Tools Used In This Recipe
It will take tremendous willpower, skill, and a little luck to bring your startup idea to life. You don't technically need to have a domain name until you formally launch, but getting it registered early can be a huge benefit:
- Since domain names are guaranteed to be unique they are naturally resistant to copyright infringement claims. When you decide to incorporate, using the domain name as the legal name of the business extends that resistance to the rest of the business.
- Most domain name registrars will give you a 'parking page' when you register a domain, which means that your startup will now be reachable online. This can give you a sense that the project is 'real'.
- Their low price point means that most common domain names are already registered; the minute you settle on a name for your company you should take steps to
Selecting a domain name
If you aren't familiar with the structure of a domain name, take a minute to review this article before continuing. This recipe will use abbreviations like TLD, so it will help to understand what those refer to.
The price of a domain name has remained remarkably consistent since their introduction at about $10 for common TLDs like .com. This has made it easy for companies to register a presence online, but as a side effect it's invited speculators to register tens of thousands of domain names at a time in the hope that a company will be willing to pay much higher rates to acquire the rights in the secondary market. As a result you'll find that the domain name you want is already registered. In some cases you can purchase the name you want from its current owner, but expect to pay a significant markup if you do. Given the dynamics of this market, startups have needed to get creative about the domain name they select. Use the following checklist when generating ideas for your domain name:
- Make sure the domain name contains your company name. Use brandable words rather than generics. Most people will find your web presence through a search rather than typing your domain name, and search engines rank websites higher for keywords if they are part of the domain name.
- Shorter is better. Every extra letter is a chance for typo that means a potential customer won't find you.
- As an exception to the 'shorter is better' rule, combinations of words are easier for potential customers to remember even if they are longer. Domain names can't contain spaces so practice reading potential domain names to determine which are more visually distinct.
- Don't select a name that's difficult to sound out. This means no numbers, unless you can register both the number and spelled-out version. For the same reason, avoid dashes unless you can register the version without them.
- Check for points of potential confusion. Avoid words that are commonly misspelled or are not familiar to your audience. If you are using a domain name with word combinations, make sure that the combination can't be mis-interpreted and doesn't contain any offensive terms in your language or other languages.
- Check availability on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Ideally your account handle on those platforms will be the same as or similar to your domain name.
Do I need to use .com? What about one of the other TLDs?
Alternative TLDs have become popular in recent years due to the lack of available .com domains, and the approval of hundreds of new TLDs by ICANN, the governing body for the domain name system. Country-specific TLDs like .ai, .co, and .tv have become popular as alternatives, and newer TLDs like .works and .club have seen spikes in registration. But the answer to the question is yes, you should use .com. Many web browsers and online forms default to .com, and it's still the most recognizable TLD. Although it will cost more, a good strategy is to register a .com domain even if it's longer, and also register a shorter domain with one of the other TLDs and point both to your website. That way you'll benefit from both ways that customers try to reach you.
Strategies for finding a domain name
If the name you are interested in is taken, you can sometimes find available domain names in the .com space by adding prefixes, suffixes, or both. The popular audio chat app Clubhouse uses the domain joinclubhouse.com. Pocket, the popular bookmarking app, uses getpocket.com. Other popular prefixes are with-, try-, my-, and go-. You can also add a suffix. If you are developing an app, you can add -app (and potentially pair it with the .app TLD). -online, -club, -direct, and -info are all good suffixes. If you plan on focusing on the U.S. market to start, adding -usa is a fine strategy. If you are still stuck, the Lean Domain Search tool, maintained by the team that created Wordpress, can give you thousands of combinations to choose from.
Registering a Domain Name with Namecheap
Once you have settled on a domain name it's time to register it, and for this you will need a licensed domain name registrar. There are several available but for this recipe we'll use Namecheap. What follows is a basic walkthrough but Namecheap's support site has a more detailed version that's also helpful.
When you navigate to their home page you'll immediately have the option to enter the domain name you want to register.
If the domain name you want is already registered, the results page will look like this:
If it's available to register the screen will look like this:
Buying a domain name works a lot like buying from any other online store. You add the domain name to your cart and when you are finished shopping, just go to your cart to start the checkout process.
You'll need to register for an account and provide a valid credit card to register the domain. The first time you register a domain, you'll be required to provide contact information that the registrar is required to store in the WHOIS database. If you have already established your company as a legal entity there's an option to include information related to the company as well. You have the option to designate separate contacts for administrative purposes, technical purposes, and billing purposes, but you can set all these to be the same if needed.
Leave the domain privacy feature enabled. Since the WHOIS registry is public, owner information is available to anyone who is able to query it. domain privacy doesn't affect your ownership but it uses generic contact in the registry so you don't get unwanted spam or mail. The fact that this service is free is one of the best reasons to use Namecheap over a different registrar.
Unless you already have a Domain Name System (DNS) configuration in place, it's fine to use Namecheap Basic DNS. You can check the Enable Email Forwarding option and have all email sent to this domain forwarded to a different email, such as a personal one. This can be helpful if you don't plan on setting up individual email accounts using the new domain right away.
If you already have a website and domain name and you want to use this domain as an alternate, you can check the Enable URL Forwarding option and enter the domain you want this one to redirect to.
Once your domain name is registered, it may take anywhere from a few minutes to up to 24 hours but eventually you will be able to open a web browser and enter your domain name to access it. There won't be anything there (yet), so your next step is to get started with the landing page recipe or start building out your website.