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Which Domain Is Right for You?

This guest post is by Karol K of newInternetOrder.com.

If you’ve ever wondered about domain name selection, you probably already know that there are basically only three main types of domain names. And they are:

  1. semantic names
  2. unusual names
  3. combined names

Which will be best for your next blog? If you’re not quite sure yet, read on! In this post, we’ll consider each of these options in detail.

A semantic name

This is a name created from one specific word, or several words put together. What’s important is that the domain uses existing, well-known words. Here are a few basic examples:

  • Cars.com
  • Pizza.com
  • Toys.net
  • VintageElectricGuitarBlog.com

There are a number of advantages to using such a name:

  • It specifies the theme of the website/blog.
  • It clearly defines the niche which the blog touches upon (everyone knows what they can expect to find at toys.com).
  • It’s easy to memorize.
  • It makes your job easier when it comes to getting good ranking in the search engines for the keywords that are included in the domain name.

Of course, there are some disadvantages to using a semantic name:

  • Many basic semantic names are already taken.
  • There’s often no direct connection between the domain name and your company brand, which can make the task of brand-building more difficult. Blogs using this type of name can be literally replaced overnight with different blogs on the same topic and many people wouldn’t even notice.
  • A semantic name makes it hard to expand the theme of the blog to other areas. It’s very unlikely that we’ll see a catalog of garden furniture on pizza.com anytime soon.
  • Semantic names don’t assist with building trust, since they don’t define a brand: they’re usually very generic. For example, if I name my website WeWillStripYouOfAllOfYourMoney.com, I probably won’t gain as much trust as I would have if I’d given it band named like BWin.com. The difference is similar to making a statement like, “we’re a sports betting site” rather than “we’re BWin.com, a sports betting site.”

An unusual name

Unusual domains usually employ a brand name. Think of domains like:

  • Google.com
  • Amazon.com
  • Yahoo.com
  • Mashable.com

To create such a name, you need to find or create a semantically empty word—a word that has no meaning among the target audience—and give meaning to it.

As you can see from the list above, some of the biggest players in the online game use semantic names.

So there are, obviously, some advantages to this type of domain name:

  • It’s characteristic. It can’t be confused with the competition. Google is Google, and Bing is Bing—there’s no way of mistaking these two even though they both do the same thing.
  • It doesn’t create a brand—it is the brand!
  • It’s easy to get good rankings in the search engines for the name itself. And if the word you’ve chosen doesn’t already exist, the competition won’t be too strong for the domain name itself.

As you’d expect, there are disadvantages to using this type of name:

  • It doesn’t define the niche, nor the theme of the blog. If this kind of name is attached to a new blog, and no one really knows about it, it can easily be overlooked by a potential visitor—even if they’re looking for the kind of content that the blog publishes—simply because they won’t be able to guess what the blog’s about.
  • Since it’s usually harder to say or communicate the name orally, it’s easy to get it wrong. When my friend first told me about ebay.com years ago, I fired up my browser and typed “ebuy.com.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who made this mistake.
  • It’s harder to gain good rankings in the search engines for specific keywords using an unusual name than it is with a semantic name. If you write about computer hardware, then it would probably be a little easier to get good rankings for the keyword “computers” if you had a domain like “computers.com” rather than “compunationgeorge.com.”

A combined name

  • Facebook.com
  • Problogger.net
  • Friendfeed.com

…are all combined names. These domains combine semantic and unusual names. Although the name may have little meaning on its own, as soon as you visit the site, you grasp what’s going on—and recall the domain—very quickly.

I think that these are the hardest types of names to come up with. You really have to think outside the box to find an existing word or several words, and then give them a unique meaning that binds them somehow with the theme of your blog.

If you succeed, you can expect some benefits:

  • A combined name defines the brand in a unique way that’s similar to an unusual name, only better.
  • Visitors can quickly grasp the concept of the blog even though it’s not as obvious as it is with semantic names.
  • A combined name clearly differentiates your site from the competition.
  • It’s usually easy to memorize.

And as for the disadvantages:

  • A combined name can make it harder to get a good search ranking for specific keywords (similar to having an unusual name).
  • It’s easier for your competition to imitate this kind of name. This usually happens when we’ve used an obvious framework to  create the name. For example, if our car-related blog is called “4wheeldrive.com” then somebody could try to copy our success with a domain like “rearwheeldrive.com”.

Which one is the best for you?

Here’s my advice. If you want to create a small blog targeted at the members of a small, precisely defined niche, then I think it’s probably best to use a semantic domain name. You have a better chance that interested people will find your blog in the search engines, and that they’ll actually visit it, because the URL itself will tell them what the blog is about.

