Thinking Up Good Domain Names for Your Own Projects

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Forget your head and go with your heart? See more great illustrations on Christina Mrozik’s* site

Buying domain names for profit is one thing. When you need to come up with a good name for a project of your own – that’s quite another.

Good domain names can be hard to find these days as domainers, and millions of end users, have made sure. For some people, thinking up a catchy name in a tough subject is a great challenge – a chance to set your wits against others. For others – it’s quickly the most frustrating thing on earth.

Whichever you are (it can be both) if you find a topic well trawled over for names, you don’t have the luxury of just moving on, as you do in domaining-for-profit.

Fortunately, while you might lament that the best available name is also the best name for your project, that’s not always the case. Developers are after something different than a successful domainer is – they’re looking for a one off solution to make their website a world-beater.

So, to come up with the best possible name ourselves, we sometimes have to forget some of the “rules” we all know about wise domain investing. Some of those rules might be:

  • - .com is king
  • - a LL.com is the best name you can own
  • - Generic names are the best
  • - Forget exotic extensions, like .cc and .ie
  • - Avoid typos
  • - Avoid .net (as traffic can “bleed” to the .com)

In place of these rules, here’s one fairly simple process you might try to work through, to come up with the best possible name for your own development projects. This process could be used to get into the mind of and end user, and to find names to reg for profit. But, more often than not, these types of domains all require development to become valuable, and so are generally not worth registering for reselling purposes. It can reveal some powerful names to develop and make money on the internet, however.

Subject area suitability and inherent user credibility (for your particular target audience) are two key attributes you are looking for here. To a large extent, these will become self evident as you scan your options (some will just feel ‘right’ – or ‘wrong’). There is one quality however – memorability – that trumps all other factors. If you can’t remember your own name easily, you’re in trouble. Memorability will be the gas that drives your name – from people’s mouths, and to people’s brains as they think of a problem, or look on the web.

A trick to finding a memorable domain name is to firstly try this exercise. Brainstorm all of the websites – in any area – that you yourself can remember. Importantly, these should be names that you can remember in full, off the top of your head ,without reference to a search engine (don’t scroll down here and cheat, either!). These should ideally be sites that you, or close friends, use regularly, and you don’t need to Google to see if you have the right wording (or extension) just perfect. Sure, you might know 200-400 sites like this (if you think hard for an hour), but about 30 should come to mind quickly, before most of the others. These will be the ones most likely to stand the word of mouth test. Write these 30 down.

Secondly, try to order these names into their categories of types names, such as: made up words (eg. “Skype”), generic keywords (“American Airlines”), deliberate misspellings (“Digg”), and the different prefixes and suffixes used (“+Pal”, “i+”, “+Tube”, etc.)

Website names

Words eh? Just 24 letters jumbled up*

Next, go ahead and brainstorm all of the keywords relating to your service you wish to offer, thinking as broadly as possible at this point. Broad is the key point here. For while Facebook might be a website for talking to “friends”, it takes its name from Highschool yearbooks, where pictures of faces represent people you know. “Face” is hence a surrogate replacement for “Friends”. UrbanDictionary.com (incidentally, a great place to find unusual word variations) is another example. The ‘dictionary’ is about slang, but “Urban” is a closely enough related term to do just fine. It even gives an edge where a perfect generic term (“Slang”) would be too descriptive.

A trick to be able to do this well is to play a word association game on paper, where you write one word, and around it list off branches of all the related terms that come to mind. Repeat the process for each of the new words, and so on, until you have some really unique terms others may not have thought of. Use a real life (hardcover) thesaurus to help you in this process (the online ones are often weak, and well used by other domainers).

Now take some of those keywords and start playing with some of the “tricks” you found were used in some of your most memorable website name list. This is not to mindlessly copy these past trends (we don’t need any more GodTubes, FoodTubes, and BasketballTubes et al.) but, instead, to get you thinking creatively about your name. Besides, doing this with Alexa 500 names as you probably are necessarily has something to teach us about bringing in the crowds.

Everyone’s website list will be different, but here’s some obvious examples you might have come up with. Words that signify “largeness” are usually winners on these lists, as Google (a variant of a very large number) and Amazon (a large river) attest. With a bit of clever marketing, these types of names can become bigger (no pun intended) than a perfect generic term (who has ever used searchengines.com, or bookshop.com?). So, think if any “large” words can be used for your particular product. If you can find one, grab it.

Conversely, perfect match keywords in exotic extensions can become brandable names in their own right. I use favicon.cc most weeks, and the name sticks in my mind very easily. Dot me names should work great in this regard, or other new extensions. Generally, these names follow the rule that your name should only have one thing to remember about it (in this case, the extension). Greatfavicons.cc would have been two things to remember – the “Great” and the “.cc” – which makes it a poor choice. This is one reason hyphens are often a bad idea, unless you have a really generic keyword to begin with (such as Picnic-Baskets.com). Perfect keyword choices in the top extensions are great for search engine optimization, also.

