Finding That Elusive "Perfect Domain Name."
So you've spent an eternity planning your eCommerce website project. Everything is falling into place, except for that one all-important item: your domain name.
That damn "whois" search box always comes back with the same reply: "registered". Isn't that so frustrating!
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How are you going to find anything useful that will give your project status and connect with your customers?
As your desperation increases, you try more combinations of hyphens or different domain name extensions. Still, even if they are available, they just don't seem right, and you end up going back to the drawing board.
Here is my guide to finding brilliant domain names. When you finish this article, you will be able to find great domain names ln minutes, not hours.
Dealing With Social Media Name Squatters
Before I show you how to use advanced searching techniques, I should make you aware that even if you manage to find a great name that you are happy with, the chances are that all of its social media handles have already been taken.
To discover an unregistered nugget sitting there and then purchasing it only to find out that you have to make up completely different names on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can make you want to poke yourself in the eye hard with your index finger.
The first step then is to use a website like namechk.com, which will check the availability of usernames across all of the top social media sites. Social media handle availability is crucial if you are planning on using social media to promote your site, and you can use this in tandem with your domain searching efforts.
The awkward combination of trying to find a good domain name and its social media counterparts is why the first method I recommend you investigate is to make up a name. If you make something up, then you are almost guaranteed to get all the names you want.
1. Making Up A Domain Name
There are several ways of inventing a name.
Xerox, Yahoo and Zoopla are names that you might immediately associate with the industry that they serve, but when they started, the names were meaningless. Making up a name like this means you will dominate the search engine results for that identity, but as a strategy for gaining search engine traffic, it's not a good one. If no one knows your company exists then its company name is not going to be searched for in a search engine.
Only when a tremendous amount of work has been done building the companies products and promoting them does this type of name begin to work for itself. It's the best way to get a memorable name for yourself but also the hardest to achieve.
Choose an infrequent consonant like X to follow with a vowel-like O, consonant, vowel, consonant, and you'll get a name in no time at all. That's how Kodak was invented.
Dropping vowels has also become a popular method. Flickr and Tumblr are two that spring to mind. I don't recommend this method; if it's difficult to explain to someone over the phone, then it's probably a bad name.
My preferred way is to combine words. You stand a chance of gaining some valuable search engine traffic, and there are plenty of .com names still available if you are prepared to spend a bit of time and be creative.
Namestation.com is one of the best resources for generating new domain name ideas using this method. You'll find something very quickly here. Also try namemesh.com, nameboy.com, panabee.com, bustaname.com, domainnamesoup.com and namefresh.com
2. Purchasing A Domain Name
Buying a domain name is a frequently overlooked method, but if you can find the contact details for the domain you want that isn't being used, you may be able to get a reasonable price for it.
There are between 90k and 100k new domain name registrations every single day, and roughly the same amount get deleted from the registry. People may buy domain names with the best of intentions to get down and do some serious work, but for one reason or another, it never happens. There are over fifty times more people with domain names for sale than there are people who put them to use.
Hunting Down The Unloved Domain Name
If the domain name you want is registered but leads to a blank "page not found" server error, then the domain has not been set up on the server. Find the owner contact details from the whois information and shoot them an email asking if it is for sale.
Domain owners who are serious about making a profit on their domain name investment will either set up a page displaying the price and contact details or have the domain listed for auction, so if the domain does not resolve anywhere, it could just be that the owner lost interest after buying it.
Sending an email will cost you nothing. If you don't get a reply from the owner, try asking the hosting company for a contact email. The ownership information for a domain is freely available unless the person who registered it requested ownership privacy, in which case they are unlikely to sell anyway.
Try Domain Name Auction Sites
Trawl through the many domain name auction sites to see if you can find something that relates to your business at a reasonable price. Sedo is the biggest auction site, but there is no time limit on many sales, so many great names sit there attracting offers without being sold. Also try namejet.com, namecheap.com, domainlore.co.uk, bido.com
Another way of finding a valuable domain name that is underpriced is to buy the entire website on flippa.com. It may seem strange, but sometimes a domain name can be sold for more money without anything built on it because people focus on the value of the name itself. A complete website that includes the domain name can be sold for less than just the value of the name.
