Choosing a Domain Name
This page tells you everything you need to know about how to choose a domain name that will best suit your website:
Your website or email address is all about making a great first impression, and that starts with your domain name. Your domain name needs to ‘do what it says on the tin’, as the saying goes, and it needs to be unique to you.
For example, if your website is going to act as your personal CV or portfolio, your own name would make an appropriate domain name, because the website is all about you. If you’re starting a blog, your domain could be themed around what you’re blogging about – lifeinlondon.uk, for example.
If you’re choosing a domain for your business, it’s important to ensure that it closely matches your business name. This is because people will often guess a domain name based on the name of your business.
Not only that, but having different domain and business names could be confusing; in a list of search results and in emails, it may not be obvious which business is yours if your domain name doesn’t match your business name.
A notable example of a business that doesn’t match its brand name to its domain is B&Q, which uses DIY.com to reflect its position as the go-to place for DIY supplies. Importantly, however, they have also secured bandq.com and bandq.co.uk, which both redirect to DIY.com, so if anyone guesses the domain name they will still reach the right place.
When you’re choosing your new domain name, it’s worth bearing in mind that search engines like Google aren’t the only way for people to find your website.
You might mention your website to someone so that they can look it up later, for example, and it might be printed on your business cards or leaflets. Either way, they’ll have to type the website address into their browser for themselves, and they might also want to tell their friends about it.
That means your domain name needs to be easy to remember, easy to say and easy to type. In other words, the shorter and simpler, the better.
To keep your domain name simple, it’s best to avoid:
- Numbers – these cause confusion because, when spoken, it’s not clear whether a number should be spelled out or in numerical form
- Long words, or words that are difficult to spell
- More than two or three words
The exception to the rule on hyphens is that if you have your heart set on a particular domain name but it isn’t available, you might find that a hyphenated version is available.
For example, sweetshop.co.uk might be taken, but sweet-shop.co.uk might be available. However, “sweet hyphen shop dot co dot uk” is more cumbersome to say than the non-hyphen version, so try to avoid them if you can.
Quick memorability checklist
- Easy to say? – does it trip off the tongue?
- Easy to read? – is it easy to pronounce your domain name? If it’s several words joined together, is it clear where one word ends and the other begins?
- Easy to spell? – would you need to spell out the letters if someone was noting down your domain name, or is it obvious? Are there any commonly misspelled or mistyped words, or words that are otherwise difficult for people to spell?
- Does it make sense? – would you need to explain the name, or is it clear why you’ve chosen it?
With shorter domains in short supply, some companies are choosing to invent new words that serve as their business name as well as giving them a succinct and memorable domain name.
In fact, domain name availability has become a key consideration in naming a new business. Shpock.com is a recent example, as is Moonpig.
As Dragons’ Den star Nick Jenkins, founder of Moonpig, explains in this article, “What I was looking for was a name that had to be as few syllables as possible, it had to be unique on Google, it had to be phonetic, easily represented by a graphic logo […] and it had to be available as a domain name. I spent four days searching for a word that was unique on Google […and that was available as a domain name] that I could use for this and I couldn’t find anything. I was throwing all sorts of things into it.”
As Moonpig shows, as well as giving you a better chance of your first choice domain name being available, making up words helps you stand out from the crowd and build your own unique identity.
The only potential issue with it is that, as we mentioned above, it’s important to ensure it’s intuitive to spell and pronounce. Moonpig has the advantage of being a joining of two simple words, but Shpock is a bit harder to spell.
So, if you’re thinking of inventing a word for your domain name, make sure you subject it to our quick memorability checklist.
Although it is possible to move your website onto another domain in the future (see our Frequently Asked Questions, below), it’s better to pick a domain name that will stand the test of time.
Moving to a different domain name presents SEO issues, as well as potentially damaging the brand you’ve worked hard to build up.
Most obviously, you should avoid domain names with dates in. If you run a local fun run, for example, pick a URL such as yorkfunrun.uk rather than yorkfunrun2017.uk. This way, you can reuse the website each year rather than starting from scratch each time, and you’ll benefit from the strength the domain name has gained from people sharing and linking to it over the years.
If your website is for your business, you’ll need to think about where you see your business going in the future and make sure your domain name doesn’t limit your offering.