If you’re aiming at taking over the world with your blog, then you should probably choose an unusual or combined domain name. As I’ve already said earlier, the biggest players in the game use such names, and we can learn from them. There’s nothing better when it comes to building a brand than a good, unique name that’s easy to memorize.

So go on and try to choose one of these three types. And if you’ve already done it, congratulations. You’ve just started a marathon in which your domain name is the first step. This is just the beginning.

What do you think about this classification? What’s the type of your blog name?

Karol K provides blogging and marketing tips at newInternetOrder.com.

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Comments

  1. Karol,

    A great article hitting me at exactly the right time.

    I am trying to come up with a good domain for a new product and the semantic approach is proving fruitless since, as you noted, all the good domains have already been snatched up.

    However, I like the combined name approach – haven’t thought of that before and it will be fun to see where it leads me.

    My first thought is that the biggest challenge to the combined domain name is that it is easy to make it too long. Writing skills, don’t fail me now!

    -Matt

  2. Karol some really nice tips here and I prefer An unusual name because I can make them a brand..and more over they are unique in its own way…
    My main domain name “ShoutMeLoud” or “CallingAllGeeks” is an example of such name..!!

  3. Cheaper TV says:

    Great post. I think my blog falls somewhere between a semantic name and a combined name. I wish I would have had this blog entry as a reference a year ago when I was naming the blog. It was a struggle to name a blog about transitioning away from cable TV and replacing it with free and cheaper internet based Video entertainment.

    I think my final choice http://www.cheaper-tv.com works, but it could be confused with a blog about finding cheaper televisions.

  4. Nice post! I really like how you’ve laid out the basics. The domain industry can be very difficult to understand. I think one thing you might add is that domain names can be resold–if you can’t find an available name from a primary market registrar, you can often find a reseller. So don’t be discouraged if your first choice is taken. For example, my company, United Domains, purchased http://www.ud.com from United Devices after they no longer wanted it.

  5. dotCOMreport says:

    Thanks Karol. Useful tips you have there. Mine is a combined name and it works really well for me. I agree with you that small blogs or blogs for small niches would do better with a semantic name. But I suppose it is a matter of preference all round.

  6. Jagan Mangat says:

    a name starting with the is nice way of selecting domain manes.Like mine is “Thewebtricks” just like “Therock”,”The stranger”making unusual names as brand is cool but people can make your domain name a brand if its more like people’s own and just for people.

  7. Base your domain off of the keyword you intend to master. Go for keyword density within your URL.

  8. It is very difficult to get a semantic name now as all nice domains have been registered. I often go with the unusual and reminding name.
    Thanks for the helpful tips.

  9. A while ago I made the painful decision of merging several “niche” sites with semantic domains into 1 big site with a made up name. It’s more difficult to communicate the brand now, because the topics are diverse (you need to find values or ideas which connect all the topics), but I believe the benefits will outweight the costs in the long run (when taking over the world).

    Btw, I can imagine pizza.com selling garden furniture (like General Electric is doing banking and a dozen other non-electric things or Apple is doing all those crazy hi tech toys). But you’re right it would take a lot of effort, creativity, and a solid marketing budget.

  10. Jagan: The problem with domains starting with “the” is that some people will always confuse your site with the domain without “the” (like webtricks.com). This is not that bad, as long as you are smaller than the competing site (and you are basically stealing their traffic), but when you get bigger, you may be losing visitors/customers to competition.
    For example, I like two forums about Tenerife (Canary Islands): tenerifeforum.com and thetenerifeforum.com. I’ve been to both these websites many times already, but still don’t know which one is which.

  11. I went for a combined name, I thought about placing the word animation in the domain name but I thought it would be much better in the long run to leave it out!…

    I would recommend to anyone starting a dotcom to get a really solid name and logo!…

    David Edwards

    “A Sitting Duck”

  12. Pak Scout says:

    I once used a combined name for a blog of mine. It was Hilarideos. Hilarious+Videos. But the words is difficult to pronounce.

  13. Domain names are the one aspect of a site which need to be given a thought several times, before jumping onto one name & registering at the cheapest available registrar/using 1$ coupons.

  14. HomeList says:

    You can also go the route of coming up with a brand name that also is a semantic name, as I did with HomeList. It’s brand-able, but it also clearly describes what it’s about.

  15. One thing you could do is look for dropped domain names… there are so many out there that are expiring, and many very good ones. Using this method of selecting a domain name means possibly compromising on the theme of your blog, but you might get one very close to what you want. It’s very possible.

  16. Karol,

    This is one of the best post about domain’s choosing and pros and cons I have seen. Many people suggest using what you keywords are, but most of them (highly popular ones) are gone by now.

    I am trying something and see how it works out in domain name. Only time will tell.

  17. Karol K. says:

    @Matt

    You’re right. The length of a combined domain name can be an issue. The most difficult thing is to come up with something short and to the point. Like Problogger or Facebook.

