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August 2004

Dynamoo 2004





Choosing a Domain Name

The Basics  Domain Name History  About Top Level Domains
Thinking Up a Name  Can't Think Of a Name?  One Careful Owner
Buying a Domain Name at Auction  Grabbing a Domain When It Expires
Trademarks: Tread Carefully  Domain Names Can Be Fun  Useful Resources

You may have a great idea for a site, a great list of products to sell or really useful information you'd like to share with the world - but when it comes to creating your web site you'll quickly find that getting the right domain name for your site can be extremely difficult.

It's worth taking the time to do plenty of research and to have a good think about what name you want to give your site. In some ways it's like naming a baby, it's best not to rush at it - but in addition, you rarely have to worry about trademarks with baby names!


The Basics

Your domain name is the key to your web site. Control of your domain name give you the ability to choose a host at will and control all aspects of your on-line presence. We'd recommend that you register your domain name with someone other than your web hosting company. This gives you a great amount of freedom with your hosting and ensures that you will always be able to host your site somewhere else if unhappy. It also gives you more time to shop around for hosting after registering your domain.

Domain registrars we like are Dotster.com, Namecheap and TotalRegistrations. In our view Dotster offers the best service with a wide choice of different domain types, Namecheap is reliable and great value for money,and TotalRegistrations is our choice for UK domains. Alternatively, you can use any ICANN Accredited Registrar that offers the features you needs.

After registration, you need to find a web host that meets your needs. Our list of recommended web hosts is here along with some tips on finding the right host here.


Domain Name History from 1999.

A brief history of domain names1999 was the year of the big dot-com boom, and there was a feeling that there were huge sums of money to be made from the web - but back in 1999 people seemed more concerned about branding than business plans. Inspired by the success of names like Amazon.com, a raft of dot coms came (and went) under snazzy-sounding titles. There was a huge land grab for virtually all words in the English dictionary, plus every other combination of words people could think of. Most of these sites were never developed, but domains were often priced at huge prices.

A prime example of an expensive domain name that has never been developed fully is America.com which was listing for $30,000,000 in March 2001, now a snip at $15,000,000. One budding entrepreneur decided that if America.com was worth $30 million, then the ever-so-slightly-different AmericaC.com would also be worth something by association. In March 2001 this was listed at a cool $100,000, then in October this has been dropped to $12,000. At the time of writing, the domain AmericaC.com is unregistered and can be picked up for less than $15.

By 2002 the concept of "branding" and multimillion dollar media launches was dead, and a lot of interest started to form in catching expiring domains and using their traffic and presence in search engines to give their new owners a boost. This led to a huge boom in expiring domain names being picked up the day after they had "dropped" and skewing search engine results. By 2003 the major search engines had stamped down on this, and a change in the way domain names expired made it easier for the original owners to keep hold of them. So, ironically, in 2004 the key issue again is "branding".

About Top Level Domains (TLDs)

About Top Level DomainsThere are lots of top-level domains (TLDs) doing the rounds at the moment. A TLD is something like the "com" in a dot-com and there are literally hundreds of TLDs. The most popular is .com, but the are many others. A dot-com name is usually the best to go for, because that's the name people usually associate with the web.

Dynamoo's recommended list of TLDs to look out for, starting with the best first is:

  1. .com - the classic TLD for any site anywhere in the world. Virtually all the good .com domains have already been bought up though.
  2. .us, .co.uk, .ca, .de, .fr or whatever your local country TLD is, if your target audience is country based. A country TLD is a great way to target those people living in a particular country, but not good if you're reaching out for a global audience. Domain names tend to be more readily available.
  3. .biz (for business sites), .info (for informational sites), .org (for nonprofit sites). These TLDs have much greater domain name availability that of .com, but lack the prestige of a dot-com tag. However, you may be able to get exactly the domain name you want. Unfortunately, a lot of spammers use .biz and .info domains and their value is becoming degraded.
  4. .net (for anything Internet-related), .tv and .fm for television and radio sites (tv is actually the country TLD for Tuvalu, fm for the Federated States of Micronesia). Best to avoid these sites though if your site isn't industry specific.
  5. .ws, .nu, .co, .bz, .tk and .cc are best avoided - these are all country specific TLDs marketed as alternatives to .com - but to be brutal most people will either not remember them or consider you to be a loser who couldn't get the .com they wanted. Probably both.