Don’t forget local extensions (like .co.uk, .it, .co.nz etc), also. You’d be surprised how many generic .co.uk’s there are available, and sometimes locality can be important to your service. Some of the biggest sites on the web are country specific and use local extensions (“realestate.com.au” is an example). These generics originally went for a fraction of the cost of a .com generic.

If you provide a unique service, then grabbing the generic – or most descriptive – term is a great strategy… both to explain your service, and put off the competition. DNCleaner.com is a great example – “DN” for Domain Name, and “Cleaner” because – well – it cleans domain names from lists.

Noun or adjective dictionary words are another regular winner in these lists, but these have been zooming up in price for a long time now, and already well sought after by the big companies (Pool, Fabulous, Apple, Sky, anyone?).

Original Apple

The original Apple concept- as thunked up by the Beatles*

For this reason, typo variations of dictionary words are a great reg fee option (again, with only one thing to remember – the spelling). Good examples are digg.com, fffound.com and our good old Google. But, if you need more than three double letters, or cannot easily remember and describe your own domain name – keep looking! For the reasons mentioned above I’d steer away from these types of names in extensions other than .com.

Some prefixes and suffixes to try might be more obvious than others (“e+”, “+Pal”, et al) – and, also, already taken to boot. It is the lesser known prefixes that are the ones to try these days. After all, you don’t want a name too much like somebody else’s, do you? Dynadot is one such great name – maybe I just like them because they let me easily delete my bad registrations within 4 or 5 days. “Dyna” is a relatively underused prefix (meaning “power”), and the “dot” is a pretty basic brainstorming variation for “domains”. The result is both unique, and seems to “fit” its purpose. Namejet and Snapnames follow a similar logic. For a great list of prefixes and suffixes, try out this great list.

Remember, this process might not yield you a “Microsoft” killer name straight away. But let the names on your list rest, or put them aside completely for a few days – and see what other words, terms, or examples your brain picks out, using your subconscious to do the work. Something on your list might really stick in your mind. Others obviously won’t stick. Leaving your list also means that when you do come across a new term, word, logo or business name in your travels – in a magazine, billboard, or on an available domain name list perhaps – you might be ready to pounce.

If you still haven’t found anything decent yet, try one of the “Domain Idea Generation Tools” listed on this site. There are some great name tumblers, random word generators etc – and one might just hit the mark. There will be plenty of these for a while now – even if there is a big difference between Yahoo and Qxyty.com.

Sometimes, however, it seems all of the decent variations are taken, especially relating to strong keyword areas, such as loans, food, or city names. If you do find a favorite that is taken, consider making an offer (via whois.sc) for an already taken name – but only parked -name that turned up in your search. True, often you will get a reply saying that a name is for sale for $50,000, but at other times you may hit the opposite reaction. With the above skills you will never be desperate to make a deal. Anyway, any name’s owner may have had it for a couple of years, had no offers for it, accumulated renewal costs, and perhaps had even trying to sell it at forums with no interest (it happens more often than you think). Such a seller may be willing to part with it for under $50. Consider offers somewhere between $40 and $100 as a good range to try off the bat, that could result in a price that lets you both walk away happy. If you are a domainer approaching a fellow domainer, consider also swapping one of your names for something that might suit them just as well – it’s cheap for you but potentially mutually beneficial.

Or, if you see an unwanted looking domain name about to expire (again using whois) put a backorder on it and wait, just as you might a resale name.

Other options are to put your desired keywords into an expired name automatic updater service that searches drops for your keyword and sends out daily emails with them in there. Pool or Just Dropped offer such services – you can easily snag a great expired name that way (a note for some – Pool’s list misses many great names).

Putting up a want ad, in a “Domain Name Wanted” section of a domaining forum such as at Namepros is another great way to find great names. Domainers in forums are also often generous in answering advice about name-finding ‘problems’ – two hundred heads are better than one with this, and they are the professionals, after all. Having domainers help choose between three or four options is another thing the experts might be able to help you with.

Finally, when regging a name for a pet project, make sure you use a good registrar, such as Dynadot or Moniker, that allows deletion for credit (minus a small fee) after 4 days if you don’t like a name. There’s nothing worse than having an account full of project name “drafts”, that even you can’t stand the look of anymore!

Once you’ve found your perfect name? Well it’s brand, brand, brand! There are plenty of tricks in doing that successfully – but ones we’ll leave that for another guide.

Do you have any more hints or tips for thinking up good domain names for projects? Or some successful examples of your own? Get an easy link by mentioning them here.

 

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