    @Cheaper TV

    Cheaper-tv.com can be confusing, I agree, but you can always place a short paragraph somewhere near the header saying something like: “forget about TVs, switch to free online video” (I’m not the best copywriter out there, but you get the point)

    @Kate

    Wow, two-letter domains are not easy to obtain. Your case proves your point! You’re 100% right.

    @dotCOMreport

    It is a matter of preference. Look at me, I’m using newInternetOrder.com. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest choice but it sounded intriguing and, well, cool.

    @Petr Houstecky

    “Apple” is an extraordinary example of an unusual name because when you look at it… it isn’t :) Apple sounds like a semantic name, but the brand is so strong that it manages to turn it all around.

    About the “the” domains. You’re right. I once had a domain with “the” at the beginning. Forcing people to remember about the “the” was next to impossible.

    @A Sitting Duck

    Asittingduck.com is a great example of a combined name. Great choice!

    @Mani Viswanathan

    Domains are like tattoos. Be careful when choosing one. :)

    @Mike

    Keywords are important. But admit it; it’s difficult to focus on them when you see names like “Facebook”, or “Mashable”. You start to think “why do I have to use keywords and those guys don’t”.

  18. A new domain .free is open for free preregistration.

    Just go to http://www.dotfree.com

    Thought I should share this here :)

  19. The tough part is coming up with a memorable name that isn’t taken. Your domain can’t have hyphens, can’t start with “the,” and must end in .com. Any other choice is suboptimal. It can be done, but when you get big you will find yourself having to buy out the owner of the .com domain or the domain without hyphens, often at a ridiculous price.

    For example, facebook.com started out as thefacebook.com… and had to buy facebook.com from Aboutface Corporation for at least $200,000 in Aug. 2005.

  20. Karol K. says:

    @Harsh Agrawal

    Thanks. I consider my domain name (newInternetOrder) a combined one. Sounds nice and it’s relatively easy to remember. The only problem is that it doesn’t really explain what the blog is about. Guess I will have to work that one out…

  21. Bill says:

    I went for the combined name HowIGotInShape.com. I like to camel case the name when I can.

    I write about getting better – physical health, mental health, business. I like the name, but I am little worried I will get shoved into a fitness corner when that is not what I am about.

  22. To the point & useful. I liked the way you’ve categorized the type of domain names. Like you I too believe that it’s always good to have a keyword rich semantic name if you are targetting a small niche. Unusual names have big risk with small players. Combined names are my all time favourate.

  23. zakton says:

    If you use an unusual name, you should have a very effective and aggressive PR – and that means a lot of money.

  24. Deb says:

    I really like this article, it’s a great way to help people think about their dn’s. I’ve been wanting to change mine because it’s to freaking long! Of course, every new one I come up with is taken so that’s been a problem. This might help me come up with something, thanks for the great thoughts!

  25. Like many here I also went for the combined name.

    I would add two more benefits for the combined name:
    1. It would be easier to find a free domain in a reasonable price.
    2. In a combined name you can embed keywords related to your topic which would help to your SEO

  26. John Soares says:

    I went with a semantic name that captures what I do and also contains important keywords for my field.

    It took some time to come up with it. I suggest people keep a Word document with all potential domain name one to a line. You can then paste the entire list into Godaddy.com bulk registration to easily determine what’s available.

    I also suggest carrying a digital recorder with you wherever you go. That way you can always capture a good idea for a domain name, along with ideas for future blog posts and plans for your business.

  27. Nurul Azis says:

    Interesting article which is supported by pro’s and con’s. … I need more time to think about a domain name for my next business.

    The previous one I use: TranslateMax.com
    It’sclassified as combined domain name.
    From it’s name I hope my clients will understand that I often translate service there…
    What do you think Karol? Is it enough or I need to change it’s name….

  28. I’ve been considering new domain names, so your post appeared at the perfect time … thanks!

  29. Matt Meltzer says:

    Karol,

    I believe I met your suggestion prior to reading it. I developed this domain circa 1996 – http://www.drivingAcar.com . I teach driving to run of the mill people and people with special needs. I also do driver rehab for those who need to improve their technique and do Driver Evaluations at the request of Doctors, Rehab facilities, or others.

  30. mario monk says:

    I am still unhappy about my chosen domain name. It has a ‘-’ in it, which makes it harder to remember, it is a bit lame and it has no power in search engines as it represents more than one niche. I mean, I’m blogging about pets, but I don’t need to rank for name “pet” itself. What I need is dogs, cats, fish etc… But I don’t think it is okay to call my site catsdogsfishparrotsrodentsandotherpets.com

  31. Karol K. says:

    @Nurul Azis

    Your domain is OK. But are translating into English, or just Inggris-Indonesia?