Thinking Up a Name

Thinking up a name"Branding" is the all important concept in 2004. Before that, one way to get ahead in search engines was to stuff your domain with as many keywords as possible. So, you got awful domain names like very-cheap-trinkets.com which were usually the sign of a nasty cobbled together site by someone who just wanted to get rich quick. Try to pick something memorable.

As mentioned earlier, virtually all words in the English dictionary are registered, so you can forget most of those as possibilities. You are much more likely to succeed if you got for a compound word made up of two or more individual words related to your site. Two words is easier to remember for repeat visitors - one word is ideal, but only if you can get it.

For example: if you want to sell trinkets you can be reasonably assured that trinkets.com will be already registered, so try a name like trinketworld.com, worldoftrinkets.com, buyatrinket.com etc. There's a good chance that one of these will be free. Getting the "trinket" keyword into the domain name may or may not give the site a boost in search engine terms. Generally speaking, highly competitive keywords tend to get filtered out by search engines, however for niche markets this can still be important.

Next, you'll want to check domain name availability. Simply going to your browser and type www.. followed by the name of the domain will generally tell you nothing as most domains aren't developed (i.e. they don't yet have a site associated with them). A simple tool to use is whois.sc, which will allow you to look up contact information and registrations details about a domain. So, if you type dynamoo.com into the search box, you'll see all the contact details and registration dates for the domain. If you type an unregistered .com name into the (in this example americac.com) you'll get a result like this:

    Whois Server Version 1.3
    Domain names in the .com, .net, and .org domains can now be registered
    with many different competing registrars. Go to http://www.internic.net
    for detailed information.
    No match for domain "AMERICAC.COM".
    >>> Last update of whois database: Sat, 14 Dec 2002 05:04:58 EST <<<
    The Registry database contains ONLY .COM, .NET, .ORG, .EDU domains and

This tells you that the domain can be registered.

There's a full list of WHOIS services at the Open Directory - so if you're looking for a specific TLD that whois.sc doesn't cover, try one of those. If you're looking for a UK domain, try the WHOIS service at Nominet.


Can't Think of a Name?

Can't think up a good domain name?Sometimes your imagination lets you down and you'll need a little help. Again, the Open Directory comes to our aid with a list of Name Generators - our favorite of which is NameBoy which will allow you to come up with different variations of a domain name and tell you if they're available.

For example, for our online trinket store we discovered that trinkets.com was probably registered, and a look at whois.sc page confirmed that it belonged to someone already. With Nameboy we can just enter trinket as the primary word and click the "go nameboy go" button and we discover that trinketfairy.com is available and sounds like a pretty reasonable domain name, so we could try that. whois.sc offers a similar service to Nameboy.


One Careful Owner - Second-Hand Domains

Recycled DomainsSometimes it's better to get a domain that has already been registered and expired. Sometimes these domains will come with good directory and search engine listings, most of the time they might just be inventive and catchy sounding.

A great (and free) resource for finding deleted domain names is DeletedDomains.com - this lists many .com, .net and .org names when they expire or when they are soon to expire (placed "on hold"). So, if we click on the power search link we can search in all sorts of different ways for domain names.

For example, if we type trinket in and restrict the search to domains deleted and select anytime, we get a list which includes cool-trinkets.com, ez-trinkets.com, thetrinketstore.com. Some of these are interesting names, which might be worth looking at. A quick copy-and-paste of the domain name into alltheweb will also tell you if the domain name has any listings on the web, although its unlikely that you'll find anything really good that hasn't been re-registered.

