Effective Strategy for Choosing Right Domain Names

We used to use a method which is similar to this in our company. It’s nice to have somebody distill it into a short and sweet document. If you’re looking for how to choose a domain name, use this guide:

Effective Strategy for Choosing Right Domain Names

Naming is linguistic design, and a good domain name is an important part of the overall design of a website. A name plays a prominent role when people discover, remember, think about, talk about, search for, or navigate to a website. It establishes a theme for the branding of a website before people even visit it for the first time.

Coming up with a good domain name requires a combination of strategy, imagination and good linguistic design practice.

You’ll find some basic pieces of advice all over the Web, and it’s worth mentioning those right away. Ideally, your domain name should be:

  • Short
  • Catchy and memorable,
  • Easy to pronounce,
  • Easy to spell,
  • Not too similar to competing domain names,
  • Not a violation of someone else’s trademark.

These are all good rules of thumb. But they lack specifics. These are really criteria to use to evaluate ideas for names after you’ve thought of them. To come up with a name in the first place, you need to know what type of name is best for you. And before you can answer that question, you have to answer two others: one about your resources, and the other about your Web strategy.

Two Questions

The first question is easy: Are you willing and able to spend lots of money on your domain name? If not, you can forget about a .com domain that’s a single real word, like or They’re all registered, many by domain speculators, and buying one will cost a lot. You’ll need to look for a different kind of name. Real words on .net and .org domains are pretty hard to come by, too.

Word Map
Image from the Visual Thesaurus, Copyright © 1998-2009 Thinkmap, Inc. All rights reserved.

The other question is a strategic one and takes more thought: How do you plan to get traffic to your website? Answering this question can help you avoid a lot of confusion about what makes for a good name. Some views on this issue directly contradict others. For example, Rob Monster, CEO of Monster Venture Partners, believes that and are “lousy domain names” and that and are great ones. Marketing guru Seth Godin advises against real words like these and in favor of unique made-up names like (his company).

So, what’s going on here? These two views correspond to different strategies for getting Web traffic. Monster is interested in what we might call a “discoverable” domain name. That’s a name that can be found by someone who doesn’t know about your website but is doing web searches on keywords and phrases related to a specific topic, or by typing those words and phrases directly into the navigation bar of the browser. Discoverable names are generically descriptive.

The type of name that Godin is talking about is a “brandable” domain name. A brandable name establishes a distinct identity and communicates indirectly to evoke interesting ideas and feelings. Some brandable names, like Squidoo, provide a unique character string unlikely to be found anywhere except in documents that mention that particular website. That means people who know the name of the website can easily use a search engine to navigate there. Godin makes good use of this advantage, though it may not be a significant source of traffic. A unique character string also makes it possible for mentions of your website to dominate top search results for your name. That helps establish credibility, which may be considerably more important.

Discoverable Or Brandable?

So, do you need a discoverable name or a brandable name? If you intend to rely primarily on organic search results for a specific topic, you might want a discoverable name… but not necessarily. Even if your website has a brandable name, it can still rank well in search engine results for keywords and phrases as long as it’s full of relevant content. Discoverable names are only necessary for people counting on “type-in” traffic.

Domains Bot, a search engine that is geared specifically towards finding a domain name. It works best if you’re looking for a compound-word domain rather than an invented word.

Discoverable names are real words and phrases. If you don’t have the budget to buy a single real-word domain, then you’ll need to go for a phrase. Common phrases are often registered as well, so it can take time to find one. The trick to a discoverable name is not to be clever but to think of a phrase that other people would likely think of as well and would type in a search engine or navigation bar. The catch is that you have to find one that hasn’t yet been registered. Instant Domain Search and Domains Bot are great tools for checking the availability of domain names and suggest available alternative names.

If your marketing plans involve paid search listings and buzz generated by prominent mentions of your website, then you will almost certainly want a brandable name. A brandable name is distinctive, evocative and memorable.

Strategies For Brandable Names

So how do you come up with a brandable name? It takes some creativity. You sometimes hear people, including marketing people, say that a name should be an “empty vessel,” so that it can get all its meaning from other forms of branding. That’s not the most productive way to think when coming up with a name. Most great website names are connected to the purpose of the website in an indirect and interesting way. Often they use sensory images or tap into people’s personal experience in some way.

Some names are metaphors. PageFlakes, for example, uses the unexpected flake metaphor to help people understand something about how to use the website: you drag little boxes of content around, and they stick in the places you drop them, like flakes. Smashing Magazine is based on a word used in an enthusiastic appraisal of a performance, outfit, or design — “That looks smashing!” — but it also evokes the idea of being physically clobbered. That metaphor is brought to the foreground by the tagline: “We smash you with the information that makes your life easier. Really.”

Image credit: eBoy.

How do you come up with a metaphor? First, you have to have a clear understanding of what makes your website special and interesting. Then you have to find a simpler concept that helps people understand that concept by analogy, usually by imagined sensory experiences. The sensory information used in metaphors makes them vivid and memorable. There’s no algorithm for finding a metaphor, but it often involves thinking visually, which should come naturally to Web designers.

