The Basics of Choosing and Obtaining a Domain Name

Thinking of starting a new website? Two preliminary steps are choosing a domain name for your new site and then buying that domain name. Let’s take a look at some of the basics involved in that process.

Choosing a Domain Name

A good domain name is easy to remember and easy to spell. A domain name that’s easy to spell shouldn’t have characters like hyphens between words. It you want more than one word in the name, run them together like alistapart.com or webstandardssherpa.com. It’s a bit awkward to read, but for someone typing the domain name for A List Apart or Web Standards Sherpa in the location bar of a browser, it makes perfect sense.

Are you starting a website for an established business? Try to make the name reflect the business name and the branding that is already in place for the business. This may be a bit hard if it’s a commonly used name. For example, a Denver floor tile company might have trouble getting the name mountaintile.com. But perhaps denvermountaintile.com might be available.

If it’s a personal website, try to use your name. Karen McGrane owns karenmcgrane.com. How simple is that?

If it’s a blog where you’ll be exploring a particular point of view, pick a domain name that reflects your point of view. A name like Mountain Poet or Lesbian Dad tells you a story about what you can expect from the website before you’ve even visited.

Before you seek out a place to purchase the domain name, it’s good to have a few ideas ready to go. Your first choice might not be available.

Obtaining a Domain Name

Okay, you’ve got some ideas for a great domain name. It’s time to see what’s available for purchase.

There are literally thousands of places where you can buy a domain name. I use the domain name services connected to the hosting company where I do business. I like having the domain name company and the web hosting company connected. But I know people who think this is a bad idea. I think the reasoning of the people who think it’s a bad idea is that if one company shuts down suddenly, at least the other one still operates. If you choose an established company with a good history, I don’t think it’s something you need to worry about.

If you search for domain names on Google you get 84,000,000 results. There are a lot of choices! I’ll just pick one to use as an example. This does not imply that I endorse this company, it’s just an example. Also, prices vary, so the prices you see in these examples may be different from other domain name sellers.

A typical domain name search form.

A typical domain name search form.

At domain.com, you see something similar to what you see on any site where you want to purchase a domain name. You enter the name you are hoping to purchase. The site will tell you if the name is available. If it’s not available exactly as you want it, the site will suggest alternatives that are close to what you want.

I searched for vdebolt.com, my own domain name. Here’s what the tool told me.

The .com is gone, but other top level domains for that name are available.

The .com is gone, but other top level domains for that name are available.

I can’t buy vdebolt.com (duh, I already own it) but other top level domain name types are available like vdebolt.net or vdebolt.org. (Domain names are cheap. Many people buy several variations and direct them all to one site.)

If the name you want isn’t available, choosing whether or not to go with a .net or .org or some other .whatever is an option.

If you don’t want the .org or .net or .whatever, the tools usually suggest variations of the name based on your original search. Here are a few suggested to me:

A few of the suggested variations on my domain name.

A few of the suggested variations on my domain name.

Even better, create your own variations like the denvermountaintile.com example and use the search tool to see if it is available.

If you can’t get a name close to what you originally wanted, go back to step one and brainstorm a new idea. Keep trying until you eventually find a name that will work and is available.

You can buy the name for 1 year or for several. You’ll probably save a few dollars if you buy several years at a time. Don’t forget to renew it on time, or you might lose it!

You’re all set. Go build something awesome.

[Note: This post was originally published on Blogher.com.]

How to Choose a Domain Name or Username

Is this you? You’re ready to start a new blog or buy a new domain name. You want to avoid problems with trademarked names, branded names, and domain names. How do you find a name that someone else doesn’t already have a claim to?

The question What if someone is already using my user name?…and other assorted questions in the How to Blog (Better) group discussion is a good example of the issues many people face. The domain name of choice is available, but someone is already using the username on Twitter. If you can’t match your domain name or blog with the name you intend to use on Twitter (or Facebook, or anywhere else) then how do you create a brand identity for yourself?

What if you choose a blog name or username that someone is using somewhere and they come after you for infringing on their brand or trademark? Not fun.

Early in the process of choosing a name for yourself, you need to take a look at all the possibilities.

