Building a new community: Choosing a domain name

by Martin Reed on 7 December 2007 in Articles

Choosing a domain name

This is the second article in what I hope will be an indefinite series about the processes involved in developing a brand new community from scratch. I am currently developing a brand new online community and will detail its development on this blog. As I have said before, I think it is far easier to learn by example rather than simply reading another person’s theories and ideas.

Step One: Brainstorm the concept of your website

Deciding on a domain name for your community should not be rushed or taken lightly. If your community is successful, the domain name you choose now will likely be associated with your site for the rest of its life. Of course, you can change the domain name of a website once it has been established, but this is something that you don’t want to do unless you really have to.

In order to come up with the domain name for my new community, I brainstormed the concept of the website. This involved writing down the niche the website would be operating in and then having keywords associated with this niche ‘spidering’ away from this core concept. At this stage you do not want to be critical about the words you come up with – write down each and every keyword that you come up with. As you come up with ideas, come up with keywords for the keywords. The more ideas you come up with, the more thorough your eventual thought process will be.

Step Two: Search through the storm for the rainbow

Once you have a massive list of keywords, you have something to work with. I always recommend including an aspect of your site’s subject within the domain name itself. This blog is focussed on building online communities, therefore I felt it essential that the word ‘community’ was contained within the domain name.

Once you have decided to include the main theme of your site into its domain name, you can shorten the keyword combinations you previously brainstormed. Make sure the domain name you choose adheres to the following four principles:

1) It is easy to remember
2) It is not excessively long
3) It does not contain words that are prone to misspelling
4) It does not contain a hyphen (unless you can also register the non-hyphenated version)

Step Three: Decide on your domain extension

Do you want a .com? Do you want a .co.uk? Deciding which extension to choose can be a tricky business – particularly because a .com will tend to be the favourite choice and consequently your preferred domain name will likely already be taken.

It is perfectly fine to choose a country specific domain name if you will be targeting your marketing efforts at that specific country. I was not fazed by the fact the .com extension for Just Chat had been taken as I was always focussed on developing a community with a British identity.

If you are aiming for a global audience you simply cannot beat a .com domain name. That is what I chose for my new online community, although I also registered the available extension alternatives. The last thing I wanted was to go to the effort of developing a new online community only for someone to steal my hard work by promoting a site by the same name, but with a different extension.

If your choice of domain name has already been registered, wait a few days before going through what may be an expensive purchase process. Very often I think of the ‘perfect’ domain name only to think of something far better just a few hours or days later.

Step Four: Be prepared to negotiate

The chances are, you choice(s) of domain name will already be registered – particularly if you are after a .com; this is what happened to me. Consequently I needed to commence negotiation with the owner in order to purchase the domain name. My advice when it comes to negotiating a domain name purchase would be as follows:

Do your research

How long has the current registrant owned the domain name? If they have had it registered for the past seven years they are more likely to want to see a sale than someone who has only had the domain for a few weeks. Is the domain name about to expire? If so, perhaps you should keep quiet and see if the current owner renews – if they don’t, you could get that name at the regular registration cost.

Never reveal your budget

If you reveal the budget you have for the domain name, you can only expect the current owner to price the domain name to match. Never reveal your budget unless you want to pay over the odds for a domain name.

Never use your business email address

Do you already run a popular website? Don’t use your professional email address – after all, if you received two approaches for your website from these email addresses who would you ask to pay more: bill.gates@microsoft.com or bill.morgan@freeemailsrus.com?

Start low and keep communicating

Always offer a price for the domain name based on your opinion of its value. Don’t pay attention to any ‘appraisals’ that the owner of the domain may start to present to you. Appraisals are worthless – the value of a domain name is quite simply the price someone is willing to pay for it. Start with a low (but respectable) offer, and see what happens next.

Even if your offer is rejected, keep the line of communication open. Normally a rejection will be met with the current owner advising you of a price they are aiming for. If not, then ask them – don’t put everything down to guesswork!

Once this happens, you have good ground for negotiation – you have started a line of communication with the current owner and have two monetary values to work with. I wouldn’t recommend immediately offering the full amount the current owner wants; keep negotiating and you will soon reach a value both parties will be happy with.

Step 5: Be sensible

People online aren’t always who they say there are. Protect yourself by confirming details of the domain name sale through a written agreement – this can be done in electronic form. I would also recommend the use of an escrow service to ensure the seller doesn’t take your money and run. I used Escrow.com for the purchase of my new domain name and feel the cut taken by the intermediary is well worth it for the security and peace of mind the service brings.

The escrow service is simple – terms are established (the domain name for sale and the price), then payment is sent to Escrow.com – not the seller. When the payment is received by Escrow.com, they email the seller to advise them they have received the funds and that they now need to transfer the domain name. Once the domain name is transferred, there is a pre-agreed period for both parties to ensure the ‘WHOIS’ information has been updated to reflect the details of the buyer. When this is done, payment is transferred from Escrow.com to the seller and you now have your brand new domain name.

Your thoughts

How did you decide on your chosen domain name? Did you go through a brainstorming process or did the ideal name just pop into your head? Did you purchase a domain name from an individual as I have done? Please share your thoughts and ideas regarding this article by leaving a comment below.

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{ 25 comments }

John Wilberforce December 7, 2007 at 3:22 pm

Interesting article, thank you. You really capture the main points that need to be considered when naming any website, not just a community.

Smiley December 7, 2007 at 7:51 pm

I made a mistake using a hyphen, but I’ve bidded to buy the unhyphenated version using Sedo.com — I’m awaiting the seller’s approval (or decline!)