For instance, you might start out as a nail bar, with a domain name to reflect this, but what happens when, a few years down the line, you want to expand your services to include hairdressing?
The domain name itself isn’t your only consideration when you’re choosing a domain; you’ll also need to decide what extension to use.
The bit that comes after the full stop in your domain name is called a ‘Top-Level Domain’, and there’s a seemingly bewildering array to choose from. The domain you choose may have an impact on how your website is perceived; for example, .org.uk looks trustworthy because it’s used by official charities and non-profit organisations, while .biz or .net come across as less professional and have been associated with low-quality spam sites.
If you’re a UK-based business with UK customers, it’s best to choose a domain ending in .uk, as this is a trustworthy domain that shows visitors where you’re from. Google UK also gives more prominence to UK domains, so your website could potentially rank higher than a similar one with a .com domain, resulting in more traffic to your website and therefore more business.
If you’re in Wales, another option is a .wales or .cymru domain, which shows you’re Welsh and proud.
You have four options for .uk domains. The traditional one is .co.uk, which has the authority of being a firmly established Top-Level Domain. For charities and non-profits, .org.uk fits the bill perfectly.
More recently, the shorter .uk has provided a snappier, more up-to-date alternative to .co.uk, while .me.uk is ideal for building your own personal brand online, such as through a blog or portfolio site.
When you’ve shortlisted your favourites from the available domain names you’ve looked at, conduct a poll among your friends (or even your customers) and see which they like best.
They may notice something you haven’t, such as an unfortunate grouping of letters that forms a new word that you might not have intended.
It’s also worth asking a few people to have a go at spelling your domain and reading it out loud, as this will highlight whether your domain is simple enough for others to type and pronounce.
Having settled on your favourite domain name, it’s worth spending a bit of time researching it to make sure it isn’t legally protected.
If it’s very similar to that of a competitor – particularly a big competitor – they may well have protected their domain name and its variants with trademark or copyright. For example, you might be a small local cider producer, but if your domain name contains the word “apple”, it’s definitely worth checking you won’t run into problems with the Apple of iPhone fame.
It’s also important to check out what’s on similar domains. If someone trying to find your website ends up landing on a page with a similar domain name – perhaps that of a competitor, or even some kind of unsavoury content – you could end up either losing customers to a competitor, or managing a reputation problem.
As well as purchasing your chosen domain, try to buy variants of it.
If you have the .co.uk version, for example, get the .uk and .org.uk versions as well. This protects your domain name and stops others from capitalising on your success. For instance, it means that nobody else will be able to set up a competing website on a similar domain, attracting customers who may actually have been looking for your business.
You could also buy possible misspellings or typos of your domain name. For instance, if your domain was mischief.uk, you might want to acquire mischeif.uk as well.
To make the most of your purchases, make sure all your domain name variations are permanently redirected to your main domain so that anyone who tries to visit them ends up on your actual website. This can be done through your domain registrar.
Once you’ve chosen your domain name, head over to our guide on choosing a domain registrar to take the next step towards making your website a reality. You’ll also find lots more handy guides to help you with your new website in our library and on our blog.
Start your search for the perfect domain name
Frequently Asked Questions
Still want to learn more? We’ve compiled some of the questions we’re most often asked about choosing a domain name.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is the address you use to reach a website or send an email. Specifically, the domain name is the part of the address after the ‘www.’, or after the @ symbol in an email address.
How do domain names work?
Domain names work a bit like telephone numbers, allowing computers to navigate the internet to reach a specific point, such as a website or email inbox. Just like telephone numbers, every domain name must be unique.
Why do I have to register a domain name?
All domain names are registered with an organisation called ICANN, which stands for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Registering a domain creates an official contract that links you with your chosen domain. This helps prevent domain names from being used fraudulently.
Are domain names case sensitive?
Domain names are always lowercase, and you can’t use spaces or symbols (except for the hyphen – see below).
Can I use hyphens in my domain name?
Yes, you can use hyphens – and they’re sometimes used to separate the words in a domain, such as pink-elephant.uk. They can be useful for creating a similar domain name to one that’s already in use.