A good way to start is simply to search for the name you want and see what turns up. If I search for vdebolt, I find almost 9,000 results. Here are the first few, including a Twitter name, a domain name, and an unexplained association with a site called Web Teacher.

name search

Virginia DeBolt = vdebolt. I pretty much have a lock on the name vdebolt. (By the way, the reason Web Teacher shows up in a search for vdebolt is because of an hCard. You can learn how to use hCards here.) If someone came along and started using that username, I would object.

Even if I didn’t own the vdebolt.com domain, I might be using the vdebolt username in several places. That was the issue in What if someone is already using my user name?…and other assorted questions.

You can do a username search.

username search

Google found 438 instances of the username vdebolt, with the first results coming from Twitter. Only the first few results are relevant, but they would be enough to show that the name is already in use if you were considering using it.

If you want to sign up for a free blog at wordpress.com or blogspot.com, you won’t be allowed to select a username that’s already in use.

My friend Rachel recently decided to start blogging. She writes about food, gardening, and cooking. She selected the name And then make soup. This name was available as a username on both blogspot.com and wordpress.com. She started with a Blogspot blog, but decided in favor of WordPress. Rachel has this username on both the big free blogging platforms, although she’s putting her posts at And Then Make Soup on WordPress.

Rachel doesn’t want to buy a domain for her blog, but it’s a good idea to check to see if the name is being used by someone with a domain. There are several ways to check on the availability of a domain name.

One way is to type the name in the browsers location bar and see what comes up. If I try to navigate to andthenmakesoup.com, I get an error message.

error message

I recently wrote a chapter for a book called InterACT with Web Standards and needed an imaginary domain name to use for some student exercises. I choose Battle Hill Bistro or www.battlehillbistro.com as the name and checked to make sure it wasn’t real by typing the URL in the browser to see if anything came up. It didn’t.

Another way to check on whether a domain name is available is to go to one of the domain registrars and search. Here’s the form from Go Daddy. Type in the name, choose .com or .net or .whateveryouwant and see if it’s available.

domain search

It turns out that this domain is available in just about any form you’d want. And, Go Daddy will be glad to sell it to you.

domain search results

Rachel is thinking about buying and parking (parking a domain means you own it but you don’t have anything live on it) several of these domain names, just so no one can come along and steal the name she wants to have associated with her blog/brand. She may have done it by now.

Rachel already can claim some association with the phrase and then make soup. A search on the phrase brings up her wordpress blog. You also see an unrelated Twitter result and an unrelated result from Simply Recipes, which as most foodies know, gets superb search engine results.

phrase search results

Even though and then make soup is simply a phrase, and you can’t copyright that, Rachel could justify a sense of ownership in the phrase. If someone else started using it as a username on another blog, on Facebook or in some other way, she might complain and try to call a halt to it.

If you search for andthenmakesoup all run together like a domain or blog name, you also turn up Rachel’s blog.

andthenmakesoup search

This doesn’t really protect her if someone decided to buy a domain and start a standard web site by the same name as her blog. But the existence of the blog should give pause to anyone thinking of buying the domain. They wouldn’t want to be losing traffic to a site with a similar name.

Tech Crunch recently ran an article about Yahoo! buying flicker.com that included an interesting quote from Caterina Fake of flickr.com explaining how the whole e-less Flickr name happened when Flickr worked around already the existing Flicker domain name. (Interesting that the unintended consequence of Flickr’s decision to go e-less was a new trend in that direction by a series of other web sites such as tumblr.com.)

A consideration I’ve learned about the hard way is the relative value of the more common domain options like .com, .net., and .org. When I bought webteacher.ws all the more common choices were gone. I should have considered that enough reason to choose something completely different, but I went with the .ws. It was a mistake. It’s too obscure. Nobody remembers it. And the more common names like webteacher.com take away traffic that might be meant for me. Too bad I made that poor choice before the Flickr came along, I might have tried to hit the jackpot with webteachr.com!

You want to be unique and memorable. You want to avoid trouble from other people using the same name. The best way is to do your homework before you settle on a name. See what’s already out there. Then make a choice.

Cross posted at BlogHer, where there is additional trademark information.