Top Tips for Choosing a Domain Name

Choosing a domain name is one of the most important steps to take when establishing a personal brand. Just like companies that buy domain names with their brand names, you should get a domain name that will help you build your personal brand. With a domain name, you can create a website to shows the world who you are. Having a domain name also allows you to create custom email addresses to be used for different reasons. Maybe have friends and family contact you at one email address, but use a different email address on your résumé or CV.

But choosing a good domain name isn’t always easy. While I understood the concept of domain names for decades, it was years before I understood how to create and register one. The aim of this article is to help people create domain names as part of their personal brand. With that, here are my top tips for creating and registering a domain name:

Know the parts

A figure which shows the different parts of a domain name.
Work by Michael Hawkes of Academic Floss.

In its most basic form, a domain name consists of two parts; the top-level domain and the second-level domain. The right-most portion (after the dot (.)) is the top-level domain, commonly known as the TLD. Although there are many types of TLDs, most domains use either country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) or generic TLDs (gTLDs). Country-code TLDs have two letters and normally designate a country. Examples include .us for the United States and .cn for China. However, there are also ccTLDs for some subnational entities, such as .cx for Christmas Island and .hk for Hong Kong. There are currently 255 ccTLDs on the internet. There are also Internationalized ccTLDs, which I’ll explain in a bit.

By far the most common type of TLD is the generic TLD, as there are over 1200 of them [2] and they account for most of the millions of domain names [3] in use. Generic top level domains aren’t tied to a particular region, but some countries have opened up their ccTLDs and allow them to be used like generic ones. An example of this is .tv which is the ccTLD for Tuvalu, but they sold the rights to it, in exchange for letting people from around the world register domains with the .tv TLD. The most popular gTLD is .com with over 140 million registrations [4]. But because it’s so popular, it’s hard to create a domain that stands out and is memorable. And with over 1200 gTLDs, people don’t have to settle for .com.

There are a few other types of TLDs, but they are rarer and often have restrictions on their use. Wikipedia has a list of all TLDs that’s worth taking a look at.

From the thousand or so top level domains, there are millions of second level domains under them. In general, you can’t create a top level domain from scratch (more about that later), but you shouldn’t have any problem creating a second level domain of your choice. There are some caveats with this, however. It’s difficult to find domain names that are short or are commonly used words, especially in the .com TLD, but with a little creativity, you should be able to find something you like.

Know the rules

The maximum length for a domain name is 253 characters. It’s one of the few rules and is part of the RFC 1035 standard for domain names [5]. In practice, most domain names try to be memorable, which is difficult to do when they’re really long. While it might be impossible or difficult to get a domain name that’s only a few characters long, it’s not too difficult to create a memorable domain name that’s less than 20 characters long.

Another rule is that domain names are case-insensitive. It doesn’t matter if the domain name is UPPERCASE, lowercase, or even MiXeD cAsE, web browsers will treat them as if they are all the same case.

Go international

In the early days of the Web, one of the most significant limitations was that domain names could only contain Latin letters [a-z], Arabic numerals [0-9], and a dash(-). No other characters were allowed, which was a problem for communities that don’t use the Latin alphabet. By the mid-1990s, the idea of internationalized domain names was put forward, though it took nearly 15 years for the first internationalized top-level domains to show up.

Since that time, it’s possible to get internationalized domain names in dozens of languages, including ones that use Arabic scripts, Cyrillic scripts, Brahmic scripts, Chinese characters and more. If you speak a language other than English, and especially if you speak a languages that doesn’t use the Latin alphabet, you might consider getting an internationalized domain name for your personal brand.

Go emoji

As internationalized domains started springing up, people began to realize that it should also be possible to create domain names that contain emoji [6]. They are not supported by all TLDs, but the support seems to be growing. They’re interesting and there is still a novelty factor to be considered, but the downside is that they can’t be typed in, and may look unprofessional on a résumé or CV. I’m not saying they’re necessarily a bad idea, but you should anticipate people having problems if you include emoji in your domain name.

