How to choose a great domain name for your website

Choosing a great domain name is one of the most important steps in starting an online business. At the same time, there are so many other things you need to do, and you can’t afford to spend too much time or money on a domain name.

There are many domain name generators out there, but they produce very poor results. Because they will never be able to understand your startup’s target audience and mission as well as you do.

So you need to invest some time to come up with a good name. In this article I will show you how I came up with the startsmart.in domain name in a day, and bought it for just ₹ 600 including the SSL certificate.

Should I get a .com domain?

.com domains, more correctly known as .com top-level domains or TLDs, are the most commonly used TLDs on the internet. As a result they are what most people still expect a domain name to end with.

But it’s also very hard to find good .com domain names that are still available. Shorter strings, popular words and phrases are practically impossible to get.

Many large businesses shell out for their preferred .com domains. But these premium domain names often cost upwards of ₹ 1 lakh.

Newer TLDs such as .in, .co, etc. have a much higher availability of domain names. They are also generally cheaper than .com domains.

Unless you’re planning to run television or print ads, your customers are going to discover your website from a web service like Google, Facebook or WhatsApp. These customers never have to think about your TLD, as they just click on a link to reach your website.

Hence if you’re a small business and are unable to find your preferred .com domain, you will be fine with any TLD that is relevant to you.

Popular alternatives to .com are .in, .co, .biz, .blog, .shop, .io, .ai, etc. You can read more about their intended purposes here.

Choosing a domain name

With the right name, you can start a conversation with your target customers instantly. Search engines also look at a domain name while ranking your website.

To begin, first write down the mission of your business, website or blog.

Then write down words and phrases for each of the following questions:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What is the action you want them to take?
  3. What is the end goal you want them to achieve?

In my case, my mission is to help Indian entrepreneurs succeed by sharing practical strategies from my own experiences.

My target audience were “entrepreneurs”, “startups”, “founder”, etc. Since they were located in India, I was inclined towards a .in domain.

I wanted them to start taking meaningful risks, so I came up with action words like “start”, “plunge”, “dive”, etc.

Their end goal was to become wiser by reading my blog, so I chose “wisdom” which lead to similar words like “smart” and “edge”.

One strategy that works great is combining the target audience with the end goal you want them to achieve. For example “startsmart” is for someone “starting out” to be “smarter” than what they were before visiting my blog.

I used powerthesaurus.org to come up with synonyms and more ideas based on my initial set of words. I also used Google to research the meaning of the words, and to look out for any misinterpretations.

Look for creative ways to drop letters or parts of the word that are unnecessary – you want to keep your domain name as short as possible. So startups became “start” which was also an important action word for my target audience.

Some other strategies for name generation you should consider are:

  1. Deliberately misspelling words, for example Flickr or Google
  2. Combining two words to form a portmanteau, for example pin + interest = Pinterest; swift + piggy = Swiggy (I guess!)
  3. Research your competition to see what words are commonly used

And then, and this is THE MOST IMPORTANT part – come up with at least 30 domain name ideas that are available! You may use popular phrases or pop-culture references as extra ideas, but it’s very important that all domain names should be relevant to your target audience and mission, and all the domain names should be available.

NOTEI initially used namecheap.com to check availability of domain names, but they listed domains that were already taken. This wasted a lot of time, and also caused heartbreak when I found that jumpstart.in was taken! So I recommend you use godaddy.in to research available domain names.

For each of the domain names, I wrote a little description on the side explaining what I thought it meant. Here are all the ones I came up with, ranked in order of preference:

