“No one will ever see the name Zobonkii.com and think, ‘Oh, what a creative company.’ In reality, anyone with even a tenuous grasp on the tech industry will think, ‘Great… Another trivial startup that’s piggybacking on social media trends.’” TheNextWeb.com.
Choosing a domain name is as important as choosing the name of your company – in fact, more often than not it is your company name - and it’s not just about ensuring the URL will fit on your business cards. It seems simple enough, but when you look at some of the disastrous choices some companies have made, often inadvertently, you’ll see that a bad domain name could damage your reputation and cost you money.
Ironically, many companies have succeeded despite having domain names that experts would not have recommended but, unless you’re the next Google, it’s not a good idea to ignore the potential risks of a bad domain name.
Let’s look at some bad domain name choices, some companies who have succeeded despite, or perhaps because of, bad domain names, and then at some tips for choosing a domain name.
Domain name disasters
Most commonly, bad domain names result from an unfortunate juxtaposition of words, amusing translation of words and phrases into other languages, or unintentional word connotations. Invariably they end up on “hilarious website names” lists shared on social media, not something the marketing department would advise. Once spotted, the humiliating website is quickly taken down; by then, however, the owner has already had business cards printed and ordered t-shirts for its staff, a costly exercise. Bad domain names are often bawdy or a little vulgar. Two examples of inadvertently bad domain names: americanscrapmetal.com and childrenswear.co.uk.
Top tips for domain naming
- Ease of use
- Long domain names or names that are difficult to type should be avoided. http://www.thelongestdomainnameintheworldandthensomeandthensomemoreandmore.com/ is one of the longest recorded domain names, and the site is popular, but a lengthy name like this really won’t look good on your business cards.
- Keep it short is rule number one. However, domain names should also be meaningful and easily shareable by word of mouth. While c4op.com seems nice and straightforward, it is not nearly as meaningful as clothesforoldpeople.com.
- Which brings us to numbers and symbols that can be misinterpreted. For instance, electricity247.com may not be immediately interpreted as 24/7, whereas electricitydayandnight.com needs no interpretation.
- Slang and misspellings are popular for domain names but only if you’re in the big leagues, e.g. a Tumblr or a Pinterest, or can justify mangling the English language. Even though iamawriter.com may be taken, and iamawritter.com seems quite amusing when you’re brainstorming late at night, it may put potential clients off employing your copywriting services. It also makes you more difficult to find. The exception is when you are very confident of your brand, your clever word mix makes sense (as does Pinterest) or you can afford to buy up variations on your brand name. If you type flicker.com in your browser, you will be directed to www.flickr.com. So, if you’re considering a mangled or misspelt name, consider buying up the obvious domains (and correct spellings) a customer might type into their browser to try and find you. At the very least, include these obvious alternatives in your content for SEO purposes.
- Also avoid acronyms, abbreviations and words with multiple connotations. No, your customers do not want to try and work it out for themselves.
- SEO, keywords and product branding
- Try and keep your domain name linked as closely as possible to your product or service. iexportplants.com is nice, but if you export orchards exclusively, iexportorchards would be better. The exception is if you plan on exporting different types of plants in the future. When considering domain names, think ahead, if possible. Your domain name should take into consideration your future expansion plans. For instance, cigarette maker Philip Morris Companies changed its name to Altria Group Inc. to ensure that consumers knew that it was "more than a tobacco company”. At the time, the holding company was also the owner of Kraft Foods and the Miller Brewing Company, but synonymous in the public mind with cigarettes.
- Try and keep your domain name linked to your business name. For instance, if you own Purple Cow, creators of hand blown glass, you could call your website purplecowglass.com. There already is a purplecow.com.au (online clothing sales), a purplecowco.net, a purplecowrealestate.com, to name a few similar domains. But, be warned, if your customer lands on your competitor’s site first, purplecowcrafts.com, they may stick around and buy their glass artefacts there instead.
- Appropriate generic domain name extensions (TLDs)
- .org is commonly used by non-commercial and non-profit organisations.
- Using a country-specific extension, e.g. .au, will be great, but won’t rank as highly against your competitors if you’re an international business.
- .com can be used by anyone but primarily is used by commercial entities.
- If you’re publishing a blog for personal use, you could rather use the extension .me.
- .net, which is the extension Localnode uses, is used by technical and internet infrastructure sites.
- .io, input/output is one of the fastest growing extensions in the startup world. It’s increasingly used by tech companies and is the internet country code for the British Indian Ocean Territory.
If you can afford it, and they are available, buy up all the extensions for your domain so that your competitors can’t get their feet in your door. Remember that your domain name is an asset. LasVegas.com, for instance, is worth a whopping USD 90,000,000.
Bad domain names that made goodIronically, some really bad domain names are resoundingly successful. Google.com is perhaps one of the most familiar domain names on the internet, but Google.com could have been called squeedgie.com, and we’d be squeegeeing the internet today. In fact, Google’s name was initially BackRub; a name far too specific and banal for the giant the company eventually became.
Another example is the Fortune 500 company, Cisco. The name is derived from “San Francisco” and says nothing about the company, but it really doesn’t matter; everyone in their industry knows who they are. Misspelt Flickr also made it work as did the obscure IMDB (Internet Movies DataBase) website. And Yahoo got away with a word meaning boorish, crass and stupid.
- Keep it short and meaningful.
- Don’t try and be too funny or clever (by doing so you’re limiting your market to people who think just like you do which may or may not be a good thing but probably won’t).
- Google your competitors to see how they’re doing it. The thing is, if you’re marketing to a dull, grey market, it’s really OK to be drab and boring. For instance, if you’re marketing retirement homes, sexy innuendo is not going to cut it.
- Test your new name on friends and family; everyone loves to be asked for advice, and it’s free. Your friends and family are samples of the potential customers you’re aiming to lure.
- If you can’t think of a great domain name, rather sit on the fence than choose something exotic randomly. John Greathouse’s number one tip is to pick a name that is uniquely familiar but simultaneously not too generic or indistinguishable. A name that sounds familiar but is not confusingly similar to another company is both powerful and tantalisingly elusive. However, a borderline copycat domain name, while not putting visitors off, probably won’t thrill your customers, e.g. Phoenix Hats, Phoenix Cars, Phoenix widgets, etc. (see the PurpleCow warning above).