    @Matt Meltzer

    Your domain sounds catchy and interesting. It’s important that you’re explaining right away what it’s all about: “World’s best Driving Instructor.”

    @mario monk

    You know what; this is not my only post about choosing domain names. In this one: http://newinternetorder.com/6-important-factors-when-choosing-perfect-domain-name/ I tackle the issue from a different angle.

    Check it out if you want to know what I think about dashes.

  32. The best practise is to use a unique domain, no matter what you hear outside & online “noise” telling you to do.

    At the end of the day it all comes down to website content…

    Cheers

  33. Karol, With all due respect, I have to say that your views are interesting, but I just don’t agree with them. Firstly, I think you should stick categorising domain names according to the industry standard – ‘Generic’ domain names like Fish.com, Cash.net, Loans.us and ‘Brandable’ domain names like LaLa.com, GoGo.org, and Wahoo.tv. There are only two categories – anything else confuses things unnecessarily. Secondly, I think you must have a key word rich domain name, where the key words relate to the topic of your blog – its not fair to suggest to newer site owners that a brandable is OK. Brandable domain names are a problem because they make it harder to rank your site for your chosen key words – because Google gives a boost to sites built on domains that contain the terms searched for. Also, people don’t know what your brandable named site is about unless they visit it. You will then have to spend loads of cash marketing your brandable domain name site built on this made up word. So, I would actually say your conclusions are wrong. If you want a small low traffic site, then give it a brandable domain. If you want to take over the world give it a generic doman name.

  34. Hi Karol,
    Another option for many people is to use their own name if it is easy to spell and available in the .com version. Sometimes a personal name can even contain a meaning like Johnny Cash.

    Also, for what it is worth I believe the word google in fact had the original meaning of taking a look at something. At least I remember this word from pre internet days! Opps! showing my age.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    David

  35. @David: Google is from “googol” which is the number 10^100. It’s a word that was invented by Edward Kasner’s newphew in 1938. You may be thinking of goggles or googly eyes.

  36. I went for a combined name, I thought about placing the word animation in the domain name but I thought it would be much better in the long run to leave it out!…

    I would recommend to anyone starting a dotcom to get a really solid name and logo!…

  37. Karol K. says:

    @Rav

    “Generic and Brandable” is just another way of categorizing domain names. There’s no good or bad categorization… it’s just different.

    My opinion is exactly the same as the one presented in a comment by ProBlogger.Co (the one above yours). In the long haul it all comes down to content.

    You won’t be successful solely because of your cool howtolearnguitar.com domain. Having a keyword-rich domain is good head start, but it’s not all that matters. And as you know most nice short-tail domains are already taken. For example; If you just want to start a guitar blog and end up with something like howtolearnjazzguitar.com (which is available by the way) you will end up sending the wrong message – that you only write about jazz guitar stuff.

    @David

    Having your name in the domain is an idea, but, to be honest, I’m not a really big fan of those.

  38. Thanks for your reply. I think Google gives you a tremendous boost if you have relevant key words in your domain name. This is an established fact. Content is important but the domain name makes such a difference that people are prepared to spend lots of money to secure a key word rich domain for their business (see DNJournal.com for domain name sales prices). For this reason I would never advise someone starting out to chose a brandable. You should always go for a key word rich domain. If the exact match is registered already either try and buy it. Or just add a neutral word before or after, such as ‘my’, ‘go’, ‘pro’ (before the keywords) or ‘guide’, ‘blog’, ‘tips’ (after the keywords) and so on. This gives you more options and it is the method Darren Rowse uses when developing new sites.

  39. Tornado says:

    Yeah semantic domains are best for beginners.

  40. Mazarine says:

    Hi Karol,

    I have a “combined name” for my fundraising blog, http://wildwomanfundraising.com, and also for my art blog,
    http://encausticaustin.com

    People have remarked when meeting me, “oh, this is the wild woman!” So I’m glad I chose words that I would like to be associated with me.

    I had an older art blog called http://melisander.org, which I picked at random, kind of like my first email handle. In latin it means “Sweet Man,” not really the idea I was going for. Semantic names, unless you’ve got a reason behind it, can work against you.

    As an aside, http://Wordoid.com is a fun way to come up with names for your site.

    Mazarine

  41. Josh Ray says:

    I just started a new blog to write about blogging tips, seo and social media. It was hard to find a good domain name and I ended up going with http://www.articulateblogger.com. I tried to think of a unique name like you mentioned but I guess I’m just not creative enough.

  42. Great post. In my oppinion, your choice of domain name is crucial in many way’s. First, if you opt to using SEO and want to advertise using a Google Adword’s account, then you will get a huge boost right out of the gate with your domain if you have popular related keyword’s within your domain.