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Week 2: Choosing and Registering a Great Domain Name

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Did you select a theme for your Web business, as explained in my last article? Good. You're ready for the next step in building your own personal Web business: choosing and registering a great domain name.

Web business engineering expert Nick V. Flor is the creator of Web Business Engineering.com, a Web business content forum, and the author of Web Business Engineering: Using Offline Activities to Drive Internet Strategies (Addison-Wesley Longman), 2001, ISBN 0-201-60468-X). He teaches Web business courses at Carnegie Mellon University and owns two highly profitable Web businesses, Dating Expert.com and YesNoMaybe.com. Professor Flor will be a regular contributor to InformIT on Web business topics.

My previous column explained the autonomous business model and listed the properties of a good personal Web business based on that model. Your assignment was to choose a theme for your Web site that had those properties. Armed with a theme, you're ready to take the next step: registering a domain name. But first, the "Hacker Phrase of the Week."

Hacker Phrase of the Week

"Too much information," or simply "TMI!"

Usage: Any time your friends or coworkers tell you a story and they give you way more information than you care to know about.



I found this great computer on sale at CompBedrock. It had a 1000 MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, a R/W CD/DVD player, built-in cable modem…



I'm assuming that you did your homework assignment from my previous article in this series, which means you've selected a topic or theme for your Web business that conforms to the four properties of a good personal Web business (based on the autonomous business model). To recap, a good personal Web business has a topic with these qualities:

  1. A lot of people are interested in it.

  2. It changes frequently.

  3. People can contribute to the topic.

  4. People naturally want to contribute to the topic.

With a good topic in hand, your next step is to choose a good domain name (your Web site's address minus the www in the front). Needless to say, this is not a task you should take lightly, for several reasons. First, a small fraction of your site's visitors will be people who simply guess your domain name; based on my own personal Web businesses this fraction is 1–2%. But second and more importantly, your domain name is your brand. It identifies your Web business to your customers, differentiates it from your competitors, and facilitates the building of brand equity. Over time, because you deliver consistently good content, people will come to your site simply because of your domain name.

So how do you choose a good domain name? Before we get to that, you first need to accept that virtually all the good ones are already taken. To highlight the futility of choosing a good, available domain name, let's look at an actual example. Suppose you want to do a movie review Web site (despite the fact that I recommended against that topic in my previous article). Which of the following names would you guess are available?

  • emovie.com

  • e-movie.com

  • emoviereview.com

  • e-moviereview.com

  • imovie.com

  • i-moviereview.com

  • movie.com

  • moviereview.com

  • onlinemovie.com

  • onlinemoviereview.com

  • webmovie.com

If you guessed "none of them," then you guessed right. What about plural versions of these domain names, such as moviereviews.com? Nope, none of those are available either. The lesson is obvious; unless you're extremely lucky or you select an obscure topic—which violates the first criterion of a good personal Web business—your first choice for a domain name is probably not available. You can also pretty much rule out any good one-word domain name such as the aforementioned movie.com.

So what are some strategies for choosing good available domain names? Unless you have a lot of money to help you brand an unrelated name or to buy an already registered domain name, choose a name that's related to what your Web business does. This is very different from choosing a name that describes what your site does. For example, I have a matchmaking Web site: DatingExpert.com. Naturally, matchmaking.com, matchmaker.com, and all the other logical names that describe what the site does are already taken, so a related name was needed. To find a related name, here's a useful heuristic inspired from my teaching of object-oriented analysis and design:

  1. Write a detailed statement describing what your site does. At minimum, this statement should describe what your site does and why it's better than other, similar sites on the Web. For DatingExpert.com, the statement was something like this: "Our site helps people find dates on the Web. It's better than any other Web site!" The more detailed your statement, the more ideas you'll get for domain names.

  2. Look in the written statement for words related to the topic of your Web business. In DatingExpert.com, the word "dating" was from the first sentence, and "expert" was derived from the second one. Note that the words don't have to actually be in your statement. You can use variations of words in the statement ("dating" from "dates"), or words suggested by a part of your statement (for example, "expert" from "better than any other Web site"), or more abstract symbols that are somehow related to your statement, such as lovepotion.com or aphrodite.com.

This heuristic works really well, but in practice it's not so cut-and-dried. You usually generate a big list of possible names. To help trim down this list, you can use the following six guidelines:

  1. Eliminate domain names that can be "pluralized" by mistake. For example, suppose moviereview.com was available. I wouldn't take it because a user may mistakenly type moviereviews.com, which may bring up a competitor's site. If the domain name can be pluralized, my suggestion is not to take it unless you can get the pluralized version as well, and vice versa.

  2. Don't pick a name with a hyphen in it, such as movie-review.com. It's too easy for users to forget to enter the hyphen, which could lead them to a competitor's site.

  3. Choose a domain name that's easy to type. Avoid domain names containing words that users commonly misspell, such as Dilemna.com versus Dilemma.com (30% of the population spells dilemma as dilemna), or names that are difficult to type—WebBusinessEngineering.com is my book's Web site, and I constantly misspell it during lectures.

  4. Avoid fads. Nowadays it's quite fashionable to put an e in front of your domain name, as in emoviereviews.com. I remember a time when putting an i in front of domain names was popular. In general, try to avoid such fads, as they'll make your domain name seem dated in a couple of years.

  5. Choose the name that gives you the biggest "satori." Satori is a Japanese word for that "Aha!" feeling you get when you've been enlightened.

  6. Always choose a name with the extension .com. Although you can register a name with .net, .org, or any of the newer extensions, how many Web sites do you know of that end in an extension other than .com (except for educational and government institutions)? Exactly.

Again, what I've given you is just a heuristic and a set of guidelines for choosing a domain name. If you come up with a good domain name using some other procedure, go ahead and use it. The key item to remember is that your domain name is your brand. Whatever name you end up with must make it easy for users to identify your Web site and distinguish it from your competitors' sites. The guidelines above were created with this goal in mind.

The next section examines how to register whatever domain name you chose. If you haven't already done so, use the heuristic and guidelines above to choose a domain name and you can follow right along and register it.

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