One of the toughest challenges when branding a web-based startup is finding that elusive matching .com domain name. The immediate temptation is to create a mutated version of your proposed company name by adding a hyphen, or chopping the name in pieces, (e.g., QualiProSys.com) or admitting defeat and taking the .net or .biz extension. Ouch!
But short-term compromise can come back to haunt you in the years ahead, especially if a competitor or domain squatter sits on your “real” name. Or you find yourself spelling the name out at every mention.
What to do? Here are five insider tips employed by professional naming and branding experts.
1. Avoid Literal and Descriptive Company Names
This might seem counter intuitive, but from a branding and domain point of view, it makes all the sense in the world. Literal and descriptive names are common sounding and vanilla by nature. They are the first ones that any business owner thinks of when naming a company, so they are the first to go. “Domainers” tend to keep descriptive domains since they can park them and generate ad revenue, so they will be taken or pricey to obtain.
As tempting as it is to describe your company in the name, it will compete with all the other businesses in your industry using the exact same keywords. So avoid generic terms in your name (e.g., Business Management Associates) and you’ll stand a better chance of finding a great domain name -- and one that will stand out. Here’s how…
2. Think Different
Apple’s old slogan is great advice when developing a company name. Rather than describing what your business does, evoke a sense of the benefits that your business provides.
EarlyMoments.com is a good example of a web based business name that communicates on an emotional level - creating parent and child bonding time through the shared gift of reading. And by using a mash-up of positive connotation words, the company was able to secure the available .com domain.
FreedomPeak.com used a combination of aspirational words to create a brand name that spoke to their desire to create better retirement opportunities - a much stronger and memorable name than Retirement Planning Associates or The Financial Advisory Group. To find these types of unique names, create a 10 x 10 grid and populate it with words that conjure up the feelings you want your clients to experience when dealing with your firm. Mix in a few positive connotation words such as “star,” “point,” “mark,” “first,” etc. I sometimes refer to these as “tofu” words, since they blend well with anything. Then try mixing and matching them, checking to see if any of these combinations are available. To verify availability, use sites such as DomainTools.com (they are not a registrar and they will also suggest other domain names as well.)
3. Spend a Little Coin
If after searching all the various combinations, you still come up empty, try sites such as BuyDomains.com, Afternic.com, SnapNames.com or BrandBucket.com. BuyDomains specifically has amassed several hundred thousand domain names that are generally priced between $1,500 - $3,000 (if you shop it right.) Use their advanced search feature to find domains containing the words from the 10 x 10 grid you made in Step 2 above. If you find a good domain name, they will often take 15 - 20% off the asking price, so feel free to negotiate.
Another inexpensive naming solution is crowdsourcing, with companies such as CrowdSpring.com and SquadHelp.com. These models rely on “the wisdom on the masses” to come up with ideas. You have to stipulate though that you want names with matching .com domains. And you will need to wade through wildly random ideas that may or may not meet your objectives, so buyer beware.
Most web based businesses will set aside thousands of dollars on web development and programming, so spending a couple of thousand bucks on your core brand name, a matching one at that, is a solid investment.
4. Make Sure You Socialize
With the advent of social media, you’ll want more than just the matching .com domain name. Make sure your new name is available on the majority of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. A good way to check, before buying that domain name, is to use a service such as NameChk.com (They should have read tip #1 before choosing their name btw...) Here you can discover if your new name is available on dozens of social media sites. The last thing you want is to purchase a great domain name, only to find someone using it in a derogatory manner across the socialsphere.
5. Bring in the Professionals
If all of this sounds like work (and it can be), there are a myriad of naming services which will help to name and brand your business. They range on the low end from a few hundred dollars for a quick hit list of names (companies such as FrozenLemons.com) to high end naming and branding firms charging $10K plus for a thorough and vetted process - one that includes consulting, screening, logo design, name validation and trademark research.
Putting It All Together
By using the right type of creative naming strategy, and looking in the right places, you can find available (and/or affordable) .com domain names that will communicate your company’s mission and purpose in a unique and compelling way. Start with some of these tips and work your way through them until you find the solution that works best for you.
Investing your time and energy wisely during the startup phase will pay dividends once you grow and expand your services. By creating a unique and memorable brand name, you’ll increase your chances of finding that elusive .com domain and create distance between you and your competitors. And that’s one good way to make a name for yourself.
What experiences have you encountered in naming your startup? What advice would you provide others attempting this challenge?