It’s part of the struggle of running a business in the digital age.
You come up with the perfect business name.
You design business cards, start all of the official paperwork, and tell everyone about it.
But when you go online to register the domain name, you discover something horrible.
Your perfect domain name is taken.
What do you do?
Do you give up your perfect name? Do you modify it somehow? Add a couple random dashes or underscores? Choose a weird domain name ending (TLD)?
It’s one of the toughest situations to face as a business owner. It can bring your progress to a screeching halt.
This situation makes you rethink your entire brand.
The question remains: What do you do when this happens?
I’ve gotten this question hundreds of times before, and I’ve also heard some solutions to this problem.
Quite frankly, not all of those solutions are good.
Your domain name is a big part of any SEO campaigns you run, and it will affect your performance.
If you make a misstep with your domain name, it can negatively impact your SEO in the long term.
A large amount of your traffic will come from users who search your brand name. It’s called navigational search. That’s why it’s good to use your brand name as your URL.
But if you can’t, don’t worry. There are alternatives that will still work for you.
Over the years, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I want to share what I’ve learned so you don’t have to make any mistakes.
Here are 13 tactics you can use if you can’t have the domain name of your dreams.
1. Try to buy it
This is a simple tip, but many people don’t consider it. They plug their ideal domain name into a registrar site, see that it’s taken, and give up.
That doesn’t always have to be the case.
However, there’s a caveat.
I realize that not everyone has hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital.
You might be operating on a shoestring startup budget.
If that’s you, then you’ll probably only be able to buy new, expired, or inactive domains.
If you visit your ideal domain, you might see something like this:
Or you might see this:
If you see something that looks like either one of those pictures, that’s a great sign. It means that whoever owns the domain probably isn’t using it.
If this happens, you’ll likely be able to buy the domain for a relatively low price.
It’s best to contact the site owner directly if you can. One way to do this is by using Whois.com’s lookup feature.
Whois is an international registry of domain names, and they log all kinds of information about domains.
Often, you’ll be able to see the webmaster’s contact details.
First, head to Whois.com. You’ll see a search bar in the top-right corner.
Enter the domain name there and click the “WHOIS” button.
If the owner’s contact information is public, you’ll see it on the following page.
Sometimes, you might see contact information like this:
Notice how the contact name isn’t a person’s name? And upon closer inspection, you’ll see it says “protected.”
This isn’t the real contact information. It means the hosting service has made the contact information private.
In this scenario, your best bet would be to contact the owner through the site itself. Try to find a contact email that will directly reach the owner, although a general contact page will work.
Ultimately, you might also need to hire a domain name broker to help you, which can get costly.
2. Add a verb to your domain name
This is a popular method of getting around a domain name that’s already taken.
There are two big benefits to this technique.
First, you can still use your brand name in the URL itself. Second, you don’t have to consider different TLDs.
Verbs like “get” and “try” are popular choices as additions to domain names.
For example, Pocket uses getpocket.com:
These also tend to look a lot nicer than some alternative TLDs, and they’re usually easier to remember.
3. Extend your brand in the URL
Until 2016, Tesla Motor didn’t own Tesla.com because it was already taken.
What did they do? They used TeslaMotor.com instead.
That URL served them well for years because the word “motor” was such a natural extension of their brand.
This method has the advantage of preserving trustworthiness in your URL.
The catch? You have to make sure you don’t throw in just any old word to extend your brand. It has to be relevant and say something about your business.
Gogo, an in-flight Internet provider, uses “air” along with their brand name:
That makes perfect sense when you think about it.
On the other hand, if they used something like “GogoToday,” their brand wouldn’t have been as obvious, and it wouldn’t have sounded as organic.
The trick is to consider related words that you can add to your brand name without sacrificing meaning, memorability, or naturalness.
Some words lend themselves to certain niches. For example, if you sell software, you may be able to use the word “app” in your URL like Invision does:
This might be your best bet if you’re after a .com and want to keep your brand name in the URL.
4. Consider a ccTLD
Although the .com extension is a global standard, it’s especially prestigious in the United States.
In other countries, however, country code TLDs (ccTLDs) are just as trustworthy.
For some reason, the ccTLD for the USA (.us) never really took off, but ccTLDs like .co.uk and .com.au are popular and considered to be safe.
