How to Find Great Domain Names

Tips, tricks, and tools from a domainer who bought or sold millions of dollars of domains

How to Find Great Domain Names

“A better domain name will lower your lifetime marketing costs.”

Frank Schilling

I recently published an episode about bootstrapping to fund our businesses. In that episode, I told the story about buying or selling millions of dollars worth of domain names over the years to help finance the growth of my companies. 

I’ve helped numerous companies find great domain names for their ventures. For example, I’ve helped buy and/or sell adoption.com, today.com, stockmarket.com, advertising.com, law.com, retirement.com, families.com, familias.com, woman.com, and many others. In this episode, I’m going to share tips, tricks, and tools to help us find great domain names. 

Choosing a great domain name is important for many reasons. It is often one of the first impressions a potential customer has with our companies. It can add to or detract from our credibility. It can help or hurt our SEO. And, it can be a great branding opportunity if done right. 

Here are my tips, tricks, and tools for finding and choosing great domain names:

1. Play the long game.

I recommend we try to play the “long game” with our primary domain name to get it right the first time. We shouldn’t buy a domain name we are planning to change. It can take a lot of time and money to change domain names, and a lot of the value we’ve built up in a domain name can be lost when we change it.  It’s worth it to invest the time and resources upfront to get the right domain name the first time. That doesn’t mean we can’t change it in the future. It just means we may lose a lot of value if we do. 

2. Make a master spreadsheet of possible domains. 

At the beginning of our research, avoid getting too emotionally connected with one domain name. Entrepreneurs often decide they like one domain and they stop their research or stop considering other domains. This is a mistake, because there may be a better domain name we can uncover in our research process. Or, we may hit a roadblock and get paralyzed in our efforts to buy the one domain name. 

Instead, I recommend we do a bunch of research and create a list of all of the possible domain names,  including information about them, into one spreadsheet. I recommend Google Sheets for this because it can easily be shared with others in a collaborative way. 

I recommend keeping good notes on the research we do. Which domain names are available? Which domain names have sites already? Are they listed for sale, and what are the asking prices? What is the contact info of the owner? What is our communication history with the owner? If we don’t keep good records, they will start to blend together, and important data will be forgotten, and work will need to be duplicated.

 3. Include a top keyword in your domain. 

I recommend using a tool such as SEMrush.com or KeywordTool.io to find the best keywords related to our niche. Then, I recommend we try to find a domain name that includes one of the top keywords. This can help with our SEO in the niche, and make it easier for our target audience to know what our site is about. For example, the word “monetization” described our niche focus well and had a large number of monthly searches in Google, so I decided I wanted to include “monetization” in my domain. 

 4. Use a .com domain name… usually. 

There are many other extensions we can use to register a domain name today such as .me, .store, .info, .biz, .io, and .bargains. However, .com domains have more credibility than these other extensions. Plus, when we tell people our business name, they will often put a .com after our business name when they are looking for our website. For example, if the name of my business is Monetization Nation, people will naturally expect my site to be at MonetizationNation.com and will type that in when they are looking for my site. So, if I try to save money by buying a domain name other than a .com, I’m going to lose a lot of my potential customers to whoever owns the .com version of my domain. It’s not worth it. Get the .com.

If we become very successful at an extension other than .com,  we may have to pay a lot of money to buy the .com version. For example, early in my career, an executive of Alta Vista came to my office to meet me. Alta Vista used to be one of the top internet search engines. This executive told me Alta Vista had purchased AltaVista.net as the domain name for their search engine early on. However, when their search engine took off, they were losing so many visitors to the owners of AltaVista.com that they had to pay $4 million to buy the AltaVista.com domain name. It would have been much less expensive if they would have started out with a .com domain name. 

For example, I own the shorter Monetization.org domain name, but I use the longer MonetizationNation.com domain name as my primary domain because it is at the .com, along with some other reasons. 

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, like a non-profit or an association, people might expect the domain name to be at .org. However, if we use a .org, we need to realize that many people will still type the .com version of our domain name, and it is a good idea to get the .com version and redirect it to the  .org site.

 5. Avoid dashes and numbers.

We should try to avoid dashes and numbers in our domain names. If we use dashes in our domain, such as over-the-counter.com, many people will mistype our domain as overthecounter.com. Numbers are also confusing because when we tell people our domain verbally they don’t know whether the number is in numerals or written out in letters.  It then requires additional explanation. This makes sharing our domain through audio marketing problematic and prone to misspellings. 

