Naming an Internet based business or start-up can be a daunting task. Do you follow the zany likes of Google and Yahoo, or do you go the more literal route of Hotels.com and Cars.com? Do you need to have the exact matching domain name as your brick-and-mortar business? And just how important is the.com vs. the.net? With so many choices to make and directions to go, let’s start with the basics.
1. Decide if you are building a business or a brand.
I mention this since many online entrepreneurs are focused on short-term goals. They want to get their site up fast, get ranked high and start making money. This all sounds good but it leaves a business vulnerable in a number of ways. Short term thinking usually leads to literal names that will (supposedly) rank well with the search engines. In addition, literal/functional names are thought to better inform visitors about what products and services are provided.
While descriptive names do convey a sense of what you do, they fall short in creating an identity, a sense of how you do what you do. So you end up in a sea of sound-alike companies. LendingTree.com (a metaphor) is much more memorable than e-loan.com, loansfast.com or loan-place.com. Amazon.com (another metaphor) brings richer imagery to mind than BooksAMillion.com.
Unless you own a primary domain name with a lot of natural type-in traffic, descriptive names usually fall flat in the long run. You may make a decent living, but it would be difficult to grow a long lasting company called MensDressShoes.com. It would always sound generic and descriptive and would rely heavily on the ever-changing algorithms of the search engines. Most descriptive names rely on web surfers typing the search term into the web address box as a.com, hoping to find a relevant company. But what if this changes and consumers turn more and more to using search engines? What if the search engines change their valuation of having keywords in the domain name? You have then built a company that relies on the unpredictable nature of Internet search engines to make you profitable.
Having said all that, even if you wanted a generic short word, it’s probably now beyond most businesses’ price range. Diamonds.com recently sold for 7.5 million dollars. Best advice — build a brand name and then point generic/descriptive names to the main website address.
2. Come up with a naming strategy.
Go to a directory such as Yahoo.com or dmoz.org and look up competitors in your field. Examine the most common naming methods they use (i.e. proper names, key attributes, metaphors, etc.). If you discover your industry heavily utilizes one form of naming, avoid it and use another. If half of the companies are using the evocative theme of discovery (i.e. Internet Explorer, Netscape, Safari, etc.), then try something different such as an analogy (i.e. Firefox). Map out a list of your competitors’ names and see how your names compare against them. Consider such naming techniques as:
” Focusing on a key attribute (Priceline.com)
” Focusing on a key attribute (Priceline.com)
” Adding a suffix (Travelocity.com)
” Creating an invented name (Expedia.com)
” Utilizing an evocative word (Orbitz.com)
” Mixing words in new combinations (HotWire.com)
The more strategies you employ, the more naming options you will have at your disposal. Be careful of misspelled names since they will create one more obstacle when it comes to finding your domain name. Some companies can manage this because they have large budgets (i.e. Cingular.com); but as much as possible, focus on names that can be clearly stated, understood and spelled.
3. Search to see if the names on your list are available.
A great place to start is DomainTools.com. They will not only allow you to look up a domain name to see if it’s available, but they also have a link for domain suggestions when the desired domain in not available. While these suggestions are not always the most creative, they may spark some additional ideas. Plus they show related names that are for sale or at auction on other sites. Another good site is BuyDomains.com. Unlike DomainTools.com, which simply lists whether domains are available or not, BuyDomains.com actually owns its own inventory of over 675,000 names. They will not be available for the $6.95 that GoDaddy.com would charge for an unregistered name, but they do have a good supply of names for between $2,000 to $4,000. Considering the importance of a good domain name, this is relatively inexpensive. In addition to BuyDomains.com, there are sites such as Afternic.com and Sedo.com that also offer a wide selection of domain names, many of which are searchable by category.
You can also broaden your opportunities by adding a good prefix or suffix. Avoid the trite “online” or “cyber” endings. In the case of my naming company, I added the intensifier “Pure to the light bulb filament “Tungsten” to form the domain name PureTungsten.com. Other prefixes and suffixes include “My,” “Go,” “Now,” and “USA.”
4. If you can’t get the.com, then move on.
Starting a new business has enough challenges already. So why add to it by starting with the.net version of your name? I’ve had a number of naming clients come to me with this issue. What they thought would be no big deal turned out to be very painful. Consumers default to the.com address; and without it, you will be constantly reminding customers to use the.net or.info or.us extension. To further compound the issue, many important and sensitive emails will end up going to the.com address. Imagine if a competitive company then buys the.com? You would now have a sticky situation. Avoid it by getting the.com first and foremost.
This is also true of the infamous hyphen. Most people will type a name without the hyphen. So unless you want to constantly explain it, don’t rely on customers to assume your name has a hyphen. If you have a number in your name, try to get both the spelled out number and the actual number. If you must chose one over the other, go with the spelled out name since names generally contain letters vs. numbers (i.e. CapitalOne.com).
5. Be sure to register all the possible typos and misspellings.
Think of all the possible ways your new name could be misspelled (hopefully none if you’ve done your work!). Then register these names. This will prevent domain squatters and link farms from selling your traffic to your competitors. Since consumers default to the.com name, it’s more important that you get common misspellings than it is to get the.net.
As with any name, you would be wise to check the Uspto.gov database to see if there are any companies in your goods and services category utilizing the same or similar name. If that looks clear, you will still need to file a trademark application, which you can do online, or hire a good trademark attorney.
This completes your crash course on naming an Internet based business. If the task becomes overwhelming, you can hire a naming firm; but be prepared to pay $7,500 to $75,000 to get a good name, tag line, matching domain name and artwork. If you follow the above guidelines, you should be able to keep yourself from making any major missteps and be on your way to online success. And in both the short run and long run, that’s the name of the game!