Some names have indirect connections to a website’s purpose but not through a metaphor., for example, relates to photography through the concept of light that’s implicit in the word “flicker.”

Putting Names Together

Because you won’t be looking for a single-word name (unless you have big bucks to spend), you’ll have to build your name out of pieces. There are several different ways to do that:

  • Compound
    Example: YouTube
    Two whole words, often two nouns, stuck together. Don’t let anyone tell you that this kind of name is a “fad” and will go away. This has been the most common way to coin new English words as well as to create new names, and that’s unlikely to change in the next few hundred years.
  • Phrase
    Example: Six Apart

    Words put together according to normal grammatical rules. Phrase names can be similar to compounds, but have a different pattern of syllabic emphasis. In compounds, the emphasis goes on the first word, the way we emphasize “white” in “the Whitehouse.” In phrases, the emphasis often goes on the second word, the way we emphasize “house” in “a white house.”

  • Blend
    Examples: Microsoft, Farecast

    A blend combines a part of a word with another word or word part. The name Microsoft combines the “micro” part of “microcomputer” with the “soft” part of “software.” When blends involve a surprising overlap in sound between the two words, they’re a form of wordplay. Farecast is like that. It combines the words “fare” and “forecast,” and “fare” resembles the first syllable of “forecast.” When you create this kind of blend, be sure to avoid awkwordplay: don’t pile up consonants in ugly ways (like in the name Syncplicity), and don’t use important words to replace syllables that aren’t emphasized (the way the names Mapufacture and Carticipate do).

  • Tweaked word
    Examples: Flickr, Zune
    Sometimes you can find a good domain name that’s basically a real word, but changed in some small way. It might have a modified spelling, like Flickr, or it might have a changed or added sound, like Zune (from “tune”) and iPhone.
  • Affixed word
    Example: Friendster
    Some names are new words created by sticking a prefix or suffix onto an existing word. Friendster, for example, is “friend” with the suffix -ster attached. Biznik is “biz” with the Yiddish-derived suffix -nik (as in “beatnik”).
  • Made-up name
    Examples: Etsy, Odeo
    Sometimes you can find a name that is, or seems to be, completely made up. For example, Etsy is an online hand-made goods marketplace, and Odeo is an online music website.

When building a name out of pieces, be sure that both pieces contribute something interesting. The name LibraryThing fails in this respect. LiftPort, the name of a company that wants to build an elevator to outer space, is not much better. The words “lift” and “port” have very similar meanings; both relate to moving things around. Neither relates to what makes this company really exciting, outer space.

Linguistic Design Guidelines

Here are some general guidelines on linguistic design that you can use in your quest for a name:


Be specific:

  • Good: 37signals
  • Bad: LibraryThing

Appeal to the senses in appropriate ways:

  • Good: Twitter
  • Bad: BookGoo

Make every piece count:

  • Good: YouTube
  • Bad: LiftPort

If you use a metaphor, make sure it’s enlightening:

  • Good: PageFlakes
  • Bad: Fairtilizer (how is fertilizer related to music?)


Keep groups of consonants simple and appealing:

  • Good: Biznik
  • Bad: Sclipo

Preserve the natural syllabic emphasis of words:

  • Good: Farecast
  • Bad: Carticipate

Use sound to support your meaning:

  • Good: Etsy (a short sound for a hand-made goods marketplace)
  • Bad: Syncplicity (an awkward blend for an application that’s supposed to sync your computers seamlessly)


If you’re a Web designer, you know that the design process isn’t unfettered creativity. Rather, it involves elegant, creative solutions to specific problems. Naming is no different. Forget the cliche of the crazy adverstising or marketing genius who’s struck by the perfect idea as if by lightning. Approach the naming process in a strategic, rational way, and look for elegant solutions to your particular naming challenge. Even as domain names become scarcer and scarcer, with the right strategy and enough attention to linguistic design principles, building a great name is still possible.


  • Instant Domain Search
    Checks the availability of domain names in real time as you type, and provides links to popular registrars.
  • ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus
    Shows words linked to synonyms and other related words in interactive maps made of nodes and links. Paid membership required after a brief free trial period.
  • Visuwords
    A free visual thesaurus based on Princeton’s WordNet database.
  • Visual Dictionary
    Online version of the Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary. You can look at images to learn the names of things.
  • Name Types
    Types of names in more detail, with lots of examples.

Related posts

You may be interested in the following related posts:

About the Author

Christopher Johnson is a naming and verbal branding consultant from Seattle, WA, USA. He has a PhD in linguistics and writes about names and language on his blog The Name Inspector.



Very cool pyrotechnics show.

Since I was old enough to disassemble my dad’s .22 bullets to harvest the gunpowder, I have loved pyrotechnics. Some day I would enjoy working for a pyro company (or at least volunteering).