If you remember, Walmart used to be Wal-Mart but removed the dash. 

 6. Keep it short and simple.

I try to keep domain names shorter if I can, but this is not an absolute rule. Longer domains sometimes are the right choice. As a general rule, we should try to keep it as short as we reasonably can. I recommend trying to keep the domain name at two words or less, if possible. One word is ideal, but often very expensive. I pay a lot of attention to syllables and try to choose domains with fewer syllables because they are easier to say. Remember, the longer our domains become, the easier they are to forget or misspell, and we may lose some credibility if they are too long or complicated. 

I love domains that don’t require explanation, where potential customers can see our domain name and easily understand the focus of the site. 

 7. Pick a name that’s easier for your target audience to spell. 

We should try to choose a domain name that is difficult for our target audience to misspell. Here is a list of some of the most commonly misspelled words. I try to avoid homophones, which are words that sound the same but have different spellings, such as “won” and “one”. Here’s a list of common homophones.  If our target audience knows how to spell our keyword or brand, we have more flexibility. For example, monetization is a word regularly used by entrepreneurs and CEOs, so I felt comfortable using it in my domain name even though it is more difficult for people to spell. 

Sometimes people intentionally choose a misspelled domain name believing that the misspelling will make them unique and brandable. I strongly advise against this strategy. This intentional misspelling will probably make it much more difficult for our customers and may send a lot of our hard-earned potential customers to a competing website. 

 8. Use a thesaurus.

When trying to come up with a great domain name, I regularly use one or more thesauri to help me identify synonyms and think outside the box for my top keywords and domain names. It’s a great way to generate new word ideas. Thesarus.com is a great resource to check out.

 9. Use a domain name generator.

A domain name generator allows us to enter our keyword and then it combines that keyword with possibly thousands of other keywords that can be used in the domain name. It checks availability and then gives us a list of the available domains. I love domain name generators. Before domain name generators were popular, I created my own domain name generator and used it to find available domain names to register. This can be a very effective tool to find available domain names. There is no way we could ever think of all the variations on our own. I recommend trying domain name generators such as NameMesh.com, LeanDomainSearch, Wordoid, or NameBoy to find potential domain names.

 10. Try to create new words. 

We might try to take one of our top keywords, and create a new word with it, or merge two keywords together to create a new word. For example, if our new company was about branding, we might try new words such as Brandly.com or Brandify.com, etc. Good domain name generators like NameMesh can help us come up with many of these new word options.

 11. Register a domain name the moment it expires.

A better domain name_Blog

Very frequently people buy domain names, and then forget to renew them, or decide they don’t want it anymore. When they don’t pay the renewal, the domain name eventually “drops” and becomes available for other people to register. The lists of expiring domain names from many domain name registrars are published. And, there are various services that specialize in helping their customers register those domain names right as they expire. 

I recommend NameJet and DropCatch as services to register expiring domains. Both of these services have been very successful in grabbing domain names for me. Some people say Pool.com is the best service to grab domain names as they expire, because they have such a huge amount of servers doing the grabbing, but I have not had a lot of success with that service. It is ok to try to use several services to grab a domain name because most services don’t charge anything unless they are successful in registering the domain name for us. 

I have set up email alerts with NameJet, and I receive those emails each day with expiring domains that match my keywords and other criteria. Most days, the lists don’t have any domain names I’m willing to register, but sometimes, I can get a great deal on very valuable domains. 

To give an idea of how effective and valuable this service is, for years I have wanted to write a book with the title Credibility Marketing. I tried to buy the domain name CredibilityMarketing.com and tried contacting the owner many times. I would have paid thousands of dollars for that domain name. However, I was never able to reach the owner. Years after I started trying to buy this domain, the domain name expired, and I was able to register the domain name for about $170. Normally, registering an expiring domain name costs less than that, but multiple people were trying to grab this domain. So, the company that registered the expiring domain name held an auction between the different parties. 

This expiring domain name strategy is probably not a short-term strategy that will help us get a great domain name we love this month. However, this can be a cost-effective strategy to pick up great domain names in our niches as they expire over time. 

