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Domain names for startups

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Here’s a quick guide to selecting a domain name for your new venture.

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In 2007 I presented to a group at Bootstrap Austin about choosing a domain for their businesses. A lot has changed since then. (I recommended people use Moniker back then!)

Here’s an updated cheat sheet for startups selecting a domain when starting a business.

Rules to live by when selecting a domain

  • Never use a hyphen
  • Never misspell a word or leave out vowels
  • If your domain includes a digit, try to acquire spelled out versions as well (and vice-versa)
  • If you choose a domain extension other than .com, understand the trade-off you are making. There will be some confusion you need to overcome.

Radio test

Word-of-mouth is still important for most websites. If someone hears your domain name, will they know how to spell it and be able to remember it?

Buying a taken domain

Just because a domain name is already registered doesn’t mean you can’t acquire it. Many domain names are listed for sale, and those domains that aren’t listed can sometimes be acquired.

You’ve probably read about domains selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars. Don’t let this dissuade you. These sales are the exception, not the rule. Many domains that might be good for your business sell for between $1,000 and $5,000. This isn’t a lot of money for your digital presence. Think of it as a marketing cost that’s amortized over the life of your business. (Some domain sellers will even let you pay the domain off over time.)

To find out if a domain is for sale, type it into your browser to see if there’s a “for sale” message or look up the domain at DomainTools will show you if it’s listed in a major marketplace.

If the domain is not for sale, it might be tricky to find out who owns it. Ownership information used to be public in the Whois database, but most registrars now block this info. However, registrars have to provide you with a way to contact a domain owner, usually through a form on their website. So find out where the domain is registered using Whois and find the Whois contact form on the registrar’s website.

If you don’t buy the domain through a marketplace, consider using a service like to protect the transaction.

Expired domains

If the domain you want is expiring soon, don’t think you’ll be able to register it after it expires. Almost all expiring domains are now offered in auctions on GoDaddy or NameJet (depending on where they are registered). If the domain is any good, someone else will buy it. You need to participate in these auctions if you want to get the domain.

Where to register domains

I register my domains at GoDaddy, but they offer bulk discounts to bulk domain owners like me. If you’re just registering a domain or two, I usually recommend PorkBun or Dynadot. PorkBun has a simple pricing structure of about a dollar (plus credit card fees) over the wholesale cost of a domain, so you don’t have to shop around for price. Dynadot also offers good prices.


Be careful. Once you register a domain name, be wary about the domain appraisal scam and the Chinese trademark scam.

Resources for finding and buying domains/learning more – see how much domains sold for – marketplace – marketplace – quick overview of domain values – name spinner to find available domains. It’s not always reliable regarding availability but makes good suggestions.







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