From San Pedro Zumpango, David Silva of Pyro ® Producciones Piromusicales designed and fired this 19 minute show with FIREONE ® equipment. The pyromusical show consisted of a great Castillo with double tower 30m high with set pieces, 3”, 4”, 6” an 8” shells made by the Ramos Family, and bonbettes, candles, mines and comets made by APM Fireworks of Joel Hernandez.

This show was an excellent choreographed display to music with a fantastic set piece with a giant spinning wheel. A horizontal butterfly set piece that takes off!!



I want a Chia Obama!

Determined Obama Chia
Determined Obama Chia
I can’t decide between the Determined Chia Obama or the Happy Chia Obama. But no matter which one I end up with, I will thoroughly enjoy dunking the head in water. Would that be considered water-boarding?

Chia Obama – Special Edition Chia from the maker of Chia Pets.

Thoughts Video

Phredd and Keilah

Two of my favorite people in the world are in this video!

Watch Phredd  on


Swine flu no worse than regular flu, Napolitano says –

I guess I am having a hard time figuring out how inciting panic world-wide is better than squashing it. This bumbling administration has had gaff after gaff. Add this one to the list:

Swine flu no worse than regular flu, Napolitano says –


Reuters AlertNet – ANALYSIS-What happens if swine flu goes away? (OR NEVER ACTUALLY GOT HERE)

WASHINGTON, May 4 Reuters – With Mexico saying the worst may be over and the new H1N1 virus starting to look more like a seasonal flu strain in the United States and elsewhere, critics are going to start asking if public health officials overreacted to the outbreak.

Since the new swine flu virus was first identified two weeks ago in two children in Texas and California, the World Health Organization pushed its pandemic alert level from a three to a five, meaning a pandemic is imminent.

Mexico closed schools, stopped public events and took a big hit to tourism. The U.S. government mobilized 25 percent of its stockpile of antiviral drugs and started work on a vaccine against the new strain.

But the death toll is being rolled back as Mexican officials realize it will be impossible to know if long-buried or cremated victims died of H1N1 swine flu. And while the infection is spreading rapidly across the United States, it appears to be no worse than seasonal flu.

Scientists who study flu say the coordinated, global response was appropriate.

“If it doesnt become more virulent, first of all, many people will heave a great sigh of relief,” said Dr. Scott Lillibridge, who helped set up the Center for Disease Control and Preventions Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program and who is now at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston.

But Lillibridge echoes what the WHO and CDC have been saying: viruses mutate and change all the time and it is too early to say how bad this virus really is.

“We are only a few days into a major international mobilization for an outbreak that could continue months into the future,” Lillibridge said in a telephone interview.

The U.S. government has been preparing for this scenario for years.

One of the messages that has come up repeatedly is that the 1918 pandemic, cited as the worst-case scenario because it killed upwards of 40 million people, started with a mild arrival of a new virus, now identified as H1N1, in the spring.

It disappeared over the summer, but roared back with a vengeance in August.


“Will there be later disease, and if so, will it be more severe?” CDC acting director Dr. Richard Besser asked on Monday.

“There is no doubt in my mind that CDC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Health and Human Services Department will use the lull to get ready,” said risk communications consultant Peter Sandman, who has taken a special interest in pandemic flu.

“They will stay focused on this problem. They will continue to get ready for a possible pandemic in the fall.”

Many public health experts also remember the 1976 swine flu outbreak that wasnt.

Manufacturers raced to make a vaccine and 40 million Americans were vaccinated amid a monster public relations campaign. But the flu never spread.

“One big difference between then and now was that when the swine flu was detected in 1976, it was found at a single military installation in Ft. Dix, New Jersey,” said Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine and author of “The Epidemic that Never Was.”

“In the ensuing weeks and months it was not detected elsewhere — not elsewhere in New Jersey, not elsewhere in the United States, not elsewhere in the rest of the world.”

Worse yet, some people developed a rare neurological reaction to the vaccine called Guillain-Barre syndrome. Even now, a considerable minority of people believe that vaccines are harmful.

In contrast, said Fineberg, this virus spread globally in a matter of weeks, carried by holidaymakers and jet travel, and has shown it can be transmitted from one person to another.

“Last week the lesson is we got lucky,” said Sandman. “We have no reason to think we will stay lucky.”

He hopes the alarm bells will continue to ring, at an appropriate level.

“I just hope the government is more worried about the public being caught with its pants down than the government being called fearmongerers,” Sandman said.

Fineberg agreed. “One thing we have learned about flu is we should not be surprised by anything,” he said.

Reporting by Maggie Fox

via Reuters AlertNet – ANALYSIS-What happens if swine flu goes away?.


Honey Wheat Oatmeal Bread


Honey Wheat Oatmeal Bread



  1. ¾ C milk scalded
  2. ¾ C warm water
  3. 2 T Butter
  4. 1/3 C Honey
  5. 2 t salt
  6. 2 1/4 c white flour
  7. 1 1/4 wheat flour
  8. 3/4 C Oatmeal
  9. 1 1/2 t yeast


  1. multigrain cycle (5 hour)
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