If you're in the expert's space and want to start building your business, choosing a domain name will be one of your first big decisions. You might decide to use your own name, your business name, or a domain name that relates to your market.
Why is your domain name so important?
Your domain name is like your online calling card. When people search online for whatever it is you offer, it's great if they're already familiar with your business and know exactly what to type in to find you, but most often, they don't.
If they're coming to your site for the first time, you want them to take note of your domain name which means it's got to be memorable. That way the next time they're thinking about what you offer, they'll remember you and go straight to your site.
How to Choose the Perfect Domain Name
There are lots of different types of domain names. I'll cover them for you here …
If your company is all about you personally, then it's possible to just use your own name as your domain name. For instance, MichaelHyatt.com offers courses for time management and leadership all from his personal domain name.
Using a personal domain is perfect for an online course business where the focus of the course is your expertise. Check and see if your name is available as a domain name. You can always include your middle name or initial if it's not.
Advantages of a Personal Domain
One advantage of having a personal domain is that you can do whatever you want (even switching up markets) and it doesn't matter, you won't ever have to change your domain name. Obviously, it also builds up your credibility. You're way more likely to become famous in your space using a personal domain and branding yourself than if you don't use a personal domain.
Whether you choose this route or not, it's smart to at least buy your name if it's available. If you're an author then it's definitely important, but it can be useful even if you're offering courses.
Eventually you may want to move toward your own personal brand and you don't want someone else to have your name!
Disadvantages of Using a Personal Domain
Never play the hero, play the guide.
This marketing advice comes from StoryBrand. I think it's sound advice. For me, the story needs to be about my customer, not me. They're the hero. I'm just the guide.
Personally, I think some of these personal brand sites are a little too self serving.
I'd rather put the emphasis on the people I serve, but many internet celebrities with a personal domain complete with tons of professional photos of themselves are doing extremely well.
I sure can't argue with their success. So if that's how you want to go about things, you definitely can. Just start by grabbing your domain name and model the success of others also building personal brands.
In my opinion, Brendon Burchard does it best …
He's so popular now he's moved onto a first name only kind of operation which you can find at brendon.com. What makes him different is that his message is all about serving people and everything he does comes across that way. So if it were me, I'd model off his success.
One big disadvantage to using a personal domain is that your business will be directly tied to you. It will be hard if not impossible to sell your business. It can also be hard to stop creating the content if the content is directly tied to you.
For example, Marieforleo,com produces a video every week with who else but Marie Forleo in all the videos. What would it be like if she stopped starring in those videos? People may stop watching them.
The trouble is, she kind of can't get off that roller coaster, but with her success, she probably doesn't even want to.
It's just something to think about. Being a ‘celebrity' and having a personal domain name directly ties you to the business long-term.
What If Your Name is Taken?
If you're name is already taken you've still got some choices. You can include:
- A middle initial or your middle name.
- A word like ‘online' added at the end.
- Even two initials and your last name.
Another option that doesn't cement you to your business quite as much is to use your last name plus what you do. ShultzPhotoSchool.com is a good example of this.
You could also use .me or another extension if you're OK with that, but I'd consider this a very last resort.
If you don't want to use your own name as your domain name then consider your business name if you've already got a business set-up.
For example; searchenginejournal.com, yahoo.com, or google.com.
Your domain name can be a variation of your business name if the full name is already taken.
Your business name can either convey your business or have nothing to do with it. It can be clever or use keywords (which we'll get to below).
Using a Clever Domain
If you don't want to go either of those routes then you can try to come up with a clever domain name. These are often very memorable. Sometimes these domain names take a little time to figure out. The point is, when your visitor figures it out, they always remember it.
An example is Glassdoor.com.
If you've never visited glassdoor.com, it's a site where employees review the company they work for. So it's like visitors can see into the company from the reviews. Therefore, it's called glassdoor.com. It's kind of clever and very memorable once you see the connection.
Clickminded.com is another one. It's a site focusing on digital marketing training. Clicking around is what us digital marketer types do sooooooo … clickminded.com is the brand. Again, it's very memorable.
For clever domain names there's a connection, but it's not always obvious.
And sometimes there's not really any connection, it's just cool and different. Sumo.com is kind of an example of this.
I think clever domain names are great, but they can be difficult for us mere mortals to come up with. You've got to plan ahead and come up with branding as well as your domain name all at once. If you can do it then that's fantastic as you'll have a memorable domain name and brand. Often, clever domain names are sold as premium domain names.
Choosing a Keyword Domain
Keyword domains include keywords which are the words people type into a search engine to find what they're looking for. So the example searchenginejournal.com is one with keywords in it. It's not clever, it's just direct and straight to the point.
Although I'm talking about keyword domains, SEO stuffing your domain name blows.
Don't just get a domain name for SEO purposes. Having keywords in your domain name is not enough for you to get high rankings on its own. You have to have good content with backlinks given based on merit to get high rankings.
Just because you buy speakspanishcourses.com doesn't mean you'll automatically rank high for “speak spanish courses”.
