How to select a URL without going insane
Satisficing versus maximizing
“So what about the .com?” is one of the more common questions we get asked when discussing a project. Often times, what’s baked inside that question is the desire to have theirname.com at the end of the naming process. Floating in the collective aether is this idea that when you’re starting something new, and building a website for it, it’s nice to have yourname.com. However here’s why you almost always don’t need yourname.com and shouldn’t spend enormous amounts of time and money chasing it.
One way we like to approach domain names is something we borrowed from behavioral economics: whether or not our client should maximize or satisfice with their URL. The idea is that someone who maximizes is looking to make the best possible choice by researching and weighing all options. Someone who satisfices accepts an available choice as satisfactory. Research has shown that “a satisficer is less likely to experience regret, even if a better option presents itself after a decision has already been made. Compared to satisficers, maximizers are more likely to experience lower levels of happiness, regret, and self-esteem.”
If we lived in a world where you could readily select whichever domain you like, yourname.com is probably what you would choose. However, we live in a world where yourname.com is almost always taken, which means acquiring that domain will take a lot of money or a lot of time or both. And you still might fail because the person on the other end who owns that domain might be unresponsive, unwilling to sell, or irrational about how much they’re willing to sell for, e.g., cyberlotterygames.com can be your for $999,999,999 or boxilife.com for $500,000.
From a naming perspective, prioritizing a pure.com significantly alters our normal process because we’re no longer free to look for the best names for the project. We’re limited to names with a .com clearly available or for sale. This means we’re either drawing from a nearly nonexistent microcosm of the English language, generating very long names (which can be cool but might collapse under their own weight), or creating names by attaching two words at the hip or smashing letters together at high speed. So instead of finding the best names, we’re looking for a needle in a haystack or bending and breaking language—all for a pure.com that is unnecessary because the internet has matured to the point where nobody really looks at URLs. Everyone uses search to find what they’re looking for and then once they’ve found it they either use search again to find you or start typing your name into their browser which is smart enough to suggest the right URL. URLs function more like street addresses and less like storefronts. You check the address, yes, but you really check out the storefront, walk inside, see if this is in fact the place you’re looking for.
When to maximize and some strategies for being successful
Admittedly, there are situations where it makes sense to maximize and aim for yourname.com, like if you’re a bank or a hedge fund or a credit card company—any organization that has deep pockets and is asking a lot of people to trust them with their money. Having yourname.com sends the signal that you have a lot of money laying around, a point these companies like to hit if you’re asking people for their money.
If you have your heart set on maximizing, here are some strategies to improve your odds of acquiring yourname.com:
• See if yourname.com is available. If it’s available to register, buy it. Easy. If you want to check right now, we like to send people to gandi.net because we think their tagline says it all: No bullshit.
• If yourname.com is not available to register, the next step is to find out who owns it with a WHOIS query. Also, see if the domain is in use or if it is parked, for sale, or not resolving (server not found).
• If you’re looking to contact the owner in order to buy the domain, consider using a throwaway email address to anonymize yourself. The idea here is to avoid tipping your hand if you have a big budget, i.e., your email might make it obvious that you’re representing a company that would appear to have big budgets for these kinds of deals.
When to satisfice and some strategies for being successful
In almost all situations you’ll be better of satisficing with the URL decision because you’ll save time and money. Since most of the world uses search engines to find what they’re looking for, URLs aren’t particularly important. What matters more than a URL is your site title, meta description, and where you rank for important keywords.
So the goal becomes: find a reasonable or interesting domain name that you can register for standard registration prices, which are about $15.50/yr for .coms. Weigh that with $10K+ for trying to buy a .com that’s already been registered, $15.50 feels like the practical financial move.
The first decision to explore from here is whether you want to use the .com extension or if you’re open to, or excited by, other extensions.
For a .com you can add descriptive language, e.g., www.toadstoolbrewsgoodbeer.com or you can make the url a sentence or short phrase, e.g., www.wearetoadstoolbrewing.com.
There’s also a whole world of domain extensions that aren’t .coms, e.g,, www.drinktoadstool.beer or www.toadstoolbrewi.ng.
Consider buying a few domains, some more general or specific or funny or simple, in case you do change your business or have specific plans to expand or pivot in the future. You can always redirect people to whichever URL you like. Domains are cheap enough for you to value having a few options.
So do yourself a favor and satisfice when acquiring URLs. Use that time and money to find yourself a great name, to start building the brand, and launch it.
Also, if you see any great examples of people using their URL as a brand element, please send them our way. See you on the internet.