Sometimes, ccTLDs are actually more important than .com extensions. In Germany, .de is more popular than .com.
So if you’re based in a country that’s not the United States, consider using your country’s TLD.
However, there are a few potential issues here.
Some ccTLDs, like .ru and .cn, are popular for spam sites.
And some ccTLDs are banned in certain countries.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use a ccTLD. It just means you’ll have to use some good judgment.
For instance, if you’re based in Russia, you might not want to use .ru since it’s a common spam TLD. But if you’re in Japan, then using .jp would be less of a problem.
5. Add your country to the domain name
Have you heard of the Nissan domain name lawsuit?
Back in 1994, a company called Nissan Computer Corp registered the domain nissan.com.
It was headed by an entrepreneur named Uzi Nissan who had used the business name since 1980.
Then in 2000, Nissan Motor sued Uzi Nissan. The goal: To get the nissan.com domain name.
The famous car company didn’t end up getting the domain. If you type nissan.com into your search bar, you’ll see Uzi Nissan’s site:
(Yep, those are anti-Nissan T-shirts!)
So what did Nissan Motor do? They added “USA” to their URL:
This last resort strategy is actually a solid option if you’re having domain name problems.
It can actually look quite nice––nissanusa.com isn’t a bad URL at all, and it still has the brand name in it.
You can also use your city if you’re local to a major metropolis. The company Loud Marketing uses Barcelona in their URL:
And The Eugene, a luxury apartment building in New York City, uses the abbreviated NYC:
It’s best to use this strategy if you provide services within a certain country or city.
You can use your country in your URL to designate where you’re from, but some of your users may think you only work within that country. Think about it carefully before you pull the trigger.
6. Look at alternative TLDs
In most cases, if your domain name is taken, it means the .com is taken. Often, the other TLDs aren’t taken, so you could technically opt for one of those.
But wait! Don’t rush off and buy whatever TLD you can find.
This is a complicated decision.
Here are some of the factors to keep in mind.
First, people trust .com URLs more than any other TLD.
The .com extension has a lot on its side. It’s familiar, it’s been around for a while, and it’s been the gold standard of TLDs for years.
Second, many people think some TLDs are spammy. People tend to think of .com URLs as safe and other TLDs as unsafe or untrustworthy.
Obviously, that’s not always the case, but some people will think that no matter what. They can’t get their heads around the idea of a trustworthy site that doesn’t end in .com.
Third, alternative TLDs have no SEO advantage. No TLD is inherently better than any other.
That information comes right from Google’s John Mueller:
So what does this mean for you?
If you want to use a TLD that’s not .com, you can do so without losing any SEO power.
However, your audience might not trust it.
It helps if the TLD is directly related to your business or niche. Twitch, a site that broadcasts users playing video games in real time, smartly uses the .tv TLD:
In the end, you have to consider how easy it’s going to be for your users to remember your URL and whether or not they’ll trust a domain that’s not a .com.
7. Use a domain hack
Domain hacks are creative ways to use alternative TLDs to make a word or phrase.
Because these have a high novelty factor, they’re often easy to remember.
A great example is WordPress creator Matthew Mullenweg’s blog:
There are a couple of negatives to domain hacks.
For one, they’re hard to say out loud. The popular social bookmarking site Delicious uses a domain hack:
But to say that out loud, what do you do? Do you say “dell dot ishi dot us” and pronounce each syllable? Or do you spell it out?
It’s a little confusing, and that’s not ideal.
Not every domain hack follows that rule. Visual.ly is easy enough to spell and say.
There is a slight SEO disadvantage to domain hacks because search engines don’t look at domain extensions. So in the domain hack ma.tt, only the “ma” is good for SEO.
However, depending on the exact domain hack, this might not be a problem. There might be enough in the URL to get an SEO advantage.
Domain hacks definitely aren’t for everyone, but if you have a trendier brand, try them out.
8. Experiment with abbreviations
Sometimes you can abbreviate one or more words in your URL without losing searchability or SEO.
This isn’t the best solution, but it can often help you score a .com.
Usually, words that aren’t the brand name get abbreviated. So for instance, Fox Plumbing and Heating uses FoxPH.com:
This is also common with state names in the United States. GreenDreams uses the state abbreviation for Florida in its URL:
Again, it’s not ideal, but if a .com is what you’re after, this can be a satisfactory solution to your domain woes.
