Eleven years ago when I launched my email marketing software company, VerticalResponse, I had no problems snapping up the domain name, www.verticalresponse.com. Those were the days!
Entrepreneurs today have it much harder. With more than 220 million domain names already registered, you'd be really lucky if the dot-com URL that matches your new business name is readily available. (Not to mention exact matches for your social media handles.)
So what should be the priority? Do you pick a company name based on whether there's an exact-match domain name available? Or do you get creative with the URL to fit the business name of your dreams? Here are my two cents.
If your business model revolves around the Web, or if you're planning to spend a lot of money on online marketing, then an exact-match domain name should be a top priority. Think Netflix, Yelp, Spotify or, yes, even Google. People are going to automatically default to your company name as your URL, and if that URL directs them to someone else's site, you're losing out on valuable business prospects. Plus, an exact-match domain name helps you get found by search engines, instead of someone else.
Also, if your customers are everyday consumers, an exact-match URL is more important than if you're in the business-to-business industry. Why? B2B companies tend to sell to niche categories; their pool of customers is smaller, which means less noise online. With B2C companies, consumers are less likely to spend the time to find you, which means more chances for your competition to attract their attention.
If the majority of your business is done offline, then there's more flexibility if an exact-match domain name is not available. Many bricks-and-mortar businesses, like restaurants, include their geographic location in their URLs. For example, think about companynameNY.com if you're in New York, or companynameSF.com if you're in San Francisco. This also will help increase your search engine visibility because many people search for retail outlets, eateries, hotels, etc. by location.
When it comes to domain name extensions, the holy grail is, of course, a dot-com. But if that's not available, a dot-net or even dot-co are okay options.
And finally, make sure to check whether matching social media handles are available. Ideally they should all be the same as your domain name. If something's already taken, a small change to your brand name or adding an industry- or location-specific modifier that's consistent across all your social media networks might be the way to go.
For example, if you are a print shop and your domain name is companyname.com but that's already been taken on Twitter, consider @companynameco or @companynamepress. (One more thing: When coming up with a Twitter handle, the max is 15 characters. The less characters the better, because you only have 140 characters per tweet.)
Choosing a name for your new business should be a strategic decision, not something purely based on creative inspiration. But once you've decided, embrace it, because it's going to be a part of everything you do!