7 Quick Ways to Spot a Horrible Domain

Have you ever mentioned your company’s name to someone, only to be met with “What?”, “Can you spell that again?”, and “How dare you?!” Or maybe they completely mispronounced it? All these responses mean your business name is a problem.Startups already have an endless list of challenges to focus on without piling on the overwhelming importance of domain name sales. Even those with business acumen are susceptible to falling in love with mediocre domains. This isn’t new information, but it’s sometimes very easy to forget in the whirlwind of startup life.This list isn’t the be-all and end-all way of judging a domain, however, it does serve as a good litmus test. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but it’s not often that your name will be one of them.

Prevent your bootstrapping startup from making the same mistakes and follow these 7 quick ways to spot a horrible domain:

  1. Too Long – If your domain is more than 15 characters long, there’s a very good chance that someone is going to misspell it halfway through typing it into the omnibox. Yes, you can buy all the typos for that domain, but why choose a name that your customers will have trouble spelling? Opt for brand recognition and easy spelling, otherwise you may also encounter problems with receiving important emails when someone forgets a silent letter.
  2. Telephone Test – Say your domain name out-loud to yourself. Do you think it sounds confusingly similar to another name or could be typed incorrectly? If you’re still on the fence, literally call one of your friends over the phone and tell them your domain name once without any additional help. If they immediately asked you how to spell it or couldn’t understand you, you should move on to another name. Ask them to email you the domain name once your phone call is over. Did they remember it? Did they spell it correctly? You’re one step closer to a winning name.
  3. Typos and Confusing Spelling – Brandable, nondictionary domains like etsy.com or Remax.com are fine when their spelling is straight forward. If you have a name with a silent letter, a double consonant, or a typo on purpose because you couldn’t afford the actual spelling, then you may want to reconsider your choice. It would be extremely difficult to remember findrstorr.com. People are often on the move or multitasking when they see your domain. Lack of attention to detail is rampant and this will just make it more difficult to remember.
  4. Homonyms – Grade school refresher: a homonym is essentially a word that sounds exactly like another word, but has a different definition. This isn’t necessarily the worst choice in the world, but if you go down this route, you should definitely buy each version of the homonym. If the meaning of one of the alternates is something that could damage your brand, you should probably strike this one from your options. Here is a list of some homonyms to watch out for:
    • Loan – Lone
    • Ate – Eight
    • Brake – Break
    • Cell – Sell
    • Buy – By – Bye
    • Eye – I
    • Fourth – Forth
    • Higher – Hire
    • To -Two – Too
    • Accept – Except
    • Ad – Add
  5. Negative Connotations – Want to visit a website named HorribleViruses.com? How about a restaurant named the Moldy Cheese? Steer clear of domains with negative sounding connotations to be safe. There will always be an exception, like the famous Beverly Hills restaurant, the Stinking Rose. In all likelihood, you will not pick an exception, so steer clear of domains with negative sounding names unless you’re starting a rock band.
  6. Trademark and Diversity – One of the quickest ways to burn up all of your company’s runway is quibbling with another entity’s law firm over trademark infringement. Even if your business isn’t breaking the law, make sure your customers can differentiate your name from your competitors’. NedsAudio.com is different from BetaSpeakers.com, but DeltaSpeakers.com isn’t. Elliot’s blog, the NamePros Blog, and Morgan Linton have covered this topic more in detail if you’d like to read more extensively. As an example, here’s a list of some trademarked words to avoid:
    • Realtor
    • Memory Stick
    • Auto-Tune
    • Super Heroes
    • NOS (nitrous oxide systems)
    • Photoshop
    • Botox
    • PowerPoint
    • JumboTron
    • Taser
    • Dumpster
    • Breathalyzer
    • Escalator
    • Xerox
    • Thermos
    • Frisbee
  7. Domain Hacks, gTLDs and Nonsensical Combos – Blending your company name into a gTLD can be a valid avenue, however, you have to be sure that your extension targets your key demographic. If they are primarily tech driven people, then a .io or verb.me might be right for you (assuming you can’t secure a great .com). However, if you’re looking to secure older adults with a finance related app, you may want to pass over anything that’s not a .com, .net, or potentially .co for the time being.
    In addition to the TLD, vigilantly review what you want left of the “dot.” Does the juxtaposition of words make sense?  “Driver” and “keys” may sound like two great words, but DriverKeys.com doesn’t make much sense. A good rule of thumb is Googling the pair of words first to see if it’s something commonly spoken. If not, take into consideration whether or not your target demographic will understand its connotation or unique nature. No one has a purple dog, but that may be a decent and memorable name for your pet grooming business or shelter that sets you apart from the crowd.
Again, none of these are steadfast, unbreakable rules. There’s always an exception, and sometimes you have to get creative. Just be careful not to end up with a name that no one can remember, spell, or invite expensive litigation.

Bonus Tip

– If you’re having trouble deciding between names, or you’d like to see if someone remembers your name at all, try the Domain Test.
Edward Zeiden

Edward Zeiden

Domain enthusiast and entrepreneur, Edward Zeiden, has been in the tech industry for several years. After co-founding the startup, NameLayer (subsequently acquired by Techstars) he pursued a career in