You’re really excited about the website idea you have. You can picture what you want it to look like and have a rough idea of the content you plan to include.
But before you start building out your website, you need to figure out what its name will be. And that’s a question that’s complicated by the fact that you can’t choose just anything—it has to be something that has the domain name available.
How Domain Names Work
How domain names work is that they are the main address for a website online. A domain name is what people type into their browser to bring up your website, like www.cutepuppypictures.com or http://homemadesoaps.net.
While technically, you have an IP address that identifies where your website lives on the web for other computers, the domain name is a name you choose that better matches what your website is. It’s easier for your visitors to remember, provides your website’s main identification online, and is an important component in how well you’ll perform in the search engines.
Your domain name doesn’t technically have to match your website’s name, but if you want to avoid confusing your visitors and pick something that will be easy for them to remember, it should. Make sure to take your time when choosing a domain name, this is not something you want to rush and regret later.That’s why it’s important to consider what domain names are available before you decide what to name your website or business.
Find Out: Is My Domain Name Available?
If you already have a name in mind for your website, you can do a quick search to find out if it’s available at: https://www.hostgator.com/domains
The search will show you:
- If the exact name you’re searching is available.
- What the availability is for different top-level extensions, such as .com, .net, or .org.
- What the cost of the domain is for the different top-level extensions.
- Suggested alternatives to your domain name that are available if it’s not, or that are cheaper than the exact name you’re searching for.
With over 1.8 billion websites already on the web, the likelihood that the first idea you have for your website will be available is low. So if your first search reveals that your domain name is already taken, don’t be surprised.
And don’t despair, you still have options.
My Preferred Domain Name Isn’t Available, What Now?
Now, you need to do some brainstorming to find a domain name that works for the website you have in mind and that is still available. Here are four steps to take.
1. Consider the suggested alternatives.
HostGator’s domain search helpfully serves up a list of domain name ideas related to your search that are available as a .com.
Give these options a look. If you see one you love, your search is over! You can register it right now and get to work building your website.
Those suggestions are auto generated though, so a lot of the time, they won’t quite get at the main idea you want to express with your website. Algorithms just don’t think the way people do.
2. Consider different top-level domain options.
Your next potentially easy option is to go for something other than .com. There is one big downside to consider here though: .com is what people think of first, so you risk people navigating to another site when they’re trying to find yours.
On the other hand, many browsers now remember the websites users have visited before and auto-fill them in, so many of your repeat visitors will be able to find you without issue even if their impulse is to type in the wrong domain name. And when people end up on a different website than they intended to, their first impulse is to use Google to get to the right one, so as long as you show up in the search engine for your website’s name, they’ll still be able to find you.
The sheer number of top level domains available today means there’s a decent chance you can find the domain name you had in mind available with one of them. But most top level domains communicate something specific, and you don’t want to choose one that’s not relevant to you. For example, if your business is based in the United States, choosing a .de domain name—the top level domain for German websites—doesn’t make sense.
Some good general options that make sense for almost any website are:
- .name (best for websites of individuals)
- .me (best for websites of individuals)
- .us (for US-based businesses)
Some good ones to consider for businesses are:
There are also a number of industry or topic domain names you can consider, a few examples include:
If the domain you want is available for one of the top level domains that make sense for your business, then you can stop your search here. If you’re still not satisfied though, keep exploring your options.
3. Think of similar variations.
A lot of the time, you can figure out a domain name that’s really close to the original one you had in mind that is still available. The person who had hoped for cutepuppypictures.com can continue their search for domain names that use hyphens or similes.
Get out your thesaurus and come up with a list of as many similar variations of the domain name as you can. It may take some work and a lot of searches, but you can probably find some variation that’s still available with a top level domain you want.
4. Brainstorm alternative ideas.
If none of the previous steps helped you find a domain name that would work, then do some more brainstorming. Think about:
- Words related to what your website will be about. The similes from your thesaurus may not have given you what you need, but the English language has a lot of words. Try to think of as many related ones as you can. The Related Words tool can help.
- Clever puns. A good pun in your domain name is a way to give your website some personality right off the bat, while also helping you find a name that’s memorable without being obvious enough to have already been snatched up. If puns aren’t your specialty, the Pun Generator can help.