You'll still have to put in just about as much effort as someone with a domain name that doesn't have those keywords in them.
Keyword stuffing worked better a long time ago, but Google's gotten smarter so this isn't going to give you much help now. Plus speakspanishcourses.com kind of sounds lame (sorry if someone already owns that).
Just use keywords if it makes sense for your business and helps visitors remember you.
Done that way it's fine and helpful.
My domain name, businessbolts.com has the keyword “business” in it. I'm not trying to rank high for that keyword, but I think it helps convey what the site's about. Plus I'm less clever and more direct so I feel OK with it.
I've had a lot of domain names with keywords of some sort in them so people know what the site's about.
Here are a few examples of keyword domains offering online courses:
You can tell what all these are just by looking at the domain names. For the most part, they're not real creative, but they belong in the market. I think this is an OK place to be.
Disadvantages of a Keyword Domain
One disadvantage of a keyword domain is that you're kind of stuck with your market.
Take the following domain for example, pinterestpresence.com. You don't even have to visit the site and you know it's about getting tips on advertising with Pinterest. But what if she changes it up later on and moves to Instagram marketing?
She can't put that course on the Pinterest site now and build it up to be one big catalog of sites.
Just a few things to think about.
It's why I went with businessbolts.com even though I had originally thought I'd get a domain name related more to online courses.
I ended up spending a week looking for something better, but stuck with businessbolts.com.
For one, the domain name I really wanted was slightly clever, but taken. I could never come up with something better.
I also thought I might branch out later on if the site took off. So keeping it broad seemed OK.
You can always change your domain name, but it does mess up all the branding you've built up to that point. So in a lot of cases, it's best to stick with it.
How to Come Up With a Domain Name
I've got several tips on how to come up with a domain name. You can start by:
- Researching other company's that are offer the same thing as you or similar things.
- Researching other company's in other markets.
What I do is look at all my competitors and their domain names (I look at my competitors for a lot of things).
If I don't get any good ideas from that I'll often find a comparable.
A comparable is a company that doesn't quite sell what you sell, but they sell something similar.
I've been in the test prep market for a long time and a test prep niche that is a comparable to mine is the CPA exam market. That's the exam people take to become certified accountants. It's big. I look at a lot of things going on in that market to see what they're doing. You can do the same.
For instance if your market is teaching people Spanish then that's easy. Go look at French or German or all the different types of language courses and check out the domain names in those markets. Or go look at “learn English” and see what people are using for their domain name in that market.
Take notes of cool domain names or even just secondary words in the domain name. Like “learn”. Then you can turn around and type that into thesaurus.com and see what else comes up.
Here's My Process:
If I'm thinking of creating a course for people interested in learning Spanish, I would visit thesaurus.com and type ‘learn' into the search box.
Then I'd click on the search icon to be taken to the following page:
‘Review' is a word that stands out so I'd click on it and go to the following page:
In my case I don't like any of those words so I'd go back to the learn page.
I'd scan that again and maybe click on ‘study' to see what comes up there.
I'd search those words and see ‘muse'. I'm thinking spanishmuse.com
I'd look on Namecheap.com to see if that's available and it is (for a premium price). It's $943.00 for spanishmuse.com. If you're not sure what a premium domain name is I've got an article to help you out.
I have no idea if spanishmuse.com really is the best domain name if you're teaching people Spanish (especially since you'd have to pay nearly $1,000 for it). It took me less than 5 minutes to come up with this name.
I just wanted to show you a quick example of how I do it.
I'd keep going this way until I found one I liked that wasn't a premium price (although $943 is not as bad as most premium domain names).
Here's Another Example …
Searching the Google results, I found a site called fluentu.com. So they combined fluent + u (but it's not spelled ‘you' so I bet they have some confusion). I try to avoid names where you could confuse people.
Anyway, we can use the word ‘fluent' to search. I typed fluent into thesaurus and it came back with articulate, expressive, distinct, and explore.
Keep in mind, most people have the reading skills of about an 8th grader so some of these words are too big and too difficult to spell.
You'd want to make sure to pick a word that people can spell easily. ‘Explore' is probably the best one listed. So you could try ExploreSpanish.com or ExploreSpanishOnline.com.
Whether you like that or not, you can look around using ‘fluent' as a starting point.
A more creative, clever domain in the language marketplace is RosettaStone.com.
Babbel.com is also a nice one, but really, Babbel might be too hard to spell.
Just do the best you can and play around with the process.
That's where the magic happens.
I've come up with domain names I hated later on, but made a lot of money from the courses I've sold from them so it never really mattered. This isn't something you want to spend more than a week on intensively.
And when you find the domain you're thinking of buy it right away (within about 24 hours). You can give yourself time to sleep on it, but then buy it. There are a lot of people buying and selling domain names and you don't want to miss out on the perfect domain name.
Tips for Choosing the Right Domain Name
Make sure your domain name is easy to say, spell, and type because that helps make it easy to remember. Make it is as short as possible because shorter is easier to remember.
