilysummer.com into their browser, they’d be taken to sageallensude.com.
I’ve done this with one of my own websites. EmptyMirrorBooks.com is the primary domain name. But a specialty is books written by Beat Generation authors, and I would like to use that angle for marketing. So I registered BeatGenerationBooks.com for that purpose; for those who are interested in the Beat Generation, it’s a memorable domain name. When you visit BeatGenerationBooks.com you’re taken to EmptyMirrorBooks.com
What about “www”?
“Www.” isn’t part of the domain name; it’s part of the URL. See below for an explanation.
How are domain names & URLs different?
The URL (uniform resource locator) is the entire web address of a particular webpage; it’s made of several parts. The domain name is a part of the URL.
For example, consider the URL of this webpage:
It consists of:
- http:// – this means hypertext transfer protocol – the method your your browser gets the information on the page. (On secure webpages (those that process credit card information, for instance), it’s https: the “s” stands for secure.)
- www – stands for “world wide web.” Some URLs don’t include “www.” Most websites can be accessed either with or without it.
- quantawebdesign.com – this is the domain name.
- tips/domain-choices.html – this is the name of the webpage
- See if the domain name you want is available
- How to register – & keep – a domain name
- Domain names FAQ
Good luck with your site! Please let me know if you’d like to use my services, or if you have any questions, or suggestions for this page.