How to Choose a Domain Name or Username

BlogHer Original Post

Is this you? You're ready to start a new blog or buy a new domain name. You want to avoid problems with trademarked names, branded names, and domain names. How do you find a name that someone else doesn't already have a claim to?

The question What if someone is already using my user name?...and other assorted questions in the How to Blog (Better) group discussion is a good example of the issues many people face. The domain name of choice is available, but someone is already using the username on Twitter. If you can't match your domain name or blog with the name you intend to use on Twitter (or Facebook, or anywhere else) then how do you create a brand identity for yourself?

What if you choose a blog name or username that someone is using somewhere and they come after you for infringing on their brand or trademark? Not fun.

Early in the process of choosing a name for yourself, you need to take a look at all the possibilities.

A good way to start is simply to search for the name you want and see what turns up. If I search for vdebolt, I find almost 9,000 results. Here are the first few, including a Twitter name, a domain name, and an unexplained association with a site called Web Teacher.

name search

Virginia DeBolt = vdebolt. I have something of a lock on the name vdebolt. (By the way, the reason Web Teacher shows up in a search for vdebolt is because of an hCard. You can learn how to use hCards here.) If someone came along and started using vdebolt as a username in places where I haven't already claimed it, I would not be very happy.

Even if I didn't own the vdebolt.com domain, I might be using the vdebolt username in several places. That was the issue in What if someone is already using my user name?...and other assorted questions.

You can do a username search.

username search

Google found 438 instances of the username vdebolt, with the first results coming from Twitter. Only the first few results are relevant, but they would be enough to show that the name is already in use if you were considering using it.

If you want to sign up for a free blog at wordpress.com or blogspot.com, you won't be allowed to select a username that's already in use.

My friend Rachel recently decided to start blogging. She writes about food, gardening, and cooking. She selected the name And then make soup. This name was available as a username on both blogspot.com and wordpress.com. She started with a Blogspot blog, but decided in favor of Wordpress. Rachel has this username on both the big free blogging platforms, although she's putting her posts at And Then Make Soup on Wordpress.

Rachel didn't buy a domain for her blog (yet), but it's a good idea to check to see if the name is being used by someone with a domain. There are several ways to check on the availability of a domain name.

One way is to type the name in the browsers location bar and see what comes up. If I try to navigate to andthenmakesoup.com, I get an error message.

error message

I recently wrote a chapter for a book called InterACT with Web Standards and needed an imaginary domain name to use for some student exercises. I choose Battle Hill Bistro or www.battlehillbistro.com as the name and checked to make sure it wasn't real by typing the URL in the browser to see if anything came up. It didn't.

Another way to check on whether a domain name is available is to go to one of the domain registrars and search. Here's the form from Go Daddy. Type in the name, choose .com or .net or .whateveryouwant and see if it's available.

domain search

It turns out that this domain is available in just about any form you'd want. And, Go Daddy will be glad to sell it to you.

domain search results

Rachel is thinking about buying and parking (parking a domain means you own it but you don't have anything live on it) several of these domain names, just so no one can come along and steal the name she wants to have associated with her blog/brand. She may have done it by now.

Rachel already can claim some association with the phrase and then make soup. A search on the phrase brings up her wordpress blog. You also see an unrelated Twitter result and an unrelated result from Simply Recipes, which as BlogHer foodies know, gets superb search engine results.

phrase search results

Even though and then make soup is simply a phrase, and you can't copyright that, Rachel could justify a sense of ownership in the phrase. If someone else started using it as a username on another blog, on Facebook or in some other way, she might complain and try to call a halt to it.

If you search for andthenmakesoup all run together like a domain or blog name, you also turn up Rachel's blog.

andthenmakesoup search

This doesn't really protect her if someone decided to buy a domain and start a standard web site by the same name as her blog. But the existence of the blog should give pause to anyone thinking of buying the domain. They wouldn't want to be losing traffic to a site with a similar name.

Tech Crunch recently ran an article about Yahoo! buying flicker.com that included an interesting quote from Caterina Fake of flickr.com explaining how the whole e-less Flickr name happened when Flickr worked around already the existing Flicker domain name. (Interesting that the unintended consequence of Flickr's decision to go e-less was a new trend in that direction by a series of other web sites such as tumblr.com.)

A consideration I've learned about the hard way is the relative value of the more common domain options like .com, .net., and .org. When I bought webteacher.ws all the more common choices were gone. I should have considered that enough reason to choose something completely different, but I went with the .ws. It was a mistake. It's too obscure. Nobody remembers it. And the more common names like webteacher.com take away traffic that might be meant for me. Too bad I made that poor choice before the Flickr came along, I might have tried to hit the jackpot with webteachr.com!

You want to be unique and memorable. You want to avoid trouble from other people using the same name. The best way is to do your homework before you settle on a name. See what's already out there. Then make a choice.

Learn more about Trademarks

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Virginia DeBolt
BlogHer Contributing Editor|Web Teacher|First 50 Words

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