5 things startup founders should keep in mind before buying a domain name


Startups tend to buy domain names at two main points in their company history:

  1. When they are still in the early “MVP” stage
  2. When they pivot, get funding, or hit some other milestone

I’ll explain a bit more about these two scenarios since the domain name you buy is highly related to the stage your startup is in. Startups in category #1 tend to have small budgets, usually $5,000 or less – this means they’re either picking a two-word .COM or a one-word .ME, .CO, .IO or similar non-.COM domain. Startups in category #2 often have a larger budget and in some cases, part of the funding was intended to acquire a strong domain name. Budgets for startups in category #2 can be anywhere from $10,000 – $1M and sometimes higher.

One big mistake I see too many startup founders make is to think they’ll be able to get a big juicy one-word .COM for $10,000. Rate.com sold for $725,000 about a month ago – if you want a big one-word .COM expect to pay in the $250,000 – $750,000 range. Sending $10,000 or $15,000 offers to these one-word .COM owners usually won’t get you a response – it’s just too low.


Don’t have a six-figure budget for something like Rate.com? Picking a domain like Rate.me or Rate.co could easily get you into the sub $50,000 range or lower. Just be realistic and if you don’t have a good handle on what domain names typically sell for I highly recommend taking a look at DNJournal’s YTD Sales Chart. The sooner you can be realistic with yourself about how much a domain name will likely cost the better since misalignment here will cost you a ton of time emailing low-ball offers to domain owners who won’t respond.

So you’ve looked at recent sales data, have a better understanding of what price to expect, and now it’s time to pick the name. You can spend a small fortune on a branding/identity agency to help you come up with a name, but they rarely think about domains so this is where knowing a thing or two about domain names can come in handy. Here are five things that are absolutely critical to keep in mind before buying a domain:

  1. Easy to remember – your domain name should be something that is easy to remember. If your customers can’t remember your name, it’s going to be hard for them to recommend you.
  2. Easy to spell – if you want to call your company “Bright” don’t put it on Briite.com, the chance of someone ever being able to spell it right the first time is slim-to-none.
  3. B2C startups should be on .COM – if you’re trying to reach the masses, .COM has been the go-to for years and is still what most consumers type-into their browsers after hearing your name. For B2B companies this is a lot less important as successful SaaS startups like Keen (Keen.io), Intercom (Intercom.io), and many more.
  4. Stick to two-word or less – sure, there are a few exceptions where a 3 or 4-word .COM would make sense, but these would be exceptions, otherwise stick to two words or less.
  5. History is bunk – this is one of the most over-looked parts of the domain name evaluation process. You’ll want to look back at the history of the domain and see what has been done with it over the last ten years. The last thing you’d want is to buy a domain name from someone that used it to scam thousands of people, and it’s likely the seller will do everything they can to hide information like this from you so be prepared to put on your detective’s hat.

This is only five tips, I’m sure some of you have more, feel free to share your own tips in the comment section below!

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Bill Sweetman July 3, 2016, 12:21 pm

    Great post Morgan! Here are two more tips for startup founders based on my experience helping hundreds of startups acquire their dream domain name:

    6. Perform trademark due diligence BEFORE you buy the domain name. There’s no point branding around a name/domain you will run into trouble with down the road due to trademark issues.

    7. Allow lots of time for your name/domain hunt. The more time you have the better your negotiation position will be, especially if you need to switch directions on the name. Think months or at least weeks, not days.

    • Morgan July 4, 2016, 3:17 pm

      Solid tips @Bill – definitely agree with both, and #6 is an absolute MUST. Thanks for sharing!

  • MoveOn July 3, 2016, 8:43 pm

    Very helpful. Thanks!
    If only start-ups at large knew AND practice these wise words…

  • Brian Mc July 4, 2016, 12:54 pm

    Especially enjoyed tip #5
    Very informative and helpful article

  • Eric Lyon July 4, 2016, 12:55 pm

    Excellent tips for new start-ups! Sadly I’ve also seen an influx over the years of startups going for generic domains. While this is a great tactic for seasoned veterans to develop out lead generating sites, it’s not so hot for establishing authority in a company. I think that more startups should focus on an actual brand rather than a generic when they first come out of the gate. They can always add generics later as lead generation campaigns.

    I’ve also seen some of the greatest site developments and brand names on new startups, but their brand image (Logo / Mascot / Theme) was terrible. The first thing people usually look at is a companies brand image. If it doesn’t instill authority and trust in a visitor, it doesn’t matter how great their product or service is. They are going to lose potential customers instantly.

    In my opinion, the domain and the brand image are the most important 2 things for any startup serious about the success of their business.


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