Ask a random business owner or entrepreneur what the hardest part of their startup process was and you'll likely hear "naming". Naming your business, brand or simple blog can be extremely challenging because there's no exact science or guaranteed process to lean on. It needs to be unique but uncomplicated, easy to say but different enough to separate you from the pack, and ultimately, it needs to embody your story. Or maybe it doesn't.
One thing is certain though—when you're starting your naming process, you should always keep your domain name possibilities in mind. In this modern internet era, your website might just be your brand's most public portal, so you need to make it count.
Here are a few quick tips to make your naming process a bit easier.
Don't stray from your brand, especially for keyword stuffing
As a consumer, it's hard to remember a site when the brand name doesn't match the domain name. And you might think this is a common sense tip, but I see it all the time—especially with older sites trying to take advantage of keyword stuffing, an old SEO trick.
From Duane Forrester - Bing:
Ranking today is a result of so many signals fed into the system the words used in a domain send less and less information into the stack as a percentage of overall decision making signals. This is great from our view (the engine) as it results in better results showing at the top since no one signal can be manipulated. From the searchers POV, it’s better simply because those sites trying to abuse their way to the top with a keyword rich domain and irrelevant or poor content cease to rank well.
So for practical purposes, if you're a real estate agent, your top priority should be ease of discovery. If your brand is "The Hall Team", thehallteam.com would be a much better choice than best-real-estate-wellington.com. And it's not even close.
It's much easier now to make your name work
One of the biggest hangups in the past for naming is that brands felt like they were stuck with .COM as their only viable domain extension. And because .COM was (and still is) so crowded, you'll often see companies use naming conventions like BRANDNAMEbrand.com, getBRANDNAME.com, or BRANDNAMEcompany.com just to make sure their brand name is in the domain somewhere. But from a consumer's perspective, that's really pretty confusing. When you're looking for a brand on the internet, anything straying from BRANDNAME.EXTENSION seems like excess, and risks getting lost in the ether.
With the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) though, you can pair your brand name up with a memorable domain extension to create something easy to say, and even easier to remember. So instead of something like BRANDNAMEcoffeeroasters.com, you could just use BRANDNAME.coffee.
Watch out when going too generic with gTLDs though
The world of gTLDs opens you up to a lot of new naming possibilities, but remember that in search, you're still going to be competing with existing brands. For instance, you might find joy in naming your apple orchard "Apple", with the domain name, apple.farm, but you're going to have some pretty fierce competition (apple.com, applerecords.com) for the top Google spot for the term "apple". This isn't to say that you should always shy away from names because of search competition, but be smart about it. The goal is to be the number one search term for your brand name (at least), so if that's impossible, you may want to reconsider your strategy.
Beware of alternative spellings
If you want to get a quick look at the variety of names people come up with for brands, take a look at Product Hunt. You'll find countless brand names, many of which are derivations of simple words or phrases. And that's fine, but you have to be careful.
- The change should be noticeable - Taking a look at the Product Hunt list, the top hit at the time of writing is Humin, a cool new phonebook app. Its domain, humin.com, is obviously a derivation of the word "human", but it's short enough that people shouldn't get too confused (although I'm sure they'd love to get their hands on human.com). Further down the list is a brand called Vint, which is also a a minor change, but is likely short enough for people to notice on first glance (although its domain name is joinvint.com, which I would say uses an unnecessary keyword).
- Certain variations are normal in certain circles - While I probably wouldn't recommend a grocery store to change their name to "foodr", adding or removing certain letters (usually vowels) is totally fine in some circles. Becomr.com is a good example from the Product Hunt list, because the tech crowd they're aiming for is likely used to that sort of change.
- But other variations aren't - Every common derivation had to start somewhere, but I'd be wary of being too original. For example, I found a brand called Kalibrr, which changes "caliber" by replacing the 'c' with a 'k' and uses 'rr' at the end. It could work out fine for them, but I'd guess there will be some recall issues down the line.
A word about domain hacks
We've talked about domain hacks a lot in the past, but for a brand's primary site, they're a hard sell for a couple reasons. First, they're hard to verbalize. Instead of saying "BRANDNAME dot com", you end up saying things like "BRANDNAME, with the end being dot I T" or "B R A N D N A dot M E". Second, it's only human nature to look at clever domain names as unprofessional. It certainly depends on the industry you're in, but I'd think twice before putting my money in a bank using a domain like bankofthelak.es or bankingpl.us.
It's more about you than the name
No matter what I, or anyone, says about your domain name in the planning stages, the popularity of your brand will likely come down to your product and how well you market it. I'll always remember thinking how odd the name Google was when I first heard it (it's a misspelling of googol), and we all know how that turned out. So be brave, be smart and whatever you do, don't settle on something you're not happy with. Think of your domain like a marriage—it's a longterm commitment, and getting out will probably hurt quite a bit.