It was mid-2015. There was a bit of a tempest in a teapot online over the launch of the .SUCKS TLD. Did every brand need to buy up all variations of their company/product/service with the .SUCKS TLD to keep them away from technically savvy ne’er-do-wells?
Not really, no. Maybe the negative .SUCKS sites are out there, but they seriously lack Google juice and audience engagement.
The truth is, there are a million domain branding strategies that are potentially more important than focusing on whether someone might not like you. Such as? Glad you asked.
- What’s in a name?
- Be aware of your location, and growth
- Planning for name changes and product success
- That doesn’t belong to you
- Think it through
What's in a name?
First impressions are important, and company and product names are no exception. Do you go with a strong, descriptive name that may reflect your product, service, or industry, or a fun, memorable, one intended to make a statement, like “Google”?
Many companies invest a lot of resources – time, money, brain power – coming up with naming solutions, so we’ll leave company naming for another day, but modern society has given us a new level of complexity that directly ties to your domain strategy. Availability.
Availability comes in many flavors. Let’s say your brand is “Bob’s Concrete”. In addition to worrying about trademarks (more on that later), it’s probably safe to assume bobsconcrete.com is already taken. It’s also probably safe to assume that the corresponding social handles are gone as well (which is perhaps a bigger deal, because Twitter and Facebook don’t have 500+ domain extensions to expand the naming pool).
For the last 15+ years, startups have gone through a number of naming trends to get around the availability issue (not in any sort of chronological order):
Before becoming the next company that attaches itself to a trend, ask around and see what your choices make people think of, if anything. And when you arrive on a name you like, secure it everywhere (domain, social handles, etc.).
Be aware of your location, and growth
Today you may be a couple people in a garage in Wellington or Waterloo, but tomorrow you could be the next Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net, with offices around the world. Obviously, there’s a lot to do between A and B, but something to keep in mind as you name your company, products, etc.
Sure, when you start off, piesofpittsburgh.com or snacksinabox.nz may be the perfect domain for your company. But what happens when you have shops in New York, and Hong Kong, and London? Maybe your brand will be so strong that it’ll work around the world, but maybe not. When starting out, even if you’re using a local domain for SEO purposes, securing and simultaneously using a global domain extension like .COM is good practice.
Conversely, if you’re only using a .COM (and you’re not in the US, where the ccTLD is rarely used), relevant localization with .DE, .CN, .BR, etc. can be a smart investment. It can even be a helpful identifier for things like corporate email. Keep in mind though that some ccTLD registries restrict words that can be used in domain names, whether they reference place names, are on a reserved list, or are deemed offensive.
Planning for name changes and product success
Companies tend to grow over time. Sure, some do the same thing and offer the same product or service for 100 years. But especially in tech, the odds are good that you’re going to expand or pivot at some point. It’s good to consider this early on.
You can’t necessarily predict the future, but you can think about it now (Will your products or services follow a naming convention, a la Apple? Or will your company diversify to the point that it splits into more focused entities, a la Google/Alphabet?). Maybe there is an obvious domain name or two that it would be prudent to secure now. Or perhaps you just want to keep an eye on the newly delegated and launched gTLDs so that if one relevant to you comes up, you’re ready to grab some domains. (.BAKER… one day…)
Also, a funny thing can happen if you have a product that becomes popular. It eclipses your company. I’ve worked at two companies where this has been the case. People knew BlackBerry, but who outside of locals knew RIM? Eventually, both companies I worked for ended up changing the company name to the name of the flagship product. (This is a big, fiddly, and expensive project.)
Of course, if you do that, it means you’ll need to procure a whole new set of online names. And if you want to buy an already-registered domain name, you’ll need to have a budget in mind and be very careful about how you approach the owner, since it will be pretty obvious that they have something you want, and can basically set whatever price they want to sell it for.
A good practice, if you’re a product-based company with easily identifiable flagship items, is to secure their domain/social names at the beginning of the production cycle. And it’s easy to see why – a new .COM is a whole lot more affordable than the same domain, years later, on the aftermarket.
That doesn't belong to you
Trademarks are serious business, and while there can be loopholes, it’s often a situation of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.
supername.com is taken, supername.co isn’t. Is registering the second one a good idea? No, it isn’t (that’s phishing site behavior). Or AwesomeCompany might be well established in Japan, but you live in Peru, and AwesomeCompany is the perfect name. Should you use it? Well, depends. You’ll need to check on what rights AwesomeCompany has already registered for the name, and where. (It’s rare that companies register trademarks everywhere, but it’s not unusual for major markets to be well covered.)
Now, if AwesomeCompany is a small, local outfit (like Bob’s Concrete) and isn’t likely to ever be trademarked or expand globally, then perhaps it’s okay to establish your company using that name. Generally, though, unless there are absolutely no better options, being as original as you can is a good idea.
Also, be aware of typo targeting. To protect yourself, it’s good to think of typos as your friend. Not as your company or product name, per se, but because everyone falls victim to fat fingers and tiny mobile keyboards sometimes.
How many misspelled variations of “google” do you think there are out there? And how many has Google bought up or registered themselves? You don’t want to have some parasitic site siphoning off your traffic – or worse, phishing – because your customers misspelled your domain name and didn’t realize it.
At the same time, don’t you try registering typo versions of another person or company’s domains, either. People might have gotten away with it more a decade ago, but any company of reasonable size now keeps an eye on such things, and you’re just begging to be slapped with a complaint and have your site and domain deleted.
Think it through
Obviously, you’re never going to be able to predict every twist and turn your branding adventures will take. But you can give these things some thought and do some research. Even if you just end up knowing what to leave off of your short-lists, it’s time and effort well spent.
Like most things in life, getting naming and domains selection right the first time is a lot less work, expense, and headaches than trying to change something already launched. It’s hard work building a brand, and having to undo and redo all that for reasons you could have guarded against just .SUCKs.