You’ve just come up with a great idea for a new business, or maybe you just had an idea for a new website to build. Either way, you do what everyone does or at least should do: you go to register a new domain.
Unless you came up with an incredibly unique domain idea that is not built on common dictionary words, you will likely discover that someone – possibly even a domain squatter – has already registered the .com version of your domain.
After all, there are more than 1 billion websites in the world and that number grows every single day.
A good percentage of those are on .COMs. What’s more, if somehow a domain name became popular on a different TLD (top level domain) – you can bet someone went and snagged the .COM.
Don’t despair just yet on your naming idea! You have plenty of options available to still turn it into a great domain name.
What Should You Do When Your .COM Isn’t Available?
Before digging into alternative ways of registering your domain name, it’s important to take a step back and think about your plan on bringing traffic to your website.
If your website will primarily be used in offline advertising like TV commercials, billboards, or business cards, it is critical that your domain be easy to spell.
Inventing a new word might seem like a fantastic idea and an easy way to get your perfect domain, but it can have unintended consequences. One older yet infamous example is that online photo service Flickr lost 3.6 million unique visits a year to Flicker.com.
On the other hand, if organic search is going to be the primary way visitors will find your website, having that perfect domain might not be as important.
On mobile search, domain names aren’t even visible in organic search results, so that great domain idea won’t even have the opportunity to factor into the decision to click on your results.
Even on desktop search, the domain of a result isn’t listed in the most prominent way.
For paid marketing channels – social or search – the domain name will be a very minor factor in the performance of a marketing campaign.
Iterate on Your Domain Name Idea
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
1. Consider not using a .COM if most of your traffic will come from sources other than direct type-in traffic.
Many users are agnostic to what your domain is and will likely not even notice if it’s a .net, .org, .us or even info.
Additionally, the lack of availability of .COMs has lead many prominent companies to build their web presence on non .COM domains.
2. Consider using one of the new Top-Level Domains (TLDs) like .agency, .jobs, .online, or similar.
While there seem to be downsides for people that are unaware that these TLDs even exist, it still won’t matter if your traffic is primarily from search and referral sources.
3. Look for synonyms.
Use an online thesaurus, like Thesaurus.com, to come up with word alternatives similar to your original idea.
4. Try using domain name tools like NameMesh.com or BustAname.com which even have alternatives in other languages.
You may not like the suggestions that these tools recommend, but they will at least give you some creative ideas. You had one creative idea and can certainly come up with others.
5. If there are several words in your domain name, try rearranging their order if you can.
Sometimes one specific order may not be available as a domain name, but another may be. NYCmarketingagency.com may not be available, but marketingNYCagency.com could be.
If you don’t have several words in your domain name, you may want to consider adding one, which brings us to the next suggestion…
6. Add another word to your domain name.
TopMarketer.com not available? How about trying AmericasTopMarketer.com?
Sometimes just adding some fun descriptive words will not only make your domain and business name more unique and available but also take your business name’s marketing from “OK” to “WOW!”
You can also just add words like “online” or “best” if you are short on other concepts.
Domain Best Practices
No matter what domain name you ultimately land on, you may want to stick to the following best practices:
Your Domain Name Should Be as Short as Possible
Shorter domains are easier for direct-type ins, don’t overflow on business cards, can be fully visible in search engines, and are social-friendly (they can be easily shared from one person to the next).
Don’t Buy a Dropped Domain Unless You Aware of the History of the Domain
I once saw a real estate website that had formerly been a Japanese adult site. Even if any penalties or negative association had been scrubbed in search engine ranking algorithms, you can imagine that the backlinks to that site were not pretty.
There’s no reason to be affiliated with negative topics when there are so many potential domains in the world.
Don’t Put Hyphens in Your Domain
They are easy to forget and confuse with the version of the domain names that don’t use hyphens. Imagine having to spell out your domain on a phone call or in a podcast.
Don’t Use Domains That Are at All Related to Someone Else’s Trademark
This is illegal and can land you in hot water quickly if someone finds out and decides to sue you. Any brand equity that you build into the domain will be lost as soon as you get that cease and desist notice and have to turn over the domain.
Use Keywords, if at All Possible
There is very likely little SEO value to a keyword-rich domain. It will still build better keyword-to-domain associations with your customers.
Having the domain name be clear to potential customers exactly what you do will only help.
Don’t Stuff Keywords!
It will look terrible to users and not help with search engines. Even if there is value to keywords in a domain name, definitely don’t overdo it.
Think About Your Social Presence
If you’re naming a new business, it is ideal to make sure you can get some other social media accounts with the same business name.
Before you settle on the domain use KnowEm.com to make sure that the most popular social media handles are available.
It would be so unfortunate to have a great domain name but then to have to append something like “TheReal” to your name on a social media
Buy Similar Domain Names
Purchase easy misspells and other popular TLDs if they are available to keep anyone from squatting on your business name.
This could be costly later once you have built up a brand and the domain squatters know that you don’t really have any negotiating leverage.
I once worked with a global brand that had to spend a couple of thousand dollars per domain name to successfully reclaim domains that could have been purchased for a few dollars when they first launched.
Don’t Settle for the .co TLD of Your Brand Just Because It Might Be Available
Although, there are many popular products and companies like calendar.co, angel.co, and pocket.co, they still likely lose large amounts of traffic to the .com versions of their domain which are completely unrelated to their business.
Don’t Append “The” to a Domain Name Unless You Own What Comes After, Too
Facebook originally started as Thefacebook.com but had to purchase Facebook.com to avoid confusion. Many users will forget to add “The” in a domain and you will inevitably send traffic to whatever domain name doesn’t have “the” in it.
Whatever domain name you choose, it doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment.
You’re better off starting your web presence with the best solution you can find rather than spending weeks trying to find the perfect domain name.
With a little creativity and ingenuity, you can find a domain that works for you either temporarily or for many years to come just by following these tips and tricks on what to do when your .COM is not available.
- Strategic Domain Name Registrations
- 4 Key SEO Considerations When Rebranding & Changing Domains
- Advanced Technical SEO: A Complete Guide
Screenshots taken by author, May 2021.