What’s in a Name?
Never underestimate the value of your domain name to the success of your sales! The domain name is the series of letters between “www” and “.com” (or .net, .biz, etc.). It can be the most powerful strategy you employ to draw people to your site…and have them coming back for more.
Whether you have an established company that needs a domain name OR your domain name dictates the name of your company, this post will tell you everything you need to know to successfully play the name game and win.
Start Smart: The Brainstorming Process
Don’t be fooled. Most times, choosing a name is not as simple as it seems. There are many variables at work to ensure that your site can be found amongst your competitors and then remain in the minds of your customers once they leave.
Start the process by following this tried-and-true brainstorming method:
- Unleash your thoughts: Sit down in a quiet area without distraction and spend ten minutes writing everything that comes to mind when you think of your product or service. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation; just get your thoughts on paper.
- Highlight words with impact: Comb through your list, highlighting the words and phrases that represent the distinctive advantages of your company and make the most impact. Think about what words your customers may use if they’re searching for your product and include those as well.
- Piece the puzzle together: From your “power list” of highlighted words, try different combinations to make a phrase or new word.
- Check availability: Take your top 10-20 favorites and check them for availability online at an accredited registration service like Godaddy.com (see “Name Registration” for details). Your favorite names may be taken, but most registration sites will give you a list of alternatives that will keep your wheels turning to find more suitable options.
- Ask around: Once you have a list of your available picks, take a vote with friends and family to see what comes out on top. Listen to their opinions – what seems great to you may sound funny to them — but remember to follow your instincts; ultimately, you are the decision maker.
For example: If you’re selling authentic, gourmet Belgian Waffle mix, some logical name combinations may be TheWaffleGourmet.com, AuthenticWaffleCompany.com, BelgianByDesign.com.
Rules of the Game
- Only letters, numbers and hyphens can be part of the domain name, but the name cannot begin or end with a hyphen.
- Most programs won’t support any name over 26 characters.
- You must be careful not to choose a name that infringes on the trademark of another company. Stay away from well-known celebrity names or variations of brand names.
What to do if…
The domain name for your established company is not available?
If you’re ready to take your established company online but the name is already taken, don’t worry. Consider using a hyphen or choose a modified version of your company name that’s close enough to stay memorable to your current customers.
For example: Jessie’s Jewelry may become Jessies-Jewelry.com, JessiesJewels.com or JewelryByJessie.com.
You can’t decide on one name?
No problem. Use the checklist to compare names and determine which one will work hardest for you. Use that as your primary company name and purchase multiple domain names if your budget allows.
You’ve decided on a domain name but .com is taken?
Don’t be tempted to use .net, .biz or another alternative suffix as your primary or only domain name. Find a variation of your name that has .com available. You may purchase alternative suffixes in addition to a .com address, but people tend to automatically add .com to the end of your domain name. You may be sending your customers to another website.
Your product selection is broad and it’s hard to decide on a name that would suit your offerings best?
Try to pick a generalized term. For example, if you are dealing in baby products, your site name may be BabyProducts.com or GreatBabyProducts.com.
Reserve Your Place: Name Registration
Now that you’ve decided on a name (or names), it’s time to register with an accredited, online registration service. There are hundreds of websites where you can go to make this purchase, but there are a handful of popular companies that most online entrepreneurs use, including:
The main difference between each of these sites is cost. Do some comparison shopping to find the best deal. If budget allows, purchase your name for more than a year; many registration services offer price breaks if you register your name for 5+ years. Plus, it will save you the headache of having to renew each year. If you forget to renew, you may lose your domain name. There are some un-savory individuals who search for recently expired domains and will quickly register under their name, hoping to re-sell it to original owners for a large mark-up.
Don’t stop your availability search on the name registration sites. Just because a domain name is available online doesn’t mean there’s not already a company in existence without an internet presence that has the same name. Search your state corporate registration website. There, you can find out if your chosen name is already registered as a fictitious name with another company. It is possible that someone could be doing business with the name you want, but may have not registered a website domain. If they were using the name first you will definitely lose the battle in the courtroom, even if they did not at the time have a registered domain name.
