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In Depth
Your Domain Name, Your Online Brand!
By Ahmed Saad, Technology Matrix Group - Copyright 2001

This is one of the most under-estimated steps in creating an online business. While a good domain name is not a guarantee for success, it raises the odds and makes online branding easier and more productive.  Although our focus here is domain names, the same criteria apply to your business name.  In fact, the domain name is the online projection of your business.

What is a good domain name? There are many criteria used to judge domain names and often times one will conflict with another.   It is best to seek "a happy medium" and to find a compromise that will give you the maximum benefit without going through an academic exercise of futility in your quest for the perfect name.  The perfect name is the one that gives you the most benefits for your particular business.

One thing that you must have BEFORE you start your search is a positive attitude. There is a very popular myth that all of the "good ones" are gone... but this is simply not true, and some of our best names were registered over the past few months. It takes time, perseverance, ingenuity, and most importantly a positive attitude.  Many domain names expire daily as people who registered the name discover that they are not committed to starting a business and let it expire.

The following is a set of criteria that we use when selecting domain names.

Brandable:
The Test: Can you make your name stand out?

While this strongly depends on your marketing efforts, you should make sure your name is not too similar to someone else's since this will cause a lot of confusion in the mind of the customer.  Have you noticed the ads by Visa for their new card with the built in smart chip?  AMEX Blue came out with ads that had a similar feel to them a few months before Visa.  Visa may have aspired to capitalize on an  awareness that AMEX Blue has created in an attempt to piggy-back on their efforts, but many people will associate the new Visa ads with AMEX and in my opinion Visa did themselves a disservice.

The brand reflects the whole experience and it all starts with the name. A hip name will be very hard to properly brand if your product is aimed at W.W.II veterans...unless it involves Viagra and Bob Dole ;-)

Expandable:

The test: Can your name accommodate expanding your product offerings?

While you want to focus on your market niche, make sure that your business name provides you with growth potential.  A case in point is "Burlington COAT factory".  They always say in their ads that they are more than just coats!  While they do sell a multitude of things it is hard to think of a business with "coat" in its name as anything other than a place that sells coats.   Focus on coats or change the name...period.  I have always advised clients not to create their own barriers and kill future growth potential by choosing a name that is more restricted than it should be. 

The business name "Books Online" for example not only limits the product offering but the distribution channel as well.  Now, if you know that you will only sell books and only sell them online it is a great name.  It is important that you make a conscious decision regarding exactly what you want to do.  "Painted Pottery" is too limited unless this is all you plan to have.  We recently registered a name for an artist in Egypt and kept it broad enough to cover art in general (Nile Colors) rather than restricting it to the media she is currently working in.


Memorable- in a positive way ;-)

The test: How many times does it take for people to remember your message? (This is subjective but you can test on friends and family.)

How often do you want to market your site? How much money do you have? The easier the message is retained the more likely people are to remember you. If you use banners or print ads there are always going to be potential customers who will defer checking your site until the unspecified "future".  If your domain name has 'appeal' (which is very subjective) it will be remembered even if it doesn't have a meaning (e.g. Yahoo hardly means anything but tends to stick in ones mind, and so does Miva!).  If the name  communicates what you offer, it may be remembered at the right time (e.g. RealtorListings.com).


Global:

The test: Can a foreigner understand and remember it?

Yet another dimension for your growth potential.    Undoubtedly we all start local, then national, then global.  But as you are branding your name why waste valuable marketing dollars on branding something that you may outgrow? 

What is too local?  Intouch USA is an example.   When we added the brand InTouch Global, not only did it make more sense for their business (worldwide cell phone rentals), but  unsolicited reviews in the NY Times and the Investor's Business Daily mentioned the business name (InTouch USA) yet linked to the InTouchGlobal.com site. This is interesting since the InTouchUSA.com site is online and has been online since 1995.  The word 'global' obviously held great appeal in their line of business and most definitely to the authors of the reviews.  

Some words do not lend themselves to other cultures (e.g. "Goodnight Stories" or "Car Talk").  In such situations, you can either look for other names or be prepared to have other names ready for foreign markets.   Registering names with similar meanings in other languages is the route we chose for "Goodnight Stories".   If you intend to expand globally beware of words that have negative connotations to foreigners due to translation.  For example, Coca Cola's "Fresca" did not do well in Mexico because although Coke thought that it would communicate 'fresh' the locals associated it with the derogatory slang for a homosexual.   Also be aware that some words have negative connotations on transliteration (e.g. biz is a word for a woman's breast in the middle east- a .biz domain in the middle east may not have the image that most businesses want to project).   Another example is the word "rubber" which means eraser in most English (British) speaking countries; not so in the USA.


Spellable:

The Test: Do you have to spell it?

If you have to spell your domain name most of the time then it has failed. Beware of silent letters (night - nite), numbers instead of letters (4 ever), or letters instead of words (B nice). If you do choose to have a name like this make sure that you are able to get both methods of spelling it (e.g. Bnice.com & BeNice.com) Another thing to think about is the plural of your name. If you have a name where the plural is easily confused with the singular of it, try to find another alternative or register both forms of the name. For instance, "JohnsonConsulting" is better than "JohnsonConsultants" since it is easy to miss the 's' in the end, especially if you are giving it to someone over the phone.

The superior level of success: you don't need to spell it... even to a foreigner ;-)

Note: some words in US English differ in the spelling from the British English (which is more prevalent worldwide).  This is why we picked up "Nile Colours" along with "Nile Colors" when we registered the domain name.


Meaningful:

The Test: Does it mean something to your customers?   Is it a common term in your industry?

We registered "sphygmus" for a medically related project.  It means nothing for the average person but is extremely meaningful to the client's customers.  Keep in mind that what is meaningful in a positive sense to some may be totally meaningless or even quite negative to others.  This can be especially important if the name has a negative ring to it on transliteration (not translation).    Make sure that your name appeals to your current AND prospective customers. 

exclaim.gif (988 bytes)  Click Here to see the criteria we suggest on selecting a registrar.

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