12. Expired domains. 

Regularly, people buy domain names, allow them to expire, and nobody immediately registers them. One website, ExpiredDomains.net, has made a publicly searchable database of these expired domains. When I’m looking for a domain name for one of my projects or for a client, this is one of the first websites I go to in search of a domain name containing one of my top keywords. The problem with this database is the massive amount of data it contains. I recommend using filters to narrow down the domains we are shown by keyword, length of the domain, .com domain extension, no dashes, no numbers, etc. This will make the number of domain names we have to go through much more manageable. I have found and registered many domain names using this service. 

13. Domain name marketplaces.

There are numerous domain name marketplaces that allow domain name owners to list their domain names for sale. Then, domain name buyers can search to find a domain name they like, and use the marketplace to contact the owner and negotiate the purchase. Some of the best domain name marketplaces are SEDO.com, GoDaddy Auctions, Flippa, Afternic, NameCheap Marketplace, and BuyDomains.com. Domain names listed at marketplaces can sometimes be a little pricey, but there are often deals as well. 

14. Contact domain name owners of your favorite domain name options and ask for pricing. 

It may be a good idea to reach out to the owners of top domain names on our list and ask for their pricing. If the domain name is listed for sale,  we can sometimes type the domain name in a browser, and find pricing information on the domain name. Or,  we might find a form on the domain name that we can fill out and request pricing. If we can’t find information on a site, we can try to find the owner’s contact information through the Whois database. It’s often best to start here:

lookup.icann.org or who.is.

However, these sites often do not list the contact information of the owners because the domain name is privacy protected. However, they often list the whois of the registrar for the domain. I recommend finding the whois search for that registrar and see if it’s possible to find more information or a way to reach out to the owner there. 

 15. Buy Domain History. 

If we can’t find the owner,  we might try buying a whois history report at who.is. Maybe the current owner registered the domain name with their real name and later added privacy protection. In this case, a whois history report for that domain name may allow us to find the contact information of the owner. 

 16. Trademark search. 

Once we have found some possible domain names we are considering, we can do a trademark search to see if there are confusingly similar trademarks for the term in the domain name(s) we are considering. 

1. Once we are ready to search the trademark database, go to this page on the US Patent & Trademark Office site. 

2. Click on “Search our trademark database (TESS)”. 

3. Click on “Basic word search (New user)”. 

4. Type your search term in the “Search term” box. Don’t include the .com in your search term, and add a space between words. In addition to searching the exact phrase, you might want to search for the keyword as well. For example, when I wanted to buy the domain name MonetizationNation.com, I searched for trademarks containing “monetization nation” and also “monetization”.  

5. If you find a trademark that might be confusingly similar, look at the status of that trademark. Trademarks with the status of “live” are the ones that present the greatest issue. Some trademarks have a status of “dead”. The USPTO defines a dead mark as: “a dead or abandoned status for a trademark application means that specific application is no longer under prosecution within the USPTO, and would not be used as a bar against your filing.”  If you find a confusingly similar trademark, it is often best to look for a new brand and domain name, unless you want to buy the confusingly similar trademark from the owner. 

6. Be sure to read the instructions. 

7. I’ve successfully registered a lot of trademarks. However, I’m not an attorney, so be sure to get advice from an attorney instead of relying on any advice I give you. 

 17. Search Google for your keyword

We should try to identify other competitors using the brand names or domains we are considering. This will give great information, but just because we find something here does not necessarily mean we need to abandon our proposed new brand. We may find the term being used before, but make a calculated decision that we still want to proceed with a domain name and brand. 

 18. See if you can register or buy the social media usernames with your brand. 

I recommend searching the social media sites where we want to create social channels and see if we can register or buy the usernames or accounts with our brand or keyword. For example, before I purchased MonetizationNation.com, I made sure I was able to register social usernames such as instagram.com/monetizationnation, youtube.com/monetization, and facebook.com/monetizationnation. I also searched the podcast platforms to ensure nobody already had a podcast with a name similar to “Monetization Nation”.

 19. Get feedback.

Once we’ve generated a list of our best options for a domain name, and gathered all the relevant information we need, I recommend asking for feedback from people who belong to our target audience. For example, if our target audience is lawyers then we need to ask for feedback from lawyers and not from our friends and family members who aren’t lawyers. We can ask for this feedback with direct phone calls, or through a survey tool such as Google Forms

 20. Get a domain name valuation. 

Before we make an offer on a domain name, it’s a good idea to understand the fair market value of that domain name. Two great tools that provide valuations for free (at this time) are Estibot.com and GoDaddy Appraisals. However, please understand that these valuations are generated by a computer, so they might not be completely accurate. However, they may be a good starting point. To get a great domain name, we often may have to pay more than the domain name valuation from these two services. 

