Choosing a Domain Name for Your Blog

In this post, I’ll cover choosing a domain name for your blog, and in the process, I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about the general subject of domain names.

So you’ve come up with an idea for a blog. You’re excited. And it’s time to pick a domain name. You have three main choices to help you accomplish this task.

1. Name-based domain names

The simplest and most obvious choice is to choose your own name as your domain name. If your name is Paul Graham, you would therefore register paulgraham.com, or a variation such as pgraham.com or graham.com , depending on availability.

Advantages

This approach works particularly well for people with a name that is easy to pronounce and spell amongst their target audience.

Such domains are generally available and have the added advantage of putting a lot of emphasis on you as a person. If you are trying to make a name for yourself within your industry, it can be a solid choice.

When people google your name to find out more about you, they’ll be presented with your blog right off the bat, thus making a first impression on your terms.

If your main aim for blogging is advancing your career or improving your consulting business, you’ll find this choice to have serious merit.

Disadvantages

If your name is hard to pronounce, spell, or remember within the demographic you’re targeting, a name-based domain will be penalizing. It can work, of course, but it’s not the ideal solution.

From a search engine standpoint, such a domain does not carry any advantages in and of itself either.

Even then, I still suggest you register your own name .com, if available. If not for your blog, to at least have some sort of homepage for when people search for your name in Google.

Also, from an email perspective, info@firstlastname.com has a nice professional look to it.

2. Keyword-based domain names

Keyword-based domain names are domains that include subject relevant keywords within the domain name.

ProgrammingZen.com, Math-Blog.com, and this very site are all examples of keyword-based domain names.

Advantages

One the most important advantages, from a human perspective, is the fact that a keyword-based domain tends to make what your site is about quite obvious to most people who encounter it.

math-blog.com tells you that the blog is about math. If you are into math, the domain name just conveyed that this site is probably for you.

From an SEO, so search engine optimization, keyworded domains have a massive advantage. If your domain name matches the keyword or keyphrase typed by your target audience, Google (and other search engines that nobody uses), will consider it to be an indicator of relevancy. An important one, it turns out.

When you combine the two advantages, you get a quite appealing proposition. Unless…

Disadvantages

Unless your domain name is not available.

You see, SEO guys are not stupid. They figured out the power of keyword-dense domain names a long time ago, and in turn collectively bought a huge number of so-called exact match domain names (i.e., domain names that match the relevant keywords exactly, like <subject>tutorial.com matches “<subject> tutorial”).[1]

These domain squatters, along with ordinary folks who simply registered the domain names they needed, have made it really hard in recent years to find suitable domain names for many niches.

The obvious ones tend to be gone already, so you need to get quite creative at times to find a suitable exact match domain name or, alternatively, a densely keyworded domain name (for more about domain keyword density, see the FAQs below).

3. Brandable domain names

The third type of domain name is the so-called “brandable” domain name. google.com, yahoo.com, twitter.com are all examples of made up words that became well-known brands.

Advantages

If you decide to create a homemade word for your blog domain name, you’ll be able to find a relatively short domain name for it (not three or four letter domains, though, those are all gone at this point). This is by far the biggest advantage.

If you manage to establish a sizable following, a brandable name makes you unique and memorable.

In some instances, people have used a unique nickname online for years (instead of, or in conjunction with, their real name). In that case, it might make sense to stick to that preexisting brand for your blog as well.

Disadvantages

Successful brands are not created overnight or on the cheap.

You get none of the advantages of name-based or keyword-based domain names, and getting to a point where your made up word is an identifiable brand, even in small corners of an industry, is not trivial.

It can be done, but I generally discourage people from adopting an entirely self-created word for their blogs (unless that’s the name of their product/project/startup).

What about hybrid domain names?

Hybrids are a good idea. An example of a name-keyword domain hybrid would be joelonsoftware.com. You get both the personal element with his name (in the programming industry most people know who Joel is thanks to his blog), and the relevant keyword software in his domain.

Another hybrid, this time somewhat keyword-based but still a unique brandable domain, is engadget.com. It is technically a made up word (a pun), but it contains the keyword “gadget”, along with a decent degree of density.

You’ll be surprised by how many hybrid domains are still available for registration. It’s worth spending some time considering them and brainstorming a few names.

Some Frequently Asked Questions about domain names

Now that we covered our bases, and what I consider to be some of my top recommendations on the subject, I’d like to discuss other related tangential topics, as well as answering various frequently asked questions about domain names.

If you have other questions, definitely feel to let me know in the comment section.

What’s the keyword density of a domain name?

You’ll often hear SEOs talk about the keyword density of a given domain name. Imagine that you’re targeting people who are searching for “Seattle coffee shops”. The exact match domain name is seattlecoffeeshops.com. If you own this domain name, you have a great advantage. Your keyword density is 100%.

If your domain name is qedcoffee.com, you’ll partially match “Seattle coffee shops”. Your domain keyword density, however, will be quite low, since only coffee, of the three keywords, is the one that is being matched.

The domain name seattlecoffeescene.com would be a much stronger domain name. The keyword density is good, since the first two keywords are matched, and they also have the added value of being at the beginning of the domain name (so an SEO advantage over, say, findseattlecoffee.com).

Furthermore, seattlecoffeescene.com will be stronger than seattlecoffeeaffecionados.com since the amount of non-matching characters are fewer in the first domain name.

So to recap, the number of keywords that are present in the domain name, where they’re positioned in your domain name (first is better), and how many extra non-matching characters are in your domain all have an impact on how much your domain name will help you out SEO wise.

It’s worth noting that keywords matched in the meta description and URL are highlighted in bold when displayed in the search engine result page (SERP). So from a click-through perspective, a matching domain name will help obtain more page views from the SERP.