  1. startsmart.in / startwise.in – start your startup journey with wisdom
  2. founderjump.com / founderplunge.com –  CTA for entrepreneurs to take a plunge into the unknown
  3. springstart.in / rapidstart.in – similar to the phrase jumpstart, which roughly means giving a push to someone who needs it
  4. taketheplunge.in – commit oneself to a course of action about which one is nervous
  5. inventthefuture.in – CTA to innovate
  6. launchsite.in – play on launch pad, a place to launch something big into the sky
  7. startingout.in – going out on a journey
  8. startplunging.com  – start taking risks
  9. plungewithme.com / plungewithme.in – encouraging entrepreneurs to take risks
  10. aheadofthecurve.in –  be more advanced than others
  11. bleedingedge.in – similar to cutting-edge, highly advanced
  12. upperhand.in – having an advantage
  13. edgestart.in / edgestarting.in / startingedge.in – start with an advantage
  14. pivotdeck.in – a collection of strategies for startups based on the concept of ‘pivoting’
  15. forstarters.in / forastart.in – resources to start
  16. cuttheline.in / jumptheline.in – get ahead of others
  17. firestarter.in – a catalyst used to start something even bigger
  18. startscratch.in – start from scratch
  19. legup.in – help that you receive that gives you an advantage over other people or makes it possible for you to do something difficult
  20. startwithabang.in – start in a very exciting and noticeable way
  21. startout.in – embark on a venture or undertaking, especially a commercial one
  22. startoff.in – begin to operate or do something
  23. startsomething.in – start something
  24. rollingstart.in – starting when in motion
  25. startupboost.in – boost your startup
  26. hittheroad.in – set out on a journey 
  27. desihustle.in / desihustler.in – Indian entrepreneur working hard
  28. goforbroke.in – risk everything in an all-out effort
  29. bitethebullet.in – do something that you have been putting off due to difficulty  
  30. earlyedge.in – get an early advantage
  31. cutthroat.in – competitive
  32. nosedive.in – dive into the unknown
  33. shadowclone.in, jutsu.in, jutsu.io, hokage.in, believ.in – pop-culture (Naruto) references, idea is to never give up
  34. 4mscratch.in – starting from scratch
  35. frogjump.in, plung.in, intotheabyss.in – random

Some of them will be horrible, but that’s okay! If you come up with enough domain names, you will surely find some good ones that stand out.

Which is why you MUST write down at least 30 domain names, even more if you are not very happy with the quality of the domain names you have come up with. This exercise took me a whole day, and it was totally worth it – I never would have come up with a decent name without doing this.

NOTE – Do not choose a name that is a commonly used phrase. The chance of your name clashing with other businesses, brands, etc. increases significantly. You should do a basic Google search to see if there are any businesses who also use the same name.

Once you have a huge list of candidate domain names, rank them in order of preference, and bounce the names with a friend or partner. Ask them for their honest opinion on what they feel when they hear it. You will be surprised how others may react to your choice of words!

After a few iterations of generating names and validating them with other people, you will eventually arrive at a domain name that captures your mission and stands out with your audience.

Purchasing a domain name

It’s now time to purchase the domain name. Along with the domain name, you must get these 2 add-ons – domain privacy and an SSL certificate.

Domain privacy prevents your personal details including name and address from being publicly listed on the internet. You can read more about it here.

SSL certificates are used by your customer’s browser to validate that the website they are seeing is indeed the website for your domain. It is a critical security feature, and can commonly be verified as a padlock icon in your browser’s address bar. Without SSL, your website may not be discoverable on Google search, and your customer’s browser may also block it. 

After comparing a couple of domain registrars, I purchased my domain with namecheap.com. They were the cheapest option – it cost me just ₹ 600 for the domain name, domain privacy and SSL certificate for a 1-year term.

NOTE – Namecheap says domain privacy is unavailable for .in domains, but the startsmart.in domain record does not have any of my personal info – so you end up getting it anyway. They offer domain privacy for free for .com domains.

Namecheap has great live-chat support and the user interface is very easy to learn. 

They also have the cheapest hosted WordPress solution I could find. So if you are just starting out and want to setup a WordPress website, I strongly recommend namecheap.com.

The other option I have used in the past is godaddy.in. But you may need to buy your domain for a minimum of 2 years to get their discounted rates. Their SSL certificates also cost a bit more.

Summary

To summarize, follow these steps to choose a great domain name:

  1. If .com domains are not available, any relevant TLD will do.
  2. Write down words for your target audience and the end goal you want them to achieve. Use these as a starting point to come up with domain names.
  3. Use powerthesaurus.org for synonyms and ideas, google.com for meanings and godaddy.in for checking domain name availability.
  4. Come up with at least 30 domain names.
  5. Bounce the best names with a friend for feedback.
  6. Make sure your chosen name does not clash with any other business name.
  7. Purchase your domain with domain privacy protection and an SSL certificate. namecheap.com is highly recommended.

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