Putting up a website expands a small or local business’s market to the worldwide marketplace. Choosing the right domain name is crucial to helping potential customers find you -- with shorter, simpler, intuitive descriptive names ending in dot-com considered better.

However, most of the short domain names have been taken, says Douglas Shuman, senior vice president of customer marketing for Register.com, a domain name registration company. “All the four letter domains are taken. There are some five letter domains left, but they are not intuitive,” Shuman says. “You’ll probably have to settle for a long word or multiple words strung together.”

Facing the dearth of short, simple name, some companies have gotten creative with names, to ill effect. When choosing a domain name, experts warn against common mistakes, and offer advice on selecting a catchy, easy to remember name.

Here's what not to do when naming names

Common mistakes include creative spelling, using numbers, choosing unpronounceable or undecipherable names, spelling something embarrassing, or offensive by stringing words together.

  • Creative spelling. The most common and damaging naming decision involve confusing spelling. Be creative, but not with spelling, says Alexandra Watkins, chief innovation officer of Eat My Words, a boutique naming firm in San Francisco. Make sure your domain is spelled the way it sounds. “If you have to spell it for customers, it’s a bad name,” Watkins says. Takkle (pronounced tackle) is a social networking site for high school sports. How many high school sports fans spell it the way it sounds and end of at Tackle.com, a site for fishing supplies? “They’re losing people and they’re annoying people,” Watkins says. If you have to spell the domain name to avoid confusion, it’s a bad name, Watkins says.
  • Using "z" instead of "s," for example, simply confuses customers. "You might think you’re picking a pithy way to spell a common word, but customers are not going to remember the spelling,” Watkins says.
  • Unpronounceable or indecipherable names. Using "x" as a first letter is often a recipe for confusion. Take Xobni.com. It’s inbox spelled backwards, “but nobody would get that,” Watkins says. Xobni won Eat My Words’ "Headscratcher of the Year" award last year, voted as the name most confusing and annoying.
  • Inadvertently spelling something unintentional. “You have to be careful when you put all the words together, that they don’t spell something naughty,” Watkins says. Double-check the way your name appears when multiple words are strung together. A company recently registered the name “World of Art” at Register.com, Shuman says. When spelled out for the Web or print, the site’s name takes on a scatological tone: worldofart.com.

Other pointers, from Watkins: using an i or an e in front of a word makes your name look dated. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a domain just because the URL is available. Don’t use a number, as in 2guysfromitaly.com. Customers might wonder if two is a numeral, or if they should spell the word.

Choosing the right name

If your desired domain name already taken, get creative. If pandorasbox.com is taken, for example, try pandorasboxrocks.com. “I would say 90 percent of companies can use a modifier,” Watkins says.

Here are some other tips to find the right domain name:

  • Shop the secondary markets. “If you want a simple domain name, you have to go to a secondary market,” says Shuman. Don’t be discouraged; even if a name is not available, it may be for sale for a reasonable price, he says. Marriedbutlonely.com just sold for $8,000, but planourwedding.com changed hands for only $750.
  • Buy all the extensions. Always go for the dot-com version first, and consider buying up .net, .org, and .biz extensions. Invest in a dot-ca if planning on doing business in Canada, or a dot-tv if the business is related to video, or dot-mobi if the business may expand into the cell phone market.
  • Think about misspellings and buy those domains too. "Buy alternate spelling that redirect them to the main site,” Watkins says.
  • Have fun. A domain name doesn’t have to be serious. It doesn’t even have to match your name, Watkins says. “If you have it printed on your business card, that’s fine,” she says. For example, a dance studio’s site could be learntosalsa.com.
  • Get your name appraised. Check with the experts on how your name will be received. Some websites, such as Nameboy.com, offer a free appraisal, basing its outcome on the number of letters, number of words, use of hyphens (a detractor), or use of numbers.