Alternatively, you can abbreviate your entire business name like the Tulsa Area United Way does:
9. Use a catchphrase
People tend to remember catchphrases. Think Donald Trump’s “You’re fired!”
They’re short and memorable, which makes them perfect for URLs.
If you have a business slogan or short mission statement, consider using that for your URL.
You can also use a catchphrase in conjunction with alternative TLDs. Musician Gareth Emery hosts an online radio show called Electric For Life, and he makes use of an alternative TLD:
10. Use a hyphen
This is a controversial tip.
When it comes to the use of hyphens (the – symbol) in URLs, some people love them, and some people hate them.
It’s easy to see why many people dislike them. They’re not as easy to remember. And to some people, they look “cheap and compromising.”
But using hyphens allows you to get the domain name you’re after with just one small change.
Many successful sites use hyphens, such as Go-Gaia.com and Merriam-Webster.com.
11. Consider a ccTLD (for a hack)
It’s possible to combine two of these techniques to create a memorable and SEO-friendly URL that keeps your brand name intact.
The idea is to use a ccTLD as part of a domain hack.
There are certain ccTLDs that are supposed to be representative of countries, but the abbreviations can be useful for creating domain hacks.
You know the social network About.me?
The .me extension is actually the ccTLD for Montenegro.
Or how about sites ending in .tv? These aren’t strict domain hacks, but they fall into the same category.
I mentioned Twitch.tv earlier, and it’s one of many popular sites with the extension, including Periscope’s pscp.tv.
Well, .tv is actually the ccTLD for Tuvalu, an island in the Pacific Ocean.
And Instagram started out with Instagr.am, using the ccTLD for Armenia.
There are currently 249 ccTLDs available to use, so you can get pretty creative.
But there’s one thing you should keep in mind before you use this strategy.
Matt Cutts explained that Google usually assumes that if you’re using a ccTLD, you’re targeting traffic from that country.
Some ccTLDs, like .io, are now widely accepted as more general TLDs, but if you use a more obscure ccTLD, you run the risk of Google thinking you’re a business specific to that country.
While that won’t be a deal breaker for everyone, it’s something to contemplate.
12. Set up domain monitoring
Still after that perfect .com URL?
Maybe none of these techniques have persuaded you to try something else, and that’s okay. If your dream .com is what you’re after, you can get it.
Let’s say you only want a certain .com address, but it’s taken by someone.
If you don’t have the funds to buy it outright (and if the owner turns down offers), then the next best thing is to monitor the domain to check if it expires.
You can use a tool like DomainTools Domain Monitor to track any changes in its registration status.
If it expires and the owner doesn’t renew it, you can swoop in and snatch it.
This isn’t a surefire technique, but it can get you exactly what you want.
In the meantime, you can use one of these other strategies to set up a temporary domain. When you’re able to grab your ideal domain, you can set up 301 redirects to the new URL.
13. Take the opportunity to brainstorm a new brand name
You might be thinking this tip is a cop-out.
But there’s a lot of value to this idea.
Let me explain.
Imagine two entrepreneurs have just created a search engine. The working name? BackRub. (A nod to the fact that search engines evaluate backlinks.)
But that could be easily confused with massage services. People don’t normally associate search engines with the term “back rub.”
So these entrepreneurs choose another name, a better one: Google.
That’s right––the world’s most popular search engine started its life as BackRub.
So if your perfect domain name is taken, it could be an opportunity in disguise.
You’ll have to hit the drawing board again, but you can come up with a different, unique name that will stand on its own.
There’s something to be said for getting the perfect .com address.
We’re moving into an age where alternative domains are getting more and more popular, but .com is still easily the most ubiquitous.
When people think of a website, they instinctively think it will end in .com.
So if someone knows your brand name, they’ll likely go to YourBrandName.com.
That’s one of the biggest advantages to a .com.
But that’s slowly changing. People are becoming more used to different TLDs like .tv and .coffee, and it’s only a matter of time before alternative TLDs become more widespread.
For now, if you can get a .com, go for it. But if you can’t, any of these 13 strategies will work like magic.
Is your perfect domain name out of reach? If so, which of these 13 strategies will you use?
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