Domain keyword bolding

Is it okay to have dashes in domain names? How many is too many?

Except in cases where a dash helps clarifying the word separation (e.g., pen-island.com instead of penisland.com), it is generally preferable to have domain names that are free of dashes.

That said, while less neat, a single dash won’t really harm you in any significant capacity. My own Math-Blog.com has a dash in it. The non-dashed version wasn’t available. That single dash doesn’t detract much and having such a good domain name has definitely paid off handsomely.

Where the trouble starts is if you go for multiple dashes. Quick, what’s your first impression of, becoming-a-successful-photographer.com? To me, the name looks spammy. Most people will see it the same way, too.

Will Google penalize you for it? There isn’t much evidence that they actually would, but taking this route will certainly affect your reputation, and put your visitors off. Plus, Google’s algorithms are definitely smart enough to figure out what you’re doing with that sort of domain name (even if, at present, they are not penalizing sites for it).

I would steer clear of such attempts. If you must, I would generally stick to just one dash at most.

Is it okay to use a non .com domain name?

.com is by far the most common global top-level domain (gTLD). Years ago, not only there were far fewer gTLDs, but most people would simply assume that any domain name was a .com.

If you used something else, you’d lose a bit of traffic from people who’d still type in the .com version of your non-.com domain name.

Today things are better, but .com is still the default TLD in most people’s mind. Having a .com guarantees that there will be no confusion when communicating your domain name. This is particularly important offline.

.net is a second best. .org is good if the project has a social/community sort of slant to it, such as open source projects, non-profit initiatives, etc.

In more recent times, .io has become popular among developers. It is an acceptable option, particularly if you are in that industry, but I still think .com, .net, and .org are less confusing options.

There is controversy about whether Google gives preferential treatment to .com, .net, and .org over newer gTLD. I’m of the belief that, all things being equal, Google will favor a .com site over a, say, .tv, .biz, or .io.[2]

What about newer brand-level TLDs (e.g., .xyz, .top, .store)?

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan. They will confuse some visitors, and have a certain cheap look to them. This perception might change in the future, but right now it’s definitely here.

The only reason why I’d consider them is if you can score a great exact match domain name that sounds good with the keyword-based gTLD.

For example, programming.guru (not available) would make for quite the memorable, albeit self-aggrandizing, domain name. (Keep also in mind that many single word domain names, even with newer keyword-based gTLDs, are often sold as premiums by your domain registrar).

There are certainly far more domains available thanks to new gTLD, so if you are truly stuck with .com and .net ideas, it might come down to these.

I would keep clever schemes where the gTLD is part of the main name, and completes it, to a minimum (e.g., webprogramm.er).

SEO-wise, the same considerations from the previous question apply. Note however that Google will not rank keyword-based TLDs specifically for their keyword.

In other words, usedboats.store will match “used boats” but will have no SEO advantage for the keyword “store”. Having usedboats.com would be just as good (and probably better) from that perspective.

Should I register a non .com domain if a .com site with the same name exists?

Alright. You found the name, but the .com version is understandably not available. Is it okay to register the .net, .org, etc version instead?

Unless you are violating a trademark held by the owner of the .com domain name, you are technically allowed to register a .net or .org that matches an existing .com.

From an ethical standpoint, and to avoid headaches, I strongly recommend that you don’t do so, however, unless the .com is owned by a domain squatter or it’s an empty site.

Are country code top-level domains (e.g., .ca, .co.uk) a good idea?

They can be. If your main target audience is in Canada or in the UK, for example, .ca and .co.uk will respectively provide you with an SEO advantage.

All things being equal, a .ca domain name will rank even better than a .com on Google.ca, because Google will assume it’s more relevant to Canadians. (Even more so if the site is actually hosted in Canada.)

How about a ccTLD like .ca for a site that is not just for Canadians? No SEO advantages, but I think it’s still an okay idea, provided that you live in that region.

If you live in Canada, it’s perfectly okay that your blog is a .ca. Chances are that you’ll have far more domains available under the .ca ccTLD umbrella than under the oversaturated .com.

Can I redirect a keyword-based domain to a brandable domain and get an SEO advantage?

You might wonder if registering a keyword-based domain and redirecting it to a name-branded domain will have any advantages from an SEO perspective.

It does not. A 301 redirect of webprogrammingdenver.com to johndoe.com will give you no SEO brownie points. Unless you develop a separate site on the former site and have that link to the latter. Even then the SEO juice would be quite limited.

What tools should I use to find available domain names?

Mashable has a fairly extensive list. Try a few of them and chances are you’ll find a couple that click with you.

Where should I register my domain name?

I recommend buying your domain names with Namecheap.

This was quite the long post, but I hope you found it to be useful. Your domain name will definitely have an impact on the success of your blog. Give it due consideration.

I know firsthand how stressful it can be to come up with the right domain name. If you are struggling, remember a couple of things.

First, yes, domains are important, but there are other factors that matter just as much. Your post titles and content being two key ones.

Second, it is possible to move to a different domain name at a later stage if you must.

Give it consideration for a couple of days, but ultimately, don’t sweat the domain stuff.


  1. Technically they often used loopholes so as not to pay what you and I would pay for a domain name. This, in turn, granted some of them the ability to squat on a huge volume of domain names.  ↩
  2. Do not register a .info domain name. They were cheap, and therefore used extensively by spammers. Their reputation is very low, and some chat programs even ban them.  ↩

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About Antonio Cangiano

Antonio Cangiano is a Software Developer and Technical Evangelist for IBM, as well as a web entrepreneur, serial blogger, and published author. He makes extra income blogging in his spare time about technical topics. He authored a definitive blogging book published by The Pragmatic Bookshelf.

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