Ideally, you want a domain name you'll be willing to keep. You don't want to have to keep changing it.
One point to make is you can buy a domain name that sucks a little (maybe it's got an extra word in there) and then upgrade it to one that drops the extra word when you have more money. For instance, Facebook.com was thefacebook.com. Sumome.com turned into sumo.com.
The problem is, if your site becomes popular then the owner of that premium domain will probably be clued in enough to ask for even more money. However, it is one way to get around the premium domain name price issue especially when you're starting out and not making any money.
Hard and Fast Rules for Domain Names
What characters can be used in a domain name?
All letters and numbers can be used. Although sometimes we write them with capital letters, characters are not case sensitive.
You can include a hyphen as long as its surrounded by characters or numbers. You can't put a hyphen at the beginning or end. It has to be used to separate something. You can use more than one hyphen in a row if you want (why would you want this though?).
What characters are not allowed in a domain name?
Anything that's not a letter or a number or a hyphen in the middle. So that's everything else.
Can you use an underscore in a domain name?
No, see above.
Can you use an ampersand in a domain name?
No, again see above.
Special characters like an exclamation mark and ampersand are not permitted (at this point).
In addition, you can't use spaces.
How long can a domain name be?
Less than 63 characters for .com, .net, and .org.
How long should your domain name be?
As short as possible since shorter is more memorable. The problem is that the shorter version of your domain name may be taken and you'll have to add in more words to find one that's available.
On the bright side, a longer domain name can help you better describe your site.
Some registrars have further limits.
Above all, you want your domain name to be easy to say in the event you tell it to someone else. You don't want your visitors or target market asking how to spell it or asking you to repeat it several times. They'll never remember the right spelling later on. You want your domain name to be memorable.
Things You Shouldn't Do When it Comes to Domain Names
Although you can do all this fancy stuff with hyphens why would you want to? Come visit me online at Jennifer hyphen Smith . com. No thanks.
You're going to have to tell someone that. People will have to type that in and it just doesn't have a professional look to it. I'd avoid hyphens. Find a different domain name if at all possible just so you don't need to include hyphens (especially not 2 in a row).
Don't use creative spellings in your domain name. Creative spelling can be hard to pronounce and even harder to remember.
Don't put a number in there unless it makes sense.
Don't use an obscure domain extension. I've read a lot of articles online telling you to do just that, but if it were me, I'd stick with .com and look for a different angle to the name.
It doesn't have to be your company name.
Tesla has Teslamotors.com (see how they added to it, but it seems to fit completely?)
One thing to point out is that your domain name can be completely different from your company or business name. You can have one company that then has several different websites selling to different markets.
Another tip is that your domain name doesn't have to be too niche. It's not always wise to box yourself into a small space. Leave your options open where possible.
Lastly, be careful when inventing a new word as your name. This doesn't always work out so well.
What To Do If the Perfect Domain Name is Taken?
You can do more research and investigating.
Alternately, you can try to buy the domain name anyway by contacting the current owner.
You can get a different extension if you're desperate, but again I don't like doing that. One reason justifying this is to get it and then try to buy the .com version while you're building the domain with the alternate extension up.
The .com is the most popular domain extension. I recommend a .com if at all possible.
It's not just about branding. It can just be for your customer's sake. If you've got some weird extension, they may not even be able to find your site again. Here's a few top-level domain extensions though if you're interested in alternates:
There are also country level domain extensions. .io is being used a lot lately and it looks cool. It's a country level domain for the British Indian Ocean Territory. So ya, think carefully before you go that route.
A domain registrar will tell you to register all the extensions.
Also spammers send me letters in the mail telling me I should grab up all these extensions. You really don't need to. You can, but a lot of people don't. It's probably a waste of your money in most cases.
When you've narrowed down your choice, check the domain name with a backlink checker tool. If it's ever been used before, it may already have a backlink profile. If it does, then make sure to click through to a few of those sites. Often you can tell if these are legitimate links or not. If the domain name has a ton of links on spammy looking sites then you may not want it because they may make it difficult to rank your new site on search engines.
In addition, research the domain name and make sure it's not trademarked or being used by another company.
For instance, you might buy the .io version of your domain name thinking you'll eventually grab the .com when you start making the big money. But if that .com is in use and trademarked, they'll probably make you give them that .io and stop going by that name.
So just look around. You can use the USPTO.gov trademark search tool to search around a little before you settle on something.
To wrap this up, selecting your domain name is a big step in the process of starting your online course business. You'll want to spend a little time reviewing your options before you build a business around your domain.
Once you finally make the choice register your domain name (I suggest within 24 hours after you make your decision so it doesn't disappear on you). Register your domain name through Namecheap or use one of the other popular domain registrars. Registering your domain name typically only takes a few minutes.
Finally, you'll want to learn what to do after buying a domain name. That way you can get up and running ASAP.
If you've got any tips or interesting stories on choosing a domain name, let us know in the comments below …