Choose one that represents you

This might seem obvious, but choose a domain that represents who you are, what you do, what you like. While there is value in getting a domain name that matches your name in real life, there is also value in getting a domain name that’s unusual. For instance, my main domain is gottahavacuppamocha.com, which says a lot about my passion for the chocolate-fortified espresso beverage.

Domain hacking

Supposing your preferred domain name isn’t available, it might be possible to “hack” the domain name. A domain hack uses different characters as substitutions to help you get a domain name that looks similar, or sounds similar to the one you want. There is even a tool to help give domain hacking ideas.

That said, domain hacking should be treated with caution, since it can lead to lawsuits alleging trademark infringement, fraud, or other allegations. If you register a domain that infringes on the intellectual property of someone else, you should expect to be sued.

Make a list

Before registering a domain name, I usually start by making a list of domain names I think I might like. I want something that represents me and/or the project I’m working on, but it also needs to be available to register. By making a list of possible domain names, it’s easy to cross one off if it’s already taken. Once those domains are crossed off the list, I use DuckDuckGo to search for keywords associated with the project. The search results will help me remove some domains from the list, while possibly adding others.

While you can register multiple domain names at the same time, if you haven’t bought a domain before, I encourage to limit it to just one. This will give you an idea about it means to own a domain and setup a website. It’s easy to get carried away buying cool domain names. Save your money for now.

Find a registrar

After you’ve decided on the domain name you want, you will need to find a domain registrar where you can buy it. There are a lot of domain registrars to choose from, but there’s a little bit of info most registrars don’t want people to know. Not all registrars can sell all TLDs. There are a variety of different reasons for this. Some TLDs are exclusive to certain registrars, while others aren’t very profitable or popular. The point is, if a domain registrar says the domain you want is unavailable, it might be that they don’t offer domains in that TLD. Check with a few other registrars, since one of them may be able to sell it to you.

You can also search for registrars for the specific TLD. In other words, you can visit DuckDuckGo and search for .io registrar, .media registrar, or whatever. The website TLD-List has a list of all top-level domains along with their registrars.

Money to burn

If none of the current top-level domains work for you, and if you happen to have $185,000 [7] burning a hole in your pocket, then you might consider getting a new generic top-level domain of your own. That’s just the application fee. It doesn’t guarantee the application will be accepted. There are also several other requirements before ICANN will let someone setup a new TLD, mainly to do with organizational and technical ability. Most of the requreiments are beyond those of an individual, but could be met by an organization. If you have the money and inclination, it might be worth looking into the process.

References

1 “List of Internet Top-Level Domains.” In Wikipedia, December 8, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_Internet_top-level_domains&oldid=993036970.
2 McKay, Brett. “How Many TLDs Are There? What Are The Types? We Answer Your Common TLD Questions!” Corporate blog. Dynadot, June 26, 2020. https://www.dynadot.com/community/blog/how-many-TLDs-are-there-and-what-are-the-types.html.
3 Chowdhury, Allison. “How Many Domains Are There? (And Other Stats from Verisign’s Domain Industry Brief).” Name.com Blog, September 29, 2016. https://www.name.com/blog/domains/2016/09/how-many-domains-are-there/.
4 Spencer, Jamie. “How Many Domains Are There? – Domain Name Stats for 2020.” Make A Website Hub (blog), January 4, 2020. https://makeawebsitehub.com/how-many-domains-are-there/.
5 Mockapetris, P. V. “Domain Names – Implementation and Specification,” November 1987. https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1035.
6 Cyger, Michael. “The Definitive Guide to Emoji Domain Names ?.” DNAcademy (blog), April 7, 2017. https://www.dnacademy.com/emoji-domains.
7 “Frequently Asked Questions | ICANN New GTLDs.” Accessed December 15, 2020. https://newgtlds.icann.org/en/applicants/global-support/faqs/faqs-en.

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