- Popular keywords. Keyword research not only reveals a lot of terms similar to the one you had in mind, but it also shows you what language people are using when they’re searching for what you plan to have on your website. And when possible, including a keyword in your URL can help with SEO (search engine optimization).
- Words that mean something to you. One of the best ways to come up with a domain name that 100 people before you haven’t already thought of is to make it personal. If your website will mostly be pictures of your puppy Buddy, something like buddyspuppypics.com will probably be more accessible than a more generic name, and will still be memorable and accurate.
It will probably require some time and creativity, but by following these steps, you should eventually be able to find a domain name that’s available.
I Found an Available Domain! What’s Next?
You finally found an available domain that works for you. There’s no time to lose, claim it while you still have the chance!
1. Register the domain.
Domain registration is quick and easy. You can register a domain name right at Hostgator.
Whether or not you register through HostGator, you’ll want to make sure you choose an option for registering your domain that makes domain name management easier. You’ll need to renew your domain every year—and if you forget or are late paying, the domain could be snatched out from under you.
If that happens, you’re not just losing the domain name itself, you’re losing all the recognition and SEO authority you’ve built on it so far. Look for a provider that provides auto-renewal and domain locking to save you from that trouble.
2. Consider domain privacy.
When you register a domain, the company you buy it from is required to pass your contact information along to the ICANN WHOIS directory. The idea is that if a website owner uses their site to break the law, the government needs a way to track the owner down and hold them accountable.
But the directory publishes that information on the open web where anyone can access it, which opens you up to dealing with contact from strangers and increased spam. If you’re not comfortable with that, some companies that provide domain registration also offer domain name privacy. For a small fee, they’ll replace the contact information they provide to the directory with a proxy email address, to save you from the nuisance of having your real contact information available where anyone could find it.
3. Choose your web hosting plan.
You’re almost done! The main thing you need besides a domain to publish your website online is web hosting. Every website you see online is stored in a physical server somewhere. In most cases, the physical server is provided and maintained by web hosting companies that provide hosting for thousands of different websites.
Your next big choice after deciding on a domain name is figuring out which web hosting platform and plan to go with. Most new websites can stick with an affordable shared web hosting plan, but websites that expect a lot of traffic or expect to need extra storage space and bandwidth should consider cloud hosting or VPS hosting.
Whichever type of plan you go with, it’s important to choose a provider with a strong reputation for providing consistent service. Look for at least 99.9% uptime—that’s the amount of time your website will be available and working.
Also consider how many domains your web hosting plan will allow. If you hope to have more than one over time (or have already registered a few), then you’ll need a plan that allows that. In addition, if your web hosting provider lets you manage your domain in the same place that you manage your web hosting, it will make your life easier over time—you’ll only have to set up billing and reminders in one system.
4. Build your website.
If finding a good available domain seemed difficult, know that you’re just getting started. Now you have to do the work of building your website, launching it onto the web, and promoting it to the wider world. For that first part, if you don’t know anything about web design or coding, you can choose between hiring a professional designer to build your website for you, or investing in an affordable website builder.
No matter what type of website you create, some elements of design are consistently important. Make sure that the website you build is:
- Responsive, so it works well on mobile. Any good designer should be able to create a responsive website, and many website builders include responsive templates.
- Optimized for search, which means identifying the primary keywords you want to rank for and including them in the URL, title, heading, and alt tags for each page of your website.
- Intuitive for visitors. Make sure the way you organize your website makes it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for and navigate between different pages of the site. Create a clear menu and design each page so that it’s easy to find the main information you share on it.
Finding the Right Available Domain Name is Just the Start
Finding an available domain name that’s just right for your website is an exciting first step in starting your website, but it’s just that: a first step. Once your domain is registered, get to work planning out what your website will look like and bringing your idea into reality. Then work on your plan to promote your website to the world.
The right domain name will definitely make it easier for people to find and remember your website, but with so many different websites online, it’s not enough. Be prepared to work on SEO, share your website on social media, and try out various marketing tactics to help people find your content. If the goal is to bring your ideas and products to the world, learning how to register a domain name is just one of many important steps to making that happen.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.