Jenny December 8, 2007 at 1:29 am

Thanks a lot for this articel, it was very important for me and I will try to do this in Germany (from where I am).

Online furniture store December 8, 2007 at 4:31 am

This is a brilliant article, mostly because it has the benefit of your experience. There are so many points there, that would never have occurred to me to check. I think I’m filing this one for future reference. Thanks!

Whitney Johnson December 8, 2007 at 1:42 pm

I’ve forwarded you article along to my friend this is starting her own blog/website.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think that you might want to mention to your readers the importance of buying domain names for your children, using their names. They probably won’t need or want them now, but I think they’ll want them as the grow up.

My best,

Whitney Johnson
http://www.whitneyjohnson.com

coozie December 8, 2007 at 7:31 pm

I have had to buy certain domains and negotiated with them heavily got 2 last month for $50 for one then $100

they were asking for 2k
but their are times where some people are just crazy and want 100k for domains

like .ws extension is staring to get taken up now too

Vyoma December 9, 2007 at 1:43 am

Nice one Martin.

I made use of BustAName service.

I have written my response at my blog like I did for the previous one. ;)

Self Improvement Ideas December 9, 2007 at 10:25 am

yes this is an excellent article, and you list all the important points. the only thing that can mess up all your research is finding an available domain name, especially if you want a .com!

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 10, 2007 at 6:08 pm

John – You’re right; these tips could just as easily be applied to choosing a domain name for any website. I simply chose to put a community slant on the article due to the subject matter of this blog.

I am glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for your comment :)

Smiley – Good luck with that; let me know how you get on. Hopefully you will find this article useful in your negotiations.

Jenny – Thanks for your comment. Good luck, and let me know how you get on!

Reena – I am glad you found the article useful. Let me know if you end up using it for a real domain name purchase!

Whitney – You make a good point; domain names (particularly .coms) are only going to become more scarce. If your child’s name is available, it may be a good idea to register it. Having said that, I don’t have my name registered as a .com and this doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Coozie – For the majority of domain name negotiations, the first price named by the current owner is often a fantasy figure. Having said that, getting a price down from $2,000 to $100 is certainly impressive; well done!

Vyoma – Services like BustAName can be great to help inspire and generate new ideas – thanks for mentioning them.

Self Improvement – If the .com is gone, you can either register an alternative extension or begin negotiations with the current owner, as detailed in my article. Never give up!

Video of Songs December 13, 2007 at 10:57 am

Very useful article. I will keep in mind all these things to give suggestions to my friends who are going to start new websites.

HDTV Reviews December 13, 2007 at 12:14 pm

I am in a plan to purchase a domain but still in a dilemma! However I shall launch a new website in the coming year after gathering some more consolidated information.

Smiley December 13, 2007 at 9:31 pm

Argh, been a week now and they haven’t gotten back to me. I’m not paying anymore than what I offered, it was a perfectly reasonable amount!

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 15, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Video – Thanks for your comment; let me know if your friends find the article helpful.

HDTV – What is your dilemma? If you elaborate then perhaps we can offer you some advice.

Smiley – Ah, the joys of domain negotiation, eh?!?

Smiley December 16, 2007 at 1:02 am

Ha, you said it. I’ve offered 150 up to now.. for a stupid bloody domain name. I bet it only cost them 5 to register it originally. You’d have thought 145 profit for a stupid blooming domain name would be enough for most people!

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 18, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Smiley – Ah well, I guess you can always hang on for the expiry date and hope for the best!

Domain Name Generator December 20, 2007 at 10:02 pm

I wrote a site to find available domain names (www.domainnamesoup.com). I hope you find it useful.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 2, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Domain Name Generator – Sites like yours can definitely be a great help when it comes to finding available domain names.

Melissa Odom January 21, 2008 at 1:03 pm

I just took my idea for the site and kept trying different keyword combinations until I found some that were available. :) Then I just picked from that list.

I did not over think this process and I am happy with the name. I did just look up lgbtconnect.com and it has been taken. That is the only alternative that people would type in – I think. Most people know how to spell connect. :)
Another step would be to register .net, .org, etc. but I don’t think that is an issue for me right now.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 22, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Melissa – I am glad you got yourself a suitable domain name that wasn’t already registered; that’s a great way to save yourself a decent chunk of change!

As long as you have strongly branded your site to include the ‘.com’ extension, you shouldn’t need to worry about the other extensions. When your budget allows though, I would recommend you pick them up for the sake of a few bucks.

Don February 1, 2008 at 4:49 am

http://URDNG.com (Ultimate Random Domain Name Generator) offers a wide range of domain name generation techniques.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 1, 2008 at 11:43 pm

Don – Thanks for bringing your site to my attention. It looks like an interesting resource.

Chris May 12, 2008 at 3:49 am

I aquired the domain Filmmakers.net for my filmmakers forum, which obviously is about the very best possible domain I could have gotten besides the .com for such a site however it has been slow to gain members partly due to it being a really specific niche but I just found your great website and I see all kinds of tips on how to remedy that so i will definitely be reading up. Great resource you have here for sure!

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Chris – Yes, that’s a good domain name; just make sure you strongly brand your site with the ‘.net’ extension to prevent people going to the .com site in error. I took a very quick look at your forum, and you are off to a good start; take a look through the archives here – you’ll find lots of tips to help you get your forum to the next level.

Bluehost June 10, 2008 at 4:10 am

its harder and harder to find a good domain name these days. try searching expiring domains and every once in a while you will find a diamond in the rough

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Bluehost – Sure, generic one or two word domains are pretty much impossible to find now, but that just means you need to be a little more inventive and original when searching. There are still plenty of great names out there just waiting to be found, though!

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