I recommend you_Blog

 21. Research the domain history before buying.

Before we buy an existing domain, it is important to try to understand the history of that domain name to be sure it wasn’t used for something spammy, pornographic, or illegal. One great way to do this is to search for our domain in Archive.org and look through the history of what was published on that domain in the past. If the domain was used for something sketchy in the past, it may be blocked by internet service providers and search engines after we purchase it. If we find this out, the domain name may be important enough that we still choose to go forward with the purchase, and invest the time to work through whatever issues the domain name might have. But, it’s at least good to know what we are up against. 

 22. Consider using a domain negotiation platform.

There are numerous reasons why we might consider using a domain negotiation platform. For example, maybe we are concerned that when the seller discovers who we are, they will ask for a higher price for the domain name. Or, maybe we’re having a hard time finding the contact information of the owner, and need someone who can contact the owner for us. For these and other reasons, we might consider using a platform such as DomainAgents.com that allows us to submit offers anonymously,  helps us contact the owners, and uses their platform to negotiate a sale price for the domain. 

 23. Use an escrow agent.

If we are buying a domain name from another party for a substantial price, I highly recommend using an escrow agent for the domain name purchase and transfer. I recommend escrow.com as a great and reasonably priced escrow agent to buy or sell domain names. They have a smooth process to enter into an agreement with both parties, receive payment, coordinate for the domain name to be transferred, and release the payment after the domain name has been transferred. This reduces the risk for the buyer and seller, because the seller knows they will be paid after the transfer, and the buyer knows that the seller won’t receive money from the escrow agent until the buyer has received the domain name. 

 24. Protect Your domain names. 

Many people have domain names spread across different registrars. This can result in domain names “slipping through the cracks” and being lost. I recommend keeping all domain names together in one domain name registrar account to make it a lot easier to manage and renew the domains. 

I recommend we set our domain names to “auto-renew”, so our credit card is billed automatically when the domain name comes up for renewal. This way, we don’t lose a domain name if we accidentally forget to renew it. 

I also recommend turning on the “registrar-lock” to our domain names to help prevent them from being transferred to a different registrar without your permission. We can also turn on privacy protection on each of our domain names to block people from seeing the registrant’s contact information and reduce spam.

As our business grows, the value of our domain name will grow. Our domain name may become the most valuable asset of our organization. This is certainly the case with adoption.com. 

So, I recommend we only register our domain name in an account we own. NEVER register a domain name in the registrar account of any other party. If our domain name is in the account of another party, then I recommend working to get that domain name transferred to an account in our name and with our email as soon as possible.

The same is true for social channels. Our social channels should always be registered in our name and account. I had a client who spent a lot of money building a social account, but the social channel was in the name of the marketing manager. The business owner had a falling out with that marketing manager, who left the company. The business was never able to regain access to that social account.

I also recommend we be very careful with the login information of our domain name registrar account. As our domain name grows to be very valuable, we may treat access to our domain name registrar account with higher security than access to our bank account. We need to be very careful with who we give access to that account. Don’t share domain registrar passwords through insecure communication channels such as email.

 25. Buy and Redirect Misspellings.

I recommend registering the common misspellings and variations of our domain and redirecting them to our primary domain name.  

Key Takeaways

Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. Play the long game and try to get the right domain name the first time.

2. Make a master spreadsheet of possible domains and all relevant information.

3. Consider including one of your top keywords in your domain name. 

4. Use .com unless you are a non-profit or association. 

5. Keep the domain short and simple, without any dashes or numbers, and easy to spell.

6. Use a domain name generator and a thesaurus to come up with many domain name variations.

7. Try to find a great domain on an expiring domain registration service, an expired domain name service (such as expireddomains.net), or a domain name marketplace (such as SEDO) to find a deal on a great domain name.

8. Contact the domain name owners to get pricing, and use a domain agent if necessary.

9. Do a trademark search, and search Google for your brand to see if there is anything that would prevent you from using that brand. 

10. Make sure you can get the social media usernames you will need.

11. Get feedback from your target audience about the domain name options. 

12. Get a domain name valuation and research the domain name history before purchasing. 

13. Use an escrow agent and be sure to protect the domain name carefully. 

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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