The Question of Suffixes
The internet is constantly evolving and, as such, there are always new avenues to explore. Just a few years ago there were only three or five common suffixes, but now there are dozens. Here are the most popular suffixes and their intended usages:
- .com: Commercial and personal sites
- .net: Companies involved in internet infrastructure
- .org: Non-profit organizations
- .gov: Government agencies
- .edu: Schools, colleges and universities
I personally recommend that your domain name should always have a .com suffix. Then, if possible, consider registering multiple suffixes so that competitors can’t capitalize on your popularity with the same name/different suffix in the future.
Protect Your Business: Trademark & Fictitious Name Registration
Once your domain name is registered, it’s time to think about applying for trademark protection with the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/). This is entirely optional — you can conduct business online without a trademark – but it is recommended to establish your rights to your domain name. Doing so will strengthen your power in court if you ever need to enforce your rights against competitors or others who try to use your name. If that time ever comes, you’ll be glad you took the extra steps to protect your company.
Any business that doesn’t use its legal name (the official name of the person or entity that owns the business) as part of its business name may register a “fictitious name.” You can do this with your state, and usually your county clerk’s office. Every state has slightly different requirements for how and where to do this. Do a Google search to find out how to register your company as a fictitious name in your state.
Include key words: This will increase your standing in search engines and shopping portals. Search sites are likely to answer search requests based on the number of key words that match a domain name. For example, if a potential customer were searching for hot sauce, www.HotSauceWorld.com would be closer to the top of the list than www.SpicySauces.com.
Think in alphabetical terms: Choose a name that starts with a letter close to the beginning of the alphabet. Manufacturer “Where to Buy” pages often list the retailers that sell their products in alphabetical order. Most customers will start at the top and shop the first few sites, never making their way to the last on the list. For example, Ababy.com would be listed first and Zbaby.com is listed last.
Register multiple names: It’s a great idea to choose many relevant domain names and have these all point towards your main website (i.e. forwarding the URL). This means that you can have more than one address that lands in the same location.
Consider potential confusion: Most customers don’t take the time or have the patience to try different spellings if they don’t get it right the first time. Think about possible mistakes that potential customers could make when typing in your web address. For instance, if your domain name contains a commonly misspelled word or a homonym (there/their, too/two, etc.) you may want to simplify the name or register multiple names so that even if a common mistake is made, your customer will find your site.
Buy direct: If you’re really set on a domain name that’s unavailable, go to Whois.net to lookup the owner and contact them. Domain-name owners will occasionally sell a name if they’re not using it. You can also check out GoDaddy Auctions to bid on domain names for sale in an auction-like format. This is also a great place to search for key words and see if there’s a domain name available that wouldn’t be listed at other registry sites.
Avoid numerical spellings: Don’t be tempted to use domains that contain ‘2’ for “To’, ‘4’ for ‘For’, ‘u’ for ‘You’ and so on, even if they sound ‘cool’. Your customers will easily get confused. If you do take this route, consider buying both the numerical name and the version that’s spelled out. For example: Register both Stuff4Kids.com and StuffForKids.com.
Look for possible offenses: Domain names do not allow spaces, so be careful that the words you form don’t create a word you don’t intend. For example, if your company name is John Jack Associates, you wouldn’t want your domain name to be Johnjackass.com.
The domain name is a unique name that identifies your website. It can be the same as your company or a variation of it. Make your name as memorable and relevant as possible to the product or service you are offering. A clever, one-of-a-kind name may also help you stand apart from competitors. And, think about the words customer may use to find your product at shopping directories and search engines. Try to include as many of these key words as possible to achieve a top listing. Finally, be sure to double-check the legality of your name by researching existing trademarks and fictitious business names for your same name.
IMPress Action Checklist:
Below is a list of the steps necessary to choose an effective business name. Be sure to check off each task as you complete it to stay focused on this fundamental first step to becoming successful online.
- Brainstorm a list of name ideas
- Check availability of your favorite names
- Evaluate the names on your available list against the following criteria:
- Is it memorable?
- Is it easy to spell?
- Does it quickly and accurately describe your product or service?
- Does it contain key words?
- Is it unique?
- Is it legal? (Research Fictitious Names and Trademarks)
- Ask others for their opinions on your favorite names
- Register your name with an online registration service
- Register your name with your state
- Register your name with the US Patent and Trademark Office
- Register relevant domain names and point them to your main URL