The best domain names are two names. Or three.

You don't need a dot com, or a short name, to build a successful startup.

Last year, I started two companies (great idea, totally recommended, definitely not too much to take on). And in the process, I accidentally ended up stumbling upon the best way to buy a domain and rank first on Google for it:

Use more than one word in your name.

It flies in the face of logic, of the trends of naming your startup a single English word. Paper was all the rage for a bit there: there was the notes app Dropbox Paper, Facebook's experimental Paper app, and the veritable iPad drawing app, Paper by 53. Apple borrowed all the arithmetic values for their Numbers spreadsheet; Microsoft did one better decades earlier, claiming the final Word for itself.

The newer trick is redefining a less commonly used word into a brand name. Notion rebranded "a concept or belief" into a notes app; Coda claimed "the last word" on notes. That’s what we did with Reproof, the collaborative writing platform, shifting “an expression of blame or disapproval” into proofreading again.

Skip the dot com

That’s still a single word, one you’ll be hard-pressed to snag the dot com for. But maybe you don’t need one; less than half of YC-backed startups use .com nowadays, after all. And once you start looking at alternative TLDs, the .app and .tech and .ai’s of the world, you’ve suddenly added an extra word to your name. You’re not just Reproof; you’re

Google notices the extra word in the TLD, too. It’s tough to rank on top of Google for your brand name when you borrow a real English word. But we ranked #1 for “Reproof app” early on, long before we had built up backlinks and without a single backlink to the phrase “reproof app,” clearly showing that Google regarded the TLD as part of our name. co-founder Bobby Pinero told me something similar about their domain; they’re building an app, anyhow, so the TLD fits, and people are likely to search for “equals app” anyhow. His team has “no hesitation in trying to build a multi-billion dollar business on the .app domain,” he shared. (Pinero and co may have hit on another clever naming trick: Adding an s to the name. It’d likely be harder to rank for equal, with its dictionary and thesaurus listings, than the less-common equals).

So that’s one strategy: Pick a real-word TLD, and embrace it as part of your branding. Now your startup name has two words, and an equally better chance at ranking first on Google for the two words together, if not for the solo name at first.

Pick a longer name

But then there’s another strategy: Embrace longform and use more than one word in your domain.

For my second company, content agency Pith and Pip (somewhat inspired by the Sherlock Holmes story "The Five Orange Pips”), we didn’t worry so much about a single name. Maybe an app like Reproof needs something short and memorable, but a content agency could survive with something a bit longer.

Longer names most obvious benefit is that it’s easier to still snag a dot com. Good luck finding any single English word dot com available today, but was right there for the taking.

But their more subtle benefit comes in search. People searching for your single English word name might be looking for its definition, or other things that share the name. No one was looking for “pith and pip” before we put those words together, so within months of launching we had the #1 spot on Google for our name without trying.

Obscurity rules, at least when you’re trying to stake out a claim.

Google doesn’t care. It might even reward you.

Only … don’t you need a short domain for SEO purposes? “We recommend short domain names,” says Google's official domain recommendations, confirming our worst fears about long domains. And then it follows up, clarifying short as “typically between 3 to 4 terms.”

Three to four terms! And here we've been killing ourselves trying to find single-word English .com's.

So you’re good. Maybe don’t go quite as long as the longest Y Combinator startup’s domain this year, with 30 characters, but a few words pushed together should be fine.

It’s like book titles. We went from On the Origin of Species and the sixteen other words in that title, to the single-word Spare, Unscripted, and Cast titles today’s bestseller list. Maybe there’s space in the middle for more reasonable title lengths (as, admittedly, is far more common in the publishing world than in domains).

Two words, or three. A TLD with a word that fits your branding, or a longer dot com that’s a bit more descriptive. Works if you pronounce it as separate words, as Pith and Pip or Reproof app. Works as well if you run the words together, as bookmarking app does with their name—it works as a new word, MyMind, as well as it does as the phrase My Mind.

You’ll have an easier time finding a domain. You’ll get something a bit more unique. And just maybe, you’ll rank first on Google for your domain much more easily than you would if you’d lucked out with a single word dot com.

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