Deciding whether to register a domain or form an LLC first can feel like a chicken-and-egg situation. In reality, it’s just a matter of balancing competing priorities. You need to secure a legal business name with the state (where options may be limited) and snag a domain name that’s short, easy to remember, and on brand for your business (also no small feat). Should your business name and domain name match? And which name should you prioritize at the beginning stages of starting a business?
We have answers. In this guide, we’ll help you vanquish indecision and get on the track to starting a business with a great website.
Domain Name vs. Business (LLC) Name
Your business name is what appears on official paperwork you file with the state. The state usually has specific requirements about words that must be included in your name based on the type of business you’re running. For example, many states require LLCs to include an abbreviation like “LLC” or even the phrase “Limited Liability Company.” This is considered the legal name of your business.
Your domain name is what people type into their browser’s address bar when they want to visit your website. It does not have to include identifying words like “LLC.” In fact, there’s no requirement for it to match your business name at all. Domain names can only use letters, numbers, and hyphens.
Do my domain name and business name need to match?
There’s no requirement—legal or otherwise—for your business name and your domain name to match. That’s because your business name and your domain name serve two very different purposes.
Your business name is your entity’s legal name. You’ll use it to do legal stuff, like enter into contracts, open business bank accounts, and pay taxes.
Your domain name, on the other hand, serves as the web address for your company. It’s what people who come across your business online—on social media or via search engines—will associate with your business.
Both names are key parts of your business’s brand—a fancy marketing term that really just means the personality or identity of your business. You’ll want to choose the business name and a domain name that best serve these two functions. This means your domain name and business name may or may not match.
Okay, but should my domain name and business name match?
This is a slightly different question, and the answer is complicated. In some cases, it’s best for your domain name and business name to match—or at least get as close as possible. But many businesses use a completely different domain name than company name. Here, we’ll break down a few scenarios.
When your business name and domain name shouldn’t match:
- Your business will have several websites, each with their own branding.
- Your business name is too long to make for a short, memorable domain name.
- Your business name is tricky to spell or contains foreign words.
- You have an idea for a domain name that’s more memorable or on brand for your business than your business name.
When your business name and domain name should match (or get close):
- Your business name is well-known by the public.
- Your business website will market your whole company, not a niche product or specific brand.
- Your business name is short, memorable, and easy to spell.
What should I do if my business name domain isn’t available?
If you’ve determined your business name and your domain name should more or less match, but your the domain name that matches your business name isn’t for sale, you have a few options. You can:
- Consider using an extension other than .com, like .co, .net, or even something fun like .pizza (if it’s on brand for your business).
- If you have a brick-and-mortar location, consider adding your region to your domain name (for example, an LA-based flower shop called Mae Flowers LLC could use the domain maeflowersLA.com).
- Use a shortened version of your business name for your domain name (for example, John’s Lawncare, LLC could use the domain name johnslawns.com).
- Do a little digging. Maybe the owner of the domain is willing to sell. You can search WHOIS to find out who owns a domain name or hire a broker to handle the deal for you.
Can a DBA help (if my business and domain names don’t match)?
Suppose you buy a domain name that doesn’t match your business name. After some time, you find that you actually like your domain name more than your business name. In fact, you’d like to do all your business—not just the online side—under your domain name.
In that case, you don’t have to form a whole new LLC or change your LLC’s name. You just need to register a DBA (doing business as) name with the state. A DBA is like a nickname for your business, and filing one is usually pretty inexpensive (depending on where you live).
Remember that registering a DBA is not the same as registering a legal entity—a DBA affords you no liability protection.
How to Decide Whether to Form an LLC vs. Register a Domain First
So should you register a domain or form an LLC first? Like other aspects of your business, there’s no single answer that applies to all businesses and situations. Here’s a list of questions and considerations worth keeping in mind as you work through your decision.
1. Will you mostly sell things online?
Let’s say you’re starting a business that only sells items or services online and does not have a brick-and-mortar location. In this case, the success of your business depends on your online presence and branding, and a solid domain name is a key part of that. You should secure a domain name first and worry about naming your business second.
How do you find out if a domain name is available? Go to any domain registrar – like domainregistry.com – and type in the domain name you’re seeking. You’ll get an answer in seconds.
A brick-and-mortar business may find that deciding on a business name and forming an LLC first makes the most sense. To find out if your desired LLC name is available, visit your state’s secretary of state’s website. There, you’ll find a database of all the businesses registered in your state, and you can search to see if your desired name is available.
If someone’s already claimed your name, you’ll need to find an alternate one. The good news is that when you do form an LLC, you’ll prevent anyone else in your state from coming along and using the exact same business entity name.
2. Do you need liability protection right away?
An LLC is a type of business entity. When you form an LLC you gain liability protection in the separation of your business assets from your personal assets. That keeps someone from claiming personal assets (like your home) in a lawsuit they file against your LLC.
There are some businesses that will need liability protection sooner than others. For instance, any establishment that serves food has to worry about customers getting food poisoning or having allergic reactions. A gym has to worry about people getting hurt while doing deadlifts. A miniature golf course has to worry about golfers getting boinked in the head by a runaway golf ball. However, a freelance writer may find that they’re willing to put off getting liability protection until after their website goes live.
3. Is your ideal domain name available?
Don’t wait. You can buy a domain name, then park it for a while before you turn it into a professional website for your business. Buying a domain and holding off on developing it fully is a common practice known as domain parking. Because you’ll be competing for a good domain name with people around the world and not just in your home state, you don’t want to snooze on an opportunity you might not have again.