However, hyphens add complexity to a domain name, making it harder to remember and type, so we’d advise against using them unless you really want a particular domain that isn’t available without a hyphen.
If my first choice domain name is taken, what are my choices? What should I do if my company name isn’t available?
Depending on how niche your chosen name is, it’s common to find that your first choice of domain has already been taken. This is especially likely for short domains, which are in greater demand.
If your first choice isn’t available, you can search WHOIS to check availability of other domains. You could also experiment with different word orders, or try using a Thesaurus to find other words associated with what you do. You might find that a subtly different domain name is available – for example, adding a hyphen to separate a two-word domain.
If you have your heart set on a particular domain – perhaps because it’s your company name – visit the website and see what’s on it. If it’s no longer used, you might find that the owner is willing to sell it to you. Again, you can use WHOIS to find their contact details and drop them a speculative email.
How much does a domain name cost?
The cost of a domain name varies considerably depending on its likely popularity. Short, broad domain names like DIY.com would fetch millions of pounds, while many domains start from as little as 99p a year.
When I’ve brought my domain name does that mean I own it forever?
When you buy a domain name, you typically own it for a minimum of one year, although you can now register a .UK domain for up to ten years.
When the time is up, you’ll need to renew it to stop someone else from securing it. Your internet service provider or hosting company should remind you in plenty of time when it’s due for renewal, but it’s worth setting yourself a reminder as well. Providing you keep your registration up-to-date by renewing it in time, the domain can be yours forever.
Should I include ‘SEO keywords’?
So-called ‘exact match domains’ – those made up of keywords – are not as heavily favoured by search engine algorithms as they once were, but there’s still likely to be some benefit to using keywords in your domain.
For example, johnson.uk wouldn’t give much away about what your business does, but johnsongardening.uk would tell search engines (and potential customers) that your website is about gardening.
Be wary about how you use keywords in your domain name, however. Google actively penalises low-quality sites on exact match domains, as these are commonly associated with spam.
While you should still be able to rank in Google with a high-quality site even with an exact match domain, you might find it harder to do so. It’s also worth thinking about it from a branding perspective. A website address like yorkhotel.uk sounds a bit too generic, while grosvenorhotel.uk is more personal – it’s something you can build your own unique brand around.
What domain ending should I choose?
Your choice of domain ending (officially known as your ‘Top Level Domain’) is ultimately down to personal preference. However, if you’re targeting customers in the UK, it’s best to choose a .co.uk or .uk domain, as these are given greater prominence by Google UK and help show readers where you’re based. In the interests of keeping your domain as short as possible, you might prefer .uk to .co.uk, as it’s less effort to say and type.
How long can my domain name be?
Theoretically, domains can be up to 255 characters. However, we’d advise against using the full quota of characters; as we’ve seen, shorter domains are better because they’re easier to remember and type.
Where should I buy my domain name?
You can search for available UK domains here, or Welsh ones here. There are numerous domain registrars where you can then purchase your domain of choice; you can find a list of our accredited registrars on our buy a domain tool. You’ll find lots more information on choosing a domain name registrar here.
Once I have my domain name, what’s next?
Having secured your domain name, your next step is to choose your website hosting company, from whom you will effectively rent a corner of the internet for your website.
Then you’ll need to decide what content management platform you’ll use; WordPress is a straightforward one for beginners. You then choose a ‘theme’ (the design of your website) and start building your website, or hire someone to do it for you.
Can I change my domain name in the future?
Yes, you can. However, changing your domain name is not a decision to be taken lightly, as you’ll have worked hard to build up a brand around your old domain.
Moving domains involves buying a whole new domain name, taking a backup of your website and then importing that backup to the new domain. If you do decide to do this, have a read of our domain migration guide before you go ahead so that you know exactly what to expect.
Once your website has been transferred over, you’ll need to ensure that all your old pages correctly redirect to the new equivalents on the new domain.
You’ll need to hang onto the old domain and permanently redirect it, as this prevents anyone else from setting up in competition on your old domain, and ensures you don’t lose customers who may still be searching for your old website.
The process of changing domains can also result in a loss of search engine rankings, and although some of your old search engine ‘ranking power’ will be carried across in the redirect process, it’s not guaranteed and could still impact your business.