Why we buy domain names
(and what to do about it)
You have an idea. It’s an AMAZING idea.
You think of a domain name. It’s an AMAZING domain name, and it’s AVAILABLE!
Your mind starts racing:
So you buy it. You have the domain name, the twitter account, a shiny new email address…
…and then three months later you’ve done exactly nothing on the project 🤦♂️
So the name gets put on the pile of other names - a graveyard of projects that you’ll get to eventually. It sits in a list of old ideas tormenting you until it expires. UGH.
Why do we do this to ourselves? And, perhaps more importantly, what can we do to stop the cycle?
The sharpest pain we feel is loss aversion.
If you don’t buy this domain name RIGHT NOW - then someone else will.
They will steal your amazing idea, and then they will get all the credit, and then you’ll be forced to get a stupid name instead, and then the project will never reach its true potential.
We feel like once we’ve found a good name, it’s OURS - even before we’ve bought it - and if someone else buys it first, then they’ve taken something of ours.
It’s even worse when we start imagining our amazing project or company that will live at that domain name. We start to imagine the success of a project before we’ve done any work on it and (of course), the domain name is the first step in that project’s journey, right? So if we lose the domain name then we’ve lost that entire great future as well.
What do do about it
First: just because YOU are on the verge of buying it - doesn’t mean that anyone else is. You can wait a week… it’s ok; the domain name will probably still be there in a week.
Second: realize that just because you thought of it first, doesn’t mean it’s yours! You’re imagining what the name WILL mean in the future, and not recognizing it for what it is right now: a commodity that anyone can buy or sell.
Lastly: understand what is happening in your brain. You’re becoming attached to something you THINK is going to happen. Instead, try to remind yourself of all the work that would be ahead of you to make that a reality - and that future isn’t yours yet.
Good domains are hard to find
The reason we feel loss aversion so strongly is because it’s really hard to find a good domain name! Aren’t they all taken already?
So, when we find a short, pronounceable name that perfectly describes the project, of course we’re going to feel attached to it! We’ve already spent so much time thinking up a good name for it!
There are at least two ways that thinking is twisted though:
Sunk cost fallacy - just because you’ve spent a lot of time finding a good name, doesn’t mean it’s ACTUALLY a good name, or that it’s the best name for your project, or even that the project is actually a good idea in the first place.
Good domain names are everywhere - it FEELS like good names are in short supply, but there hundreds of TLDs and millions of word combinations that are undiscovered.
What to do about it
Remind yourself that there are THOUSANDS of domain names that expire every single day. Every single one of those was bought by someone who thought it was a good idea… but then a year, two years, 10 years later - they let the domain go. Do you want to be one of those expired names?
Also, remember that .com isn’t the only option! TONS of great companies have been built on .co, .io, .app, and now there are 100s more to choose from. People don’t really type in domain names now anyway - they search for it, or click a link from somewhere.
Short term dopamine hit
Buying a domain name FEELS good. It feels like progress.
Buying a domain name is fun, (more fun than the actual work of making the thing), so that’s what we do first. Once we give a name to a project it feels real - feels like we’ve done the first step on a great journey.
What we’re really doing is giving our brain a quick hit of dopamine - the same quick hit you get when you impulse buy something in the checkout line at a store.
We’re not making progress on the real substance of the project, but instead just doing all the ancillary things that we want to do to make us feel good about starting.
This isn’t a fake feeling by the way: it’s a real, chemical reaction in our brains that makes us feel amazing… but it’s misleading.
It will lead you down the wrong road.
What to do about it
The most important thing to do is recognize it for what it is: a short term hit that will make you feel good for a minute, until the reality of the project sets in. Just realizing that isn’t enough though - we have to train our brains to ignore or delay that impulse.
Try this exercise (WARNING! this is dangerous):
Go to https://leandomainsearch.com/ and search for a common, short word like “nice”.
Now, LOOK AT ALL THOSE GOOD DOMAIN NAMES (I personally like “NiceZap.com” and “NiceDigest.com”)
Here’s the hard part: DON’T BUY ANY!
Congrats 🎉 you’ve just trained your brain a little bit to look at some good names, and then not buy them.
Also, if you do this enough you’ll realize that there are HUNDREDS of good domain names still available. Names aren’t really in short supply: that’s just an illusion.
So what should you do?
You still want to start cool new projects, so what are you supposed to do: just NOT buy that cool domain name you’ve found?
Here are the three ways I see it:
Create one unified brand name for all your side projects
A lot of people use “myname.com”, which is pretty good, and has the benefit that you can launch “myname.com/cool-project”, even if “cool-project” already exists in the world.
If you have a single, broad name for all your projects, you get several benefits:
You don’t have to register new names + twitter accounts + emails for every single project you start. Time savings!
You’ll save money on domain names
You don’t get the dopamine hit from finding a good name and registering it; instead, you’re forced to actually work ON the project.
If a project does take off, and you want to peel it off in the future, nothing is stopping you!
Just wait until after there is real forward progress.
Wait 7 days before buying any new name
Maybe you REALLY want that name though - ok, ok - but just wait a bit until you buy it.
It will almost certainly be available in a week, so wait a week and then ask: “Do I still really want this?”
I’ll bet for more than half of those domain names, you won’t really care a week later.
There are two big downsides to this approach though:
First, what if someone DOES buy the name?
Well, they probably won’t. But you do have to be ready for that, so figure out how you’re going to feel about that NOW, and try accept that feeling before it happens. That way if you don’t get the domain, you’ll be ready for it, but if you DO get it, then you can be super excited.
Second, it can limit your forward progress if you let it.
If you think that setting up a website is the first step to complete a project, then delaying that will delay the project. RIGHT?
The remedy for that is to realize that setting up a domain name should NOT be the first step in a project.
There is SO MUCH WORK that has to be done for any project, and a domain name isn’t need until a ways down the line.
Say “Screw It”, and buy the domain name anyway
Ok, so this may be counter productive in a post that is trying to help break a habit… but sometimes buying that domain name is ok.
It can be a cheap way to get a dopamine hit, and they (usually) don’t cost that much. So give yourself some slack.
But there are a few things that you’ll have to accept:
You’ll have to stare a list of domains that you aren’t using, and then let them expire when you’re done with them. That part can hurt.
They renew every year… so that can reallllly add up! Recurring charges are dangerous.
Mental overhead: How many projects are you still thinking about starting from 2 years ago that you haven’t gotten around to yet? That can be really distracting.
Make awesome things
Whether you choose to keep buying domain names or not, I think it’s great that the urge to create drives us.
Figure out if you can make peace with your growing list of unused domain names, or if you should use some of the tactics here to try to prevent the purchase in the first place.
Try to be kind to yourself though: it’s hard to change your behavior.
And: keeping making awesome things 🦄