Leverage the ‘Bus Theory’ to pick a memorable domain

4 min read
Christopher Ambler

Being in the domain name business for more than 20 years now, the most common interaction I have with family, friends, and customers is, by far, the question, “Seriously, how do I pick a domain name for my small business?” Almost as common, a friend with a small business will be thinking about an advertising campaign and ask, “Should I use a unique domain for this campaign, and if so, how do I pick it?” The answer to the first question comes down to what I call the “Bus Theory.” And the answer to the second is often a resounding, “Yes!” and the Bus Theory applies there, too.

The Bus Theory is simple: any domain name is good if you can remember it after seeing it on the side of a bus driving down the street.

That’s it. This simple rule often changes much of the advice that has become “well-known domain wisdom.” Consider what you hear over and over: don’t bother with any top-level domains other than .com, as .com is king. While that may have been good advice in 2008, with the introduction of hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), it’s simply no longer true.

This bus stops for descriptive domains

Let’s say my friend Bill the sushi chef is considering the merits of BillsBaitAndSushiFactory.com (because most of the shorter, .com variants are no longer available) versus a shorter, more memorable domain ending with one of the new top-level domains. Maybe something like tuna.ninja.

The Tuna Ninja

The Bus Theory would state that the shorter domain wins. That’s the one you’re going to remember if it passes you on the side of a bus.

The bus theory says that picking a name tailored to your message and getting it short and memorable is the successful naming strategy.

In the past, the advice might have been, “If it is taken in .com, check .net or even .org, but they’re not as good.” This was true — .net and .org are both generic top-level domains and have historically suggested networks or nonprofits. While that’s not strictly true, perception is reality. 

But with new top-level domains, the Bus Theory says that picking a name tailored to your message and getting it short and memorable is the successful naming strategy. People who see tuna.ninja on the side of the No. 42 to Newark are going to remember it — especially when the catchy name is accompanied by a graphic of a delicious piece of hamachi.

If you’re just starting out and you’ve not even named your business yet, look at the new gTLDs and apply the Bus Theory. This technique will suggest more names than simple brainstorming alone, most of them available for registration right now. This kind of “backing-in” to the domain can save time and headaches.

Name your campaign

When you’re considering a domain for an advertising or sales campaign, backing-in to a domain name that satisfies the Bus Theory makes the creative process just as simple. Rather than spending days coming up with a five-word compound phrase that you can find available in .com, try starting with the top-level domain.

What would Bill do?

When Bill was trying to come up with a domain for his big Summer of Tuna event, he turned to the list of new top-level domains for naming inspiration. He was disappointed that Tuna.com was taken, and then he looked at all the new domain extensions rolling out and realized that Tuna.ninja was up for grabs. The lightbulb over his head lit up. Bill could envision the Summer of Tuna advertising campaign: His face, a sushi knife, and “tuna.ninja” emblazoned on the side of a city bus — and his career as “The Tuna Ninja” was born.

The domain came first.

Tuna.ninja satisfies the Bus Theory. I’ll bet you remember it a week from now.

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