So you’ve been eyeing this great domain name. And you want to know what to double-check—other than if the domain name is available or has already been taken—before you add it to your cart and hit that “Buy” button.
Let’s just say you’ve stumbled upon the right article on the topic. I’ve bought, sold, and let expire more domains than I’ve had the chance to turn into real-world websites over the years. And I’ve made every mistake there is to make along the way.
Thanks to that, I’ve created a simple, four-step checklist for things to do before registering a domain name. And, in this post, I’m going to share my pre-flight checklist, along with the thought process behind it, with you.
Before we dig in, here’s the long story short:
What are the things you absolutely must do before registering a domain name?
Think twice about the name and make sure it can’t be misread in foul ways. Check for trademarks, then google the term and see if the same handles are available to use on the social media platforms you intend to grow an audience at.
As long as you can tick off all of these steps, it’s pretty much a no-brainer… isn’t it?
The short answer to that question is “yes,” but only if you’ve used good tools and you’ve given that domain name a good thought before buying it. For example, some trademark checkers are frankly incomplete—and can mislead you into purchasing an infringing domain.
But we’ll get to that shortly.
Think Twice About the Name
You can get a domain name for as little as $9.99/year at most domain registrars. Hey, if you buy a year’s worth of hosting services along with it, some hosts will give it to you for free (usually with a free TLS/SSL certificate, too).
But that’s just the direct cost. Think about the time, money, and opportunity cost of setting up your entire online presence around a domain name that turns out to be hard for your customers to remember, or one that you didn’t think through and eventually need to replace.
Domain names are one of those “buy it nice or buy it twice” products you want to contemplate the pros and cons of carefully before buying. Is your domain name easy to remember? Are you getting a trustworthy extension for it, like a .com, .net, or .org? Can it be misread by folks who’ve come across it for the first time?
For example, when I came up with Maker’s Aid, I knew that first-time visitors could misread the name as Maker Said (“said” as the past tense of “say” or as the Arabic given name Said).
That’s a common problem with domain names that consist of two or more words—and I was generally fine with it—so I went ahead. However, if a name can be misread as a foul word, you’ll probably want to drop it.
When you just know you can come up with a better name, but you’re low on ideas and can’t get those creative juices flowing, give Namelix a try. It’s a free, AI-powered business name generator—and my go-to tool whenever I’m stuck.
Check for Trademarks
If there’s one thing that can completely ruin your day, that’s getting a letter from someone who’s trademarked the name of your business or website. You will not only have to change them last-minute, but you may get yourself into legal action, too.
Live streamer and affiliate marketer Alex Cooper has a story of how he once bought a domain name that had “WordPress” in it for a website that showcased WordPress themes, and Automattic’s legal team eventually reached out with a cease and desist letter as it was violating their trademark.
Before registering a domain name, always check for any trademarks at the WIPO Global Brand Database.
In case you’re coming across the name for the first time, WIPO stands for World Intellectual Property Organization. Other trademark checker tools exist out there, but I’ve found WIPO’s to be the most comprehensive—and by far the easiest to use.
It’s not only free but also lets you export the results for the times when you’ve fallen in love with a trademarked name from a different industry so much that you want to talk to a trademark lawyer about whether you can go ahead and get a domain for it nevertheless.
Do a Search on Google For It
Suppose your domain name is available for registration, and you’re confident that you won’t be infringing on someone else’s trademark. It’s still a good idea to google it (without the extension) and check just how competitive the term is.
If you’re registering a domain for yourself, you share given and family names as someone else, and they’ve already claimed a knowledge panel on Google for it, you’re probably going to have a hard time getting your site ranked in search results. Consider adding in your middle name.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s okay to see some competition for a name. But if you see knowledge panels, social accounts, and articles in big-name media outlets about a same-named person or organization, that’s a tell-tale sign that you need to stop and pivot.
If you’re registering a domain for a new business, and organizations with the same name from other countries already appear on page 1 of Google, consider coming up with a different brand. (Say, MyCompany.com might be free, but MyCompany.ca and MyCompany.au may already be taken).
This is common for English-language domains in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, and Australia, and for domains in other languages shared by more than one country, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French.
Check for Social Media Handles
If you’re keen on having a consistent presence online—as you should—then it’s essential to make sure that you can get the same social handles as your domain name. Otherwise, people searching for your brand will end up confused about whose profile to look up and follow.
Depending on your brand and the type of social media presence it needs, you may want to check for existing handles at Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn as a starting point.
I’ve heard anecdotally that if you come across inactive accounts, you could DM them to ask their owners whether or not they’d be willing to sell them to you. But I’ve never done it myself, so I can’t tell you how that whole process goes and what price can be considered reasonable.
Of course, you could always add an underscore somewhere to the handles in case they’re already taken, like @my_company instead of @mycompany, but not everyone would be okay with that. Let me know if that’s the same case for you in the comments below, but I know I wouldn’t!
Consider Other Extensions
Say that MyCompany.com is free, and it passes all four checks with flying colors. Especially if you have the budget for it, consider buying a few other commonly-found extensions, like .net, .org, and .info, and redirecting them to your .com domain.
Otherwise, especially if your business gains traction and your brand gets popular, you may end up with copycats or, worse, folks who buy these extensions only to offer to sell them back to you at a ridiculously high price.