Once you've found your perfect pre-owned domain name, use a WHOIS tool to see if it is still available.


Buying a Domain Name at Auction - Caveat Emptor

Trust meSometimes good domain names become available at eBay in their Domain Names or Websites For Sale category. It's tricky to find good names amongst the stupidly overpriced rubbish out there, and buying anything at auction requires practice and caution. Don't overstretch yourself - an undeveloped domain name with some decent listings can be had for under $100. A fully-developed web site is worth about what it would make in a year (but get some proof of income for the site).

If you're buying a domain name that claims to be listed at Yahoo! or any other directory, it's vitally important to check the listing by actually drilling down into the claimed category.

If a site or domain name is being sold with claims that it's long established or has traffic you will need to check. For an established web site you can ask to see the access logs. You can also do some research yourself. Alexa is a useful tool with traffic rankings, but they are very vague and easy to manipulate upwards.. however, if the site has a traffic rank of 3,000,000 or so it basically never gets any visitors. As a rough indicator, 20,000 unique visitors per month should show up with a traffic rank in the 200,000 to 300,000 range. The Internet Archive will also give you a good idea of how long a site has been around and its history and target audience.

An alternative to eBay is an aftermarket domain site such as Sedo.us which is a major aftermarket domain broker, or many others that can be found in the Open Directory. You will pay a higher price here that at an auction, but with a greater peace of mind.

All-in-all though, buying a domain name or developed web site at auction is probably for the more experienced domain developer.. if you're just starting out it may well be better to take the lowest-risk option and avoid auctions altogether. However, if you know what you're doing you can turn a domain name at auction into a real money and traffic generator.


Grabbing a Domain When it Expires

Grab a domainSometimes the domain name you really want isn't always available. A search of the WHOIS entry shows that it is registered but not developed. You could wait for the domain to expire, but they're not usually available on the date shown and there's a high risk that you could miss the domain altogether.

Luckily, there are some automated tools to help you acquire domain names. One of the best known (and one that Dynamoo has documented many times before) is SnapNames - this monitors the domain status and tries to acquire it for you. The success rate is pretty good, although the price for a years subscription is $69 which is expensive for a domain registration, but quite inexpensive for the amount of work and worry it saves. If SnapNames can't get the domain name for you, you can re-use the subscription to try to get another name. Namewinner is a similar system to Snapnames and worth considering.

We covered this kind of web site development back in February 2002 with a story about the development of an abandoned site that had been recreated using SnapNames and then tuned to meet visitor expectations.


Trademarks - Tread Carefully

CautionOne minefield with domain name development is the issue of Trademarks. Very often, the name you're using may be a trademark belonging to somebody. This is most likely when redeveloping an expired name, but it can also be a problem for new domains.

One typical example is this - the well-known toy store Toys'R'Us is also well-known for protecting the "R Us" part of its name, to the extent that any webmaster creating an "R Us" site (e.g. trinketsrus.com) may well find themselves in legal difficulties. Make sure that your domain name is not substantially the same or similar as any major company or trademark.

The US Patent and Trademark Office is a good place to start checking for trademarks for any site with a US presence. The Patent Office in the UK also holds trademark information, as do several other national trademark offices. If in doubt, seek the advice of a professional or use an online Trademark Service to check.

If you have bought an expired name, then check also the Internet Archive and look at old copies of the site to see if any trademarks are claimed. A search of the web using your favorite search engine should help too.

If you accidentally violate a trademark, you will probably be required to surrender the domain name, but possibly anything you've earned with it too. For this reason it's best to try to find a fairly unique name.


Domain Names Can Be Fun

You might think it sad, but a lot of people enjoy the creativity involved in thinking up a great domain name.. but be warned, registering domain names can become addictive! Dynamoo owns about 100 of the things, of which only about a dozen are actually developed. In other words, don't get too carried away and forget to build your web site!

Useful resources:


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