A rose by any other name: naming your blog [Blogging 101]

This is part of our occasional series of posts covering the aspects of starting a blog. See Blogging 101 for the full list.

In the first post of the Blogging 101 series, I mentioned that buying a domain name for your blog is as easy as visiting a domain registrar and typing in the name you want, yet the hard part is finding a name that isn’t taken. It’s never been easier or cheaper to by your own domain name, but finding the right name can be a challenge.

Why a domain name?

Having a domain name for your blog offers two advantages: control and branding. It may be easy to set up a blog on Blogger or WordPress.com, but you end up with a yourname.wordpress.com URL that you neither own nor can take with you if you decide to leave the service. Owning your own domain name gives you that control, allowing you to shift hosts or services with the knowledge that your URL will never change. For branding, it’s an issue of recall: what’s easier to remember: yourname.com or yourname.wordpress.com? If you’re looking to make money from a blog, which URL would you take more seriously?

Simple, Short and Sweet

The first consideration in finding a domain name that is right for you should be simplicity and length. If you’re setting up a personal blog as a branding exercise for yourself, you may simply use yourrealname.com, and there is always a place for that, where applicable. But for the blog that doesn’t include your actual name, you need to consider the following:

Simple

theisareallylongnamethatshardtospell.com might sound funny upfront, but it fails the simplicity test. Any domain name you pick should be simple to type and recall. As a general rule, avoid names that are difficult to spell, unless you absolutely need the spelling as an angle for the site itself. You want people to be able to type in your name.

Short

You’re not going to pick up a 4 letter.com domain name, at least without bidding at auction, but you should still try to keep your domain name as short as possible. Ideally, 10 letters or less, although sometimes you’ll need to go longer. This ties into spelling to some extent, as it’s a recall issue; you want users to have to type the least amount of letters to hit your site, so they don’t get it wrong, or don’t accidentally mistype your url.

If you’re not convinced, take a look at the Top 100 blogs on Technorati. 7 out of the 10 blogs on the first page have 10 letters or less in their URL. 1 has 11 letters, 1 has 14 (huffingtonpost.com… a play on a name, and easy to recall) and the other is the official Google blog on a blogspot sub domain.

Sweet

Most importantly, your domain name needs to sound good. It needs to roll off the tongue easily, sound interesting, and be easy to recall. A very simple test is to say the name out loud; is it hard to pronounce? does it fit the tone of what you are or will be writing about? Does it simply sound nice?

Going back to the Techonrati Top 100, Engadget and Gizmodo are both nice sounding names that fit the tone. The Huffington Post as a name fits perfectly with the news offered on the site, and BoingBoing nicer again.

Now for the hard part

Keeping those rules in mind, you then have to find a domain name that works for your site and is actually available. I personally use DomainTools.com for research, and Namecheap for registration but there are a number of tools and registrars you can use. It helps to start with a list of possible names, because 99% of the time, you’re not going to get your first choice. The reality today is that with domain registration being cheaper than ever, that most obvious names will be taken, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a name for yourself, it just means that you’ll need some patience and time to get there.

With your list of possible names, look at variations on the general theme. It may be adding a word to your first choice, varying the spelling, or rearranging the order of words.

.com over everything else

If you’re writing for an international audience, you should always own the.com domain name for your site, and even if you’re not, you should aim to own it anyway. Country specific domain names have their place, particularly with ecommerce and commercial sites, but for blogs, most people think.com. The same rule applies for.net,.org,.biz and other exotic extensions: if you absolutely have no other choice, maybe you’d blog on one, but ideally you want the.com, because enough people will automatically place the.com after your domain name, even if you’ve never used it.

Likewise, if you can it also helps to own some of the variations as well to prevent domain squatting. Look not only to availability of the.com name, but of the.net and.org as well, and buy them at the same time. Some suggest buying other variations as well, but not everyone can afford to own 25 versions of their own domain, so aim for the.net and.org as a minimum. Also look at variations on the name, for example theyourname.com if you’ve got a blog name that includes The in the title, but not the source URL.

Exceptions to the rule

If you’ve gotten this far in the post and noted that The Inquisitr breaks one of these rules, you wouldn’t be the first person to have pointed that out. Inquisitr.com breaks the spelling rule, and to top it off, it users an r ending instead or er or or, a trend I’d previously said publicly I wasn’t fond of.

Here’s roughly my process in deciding on the name

  • I wanted a “newspapery” sounding name, so I started with joint words (for example my first blog was blogherald.com) and straight out names
  • I tried a number of word variations, but couldn’t find anything I either liked, or was available
  • I found a list of historical newspaper names, a picked out the ones I liked the sound of but weren’t in regular use today, at least not commonly anyway
  • I punched name after name into DomainTools, looking at.com availability as well as variations
  • Inquisitor was on the list, and I liked the name, but it wasn’t even remotely available
  • From my short list, I looked at plays on names, and spelling variations, Inquisitr.com made the cut
  • Left with a few names, I tested the names on my wife, who felt that Inquisitr had a ring to it. I agreed
  • I ran the name through Photoshop, looking at the name from a visual and branding perspective. The use of the red Q stood out fairly quickly…and in various visual configurations, the name worked well
  • I registered the name, and one significant variation on it.

If the correct spelling of the name was available, I wouldn’t have thought twice about grabbing it, but ultimately it came down to a great name vs availability, and although spelling was an issue, it just felt right. It also met the other criteria: short and sweet, and although we may not be the biggest blog today, very few people forget the name, even if some of them struggle to spell it 🙂 It also had eight letters, and 8 is a lucky number in Chinese culture, so it had an extra bonus in it for me.

There are always going to be exceptions to the rules above, and not following these rules isn’t going to kill your blog, but every one of them are factors that can help you on the path to success.

Conclusion

Buying a domain name doesn’t have to be a scary experience. For less than $10, you can afford to play around, and sometimes you will make mistakes. But if you’re looking to make money from your blog, and you want it to be successful, you need to minimize mistakes upfront, and maximize your opportunities through a great name. Using the above rules as guidance will help you find a name that is right for you.