Try posting your requirements on one of the domain name forums with the market you want to serve and your budget. Try Acorn domains for UK domains or Domain name forum for other main .tld's. Also, try namepros.com
"Domainers" on these boards are very knowledgeable about the subject and have a good sense of what a domain name is worth. You may also come across names that people have stockpiled and just want to get rid of it.
3. Backordering A Domain Name
Sometimes you will type a domain name into whois and find that while it is still registered the domain status is "expired". When a domain is expired, this means that the domain has passed the date by which it should be renewed and has entered a "grace" period by the end of which the domain name will "drop" and become available once more.
Grabbing Soon To Expire Domain Names
Different domain registrars have differing policies on their grace periods, and you can never be sure of the exact day that a domain will drop. Besides which there is a considerable domain aftermarket that exists to "catch" domain names as they are made available.
Snapnames, Pool and Dropcatcher are dedicated domain catching services but many standard registrars like Godaddy.com now also provide back-ordering services so if you are dead set on a name and are prepared to wait it out you could try back-ordering a domain name that you think will not renew.
You might also like to set a monitor on a name by using a service like domain tools which will alert you via email when there is a status change to the domain you want to be watched.
In the UK the .co.uk extension is managed by Nominet, and anyone who has a Nominet Tag is allowed to interrogate the database of expiring names to find out what has recently dropped.
It may be surprising to learn that many valuable domain names expire on a regular basis either through the owner passing away; a company ceased trading or just an administrative oversight.
This domain aftermarket is fiercely competitive as you can imagine and sophisticated software solutions have been developed to catch domains within milliseconds of them expiring from the registry.
If you think domain catching would be an excellent business for you, then try Hubbard Media who can offer you a complete domain catching solution.
4. Lists Of Expired Domain Names
With close to 100,000 domain names expiring every day you would think that there is bound to be some low lying fruit just waiting to be snapped up, but anything that terminates and is not retained by the registrar, back-ordered, or caught by a specialist is generally not worth the registration fee in the first place. There are exceptions though, and the value of a name is only seen by someone searching for it (The beauty lies with the beholder), so expired lists are worth a glance over.
The forum owner at Acorn domains often posts up long lists of UK expired domains as they are released from the Nominet registry, and it's worth registering on the site just to get access to those lists. Also try registercompass.org, freshdrop.com, expireddomains.io
Take a bit of time to research the background of any potential expired domain because continuous Google updates (Penguin, Panda, etc.wayback) may have rendered it useless.
Many webmasters penalised in this way have merely ditched their old domain name and started up again with a new one. If you purchase one by accident to build your new project on you are in for a world of pain.
Aggressive link building techniques and directory spamming were all too familiar before Google began its crackdown and although you can use the disavow tool in Webmaster tools why not just start from scratch with a blank canvas and avoid any subsequent heartache?
Buying a domain that is listed in Dmoz is no guarantee that the site will remain there by the way. Dmoz editors are actively looking for sites in their directory that no longer serve the purpose that they were initially entered into the list for. (Update: Dmoz now ceases to exist, so that's another shortcut that has turned into the long way around!)
You can examine the history of a domain name by using Wayback machine at archive.org.
My advice is to avoid buying anything that has been used before because discovering that you are labouring against an algorithm that doesn't favour you will only occur after you have put in all the hard work.
5. Take Your Time
Choose Wisely Grasshopper.
Once you start gaining links, guest posting and building your website presence, it's not possible to move without starting over again. Yes, you can use redirects to direct newly purchased domains to your primary offering, but you can't go the other way around. Not without losing all the goodwill you built up or doing a ton of work redirecting everything using your .htaccess file. If you are serious about building your business online, you'll start with a blank canvas.
Lastly, here are some useful resources and further reading:
Smashing Magazine has an excellent article on linguistics and what the difference is between a "discoverable" domain name and a "brandable" one.
Here's a timeless classic from Seth Godin on choosing your business name. Lemon pie – the easy way to learn Scuba.
Happy Domain Hunting!