What’s the right domain name to use as your web address ?
In this post you will get 21 tips to choose the right domain name for your business in the new top level domain (TLDs) space.
To help me out I got valuable input from some of the best naming specialists in the world. They spend their time brainstorming new brand names – and domain names is a natural part of their conversation with clients.
In this post we will talk about naming architecture, nomenclature, dropping vowels and much more to understand what goes into a great domain name.
The basics you need to understand about brands and domains
Here is what any business fundamentally needs :
- A great brand name.
- The best domain name so your web address supports the brand story.
So why is the brand name so important – and the web address to go with it ?
“Hi, I’m …. from …..”
The brand name is literally the first thing to come out of your mouth every time you pitch your business. And your domain name – in the shape of a web address on a business card – will usually appear in the slipstream. That’s why your domain name – together with any other element – should support the story you tell.
Just imagine that you have 30 seconds to pitch your cool new fictitious digital agency Headline Results, which “can be found at …..www.headline-results.net”. Best new agency in the world according to you, but not a domain name as ambitious as your pitch.
…The story collapses.
When does a brand name turn bad?
It’s not easy to come up with the right brand name.
While ambitions are surely high to come up with the right name, often though the name creation process isn’t handled well.
Here are ways it can go wrong:
- It’s created in a boardroom environment, where employees throw up random names on a whiteboard
- It’s based on what’s available as .com.
- It’s based on input from friends over your sponsored dinner.
Yes, there are businesses which make it even with a bad brand name (call a movie database for IMDB?)
…..Or a bad domain name (I’m looking at you, del.icio.us).
That’s why it’s recommended to get help from a naming expert.
Enter the naming specialists…
This blog covers how the new top level domains can help businesses like yours.
I therefore thought “why not bring together some of the best naming experts in the world – people who help global brands coming up with their names – and have them discuss how to use the new top level domains to tell the story?”.
In this post you will get advice directly from the specialists. They have helped businesses such as Nike, Apple, Nestle, Pizza Hut, Nintendo, Audi, IBM, General Motors and many more to come up with their names for brands and products.
Their insights and my research on the topic landed 21 tips, which will help you picking the right domain name for your business, product or service.
I admire the creativity of naming specialists. Their way with words and meticulous research is impressive. If you want a behind the scenes look at how a name is created, then you should check this excellent case study featured in New York Times. Anthony Shore (one of our contributors) is given the task to come up with a name for a virtual-reality service – a mind blowing tour de force in naming land.
What is a good brand name?
One of Europe’s leading authorities on branding, Jean-Noel Kapferer explains:
“The brand’s name is often revealing of the brand’s intentions. It is a powerful source of identity and helps to project the intended image of the product against the competition and in the process of positioning a brand in the minds of the target audience. In overcrowded markets with narrower segments, brand names play a crucial role.”
A great brand name is crucial to make you stand out in most industries.
+500 new top level domains inside the last 700 days
With the biggest expansion of top level domains ever – +500 over the last 700 days – there have never been so many alternatives to the traditional domain extensions – notably .com domains. Overnight the playing field just got bigger.
But when will the new extensions work as well (or better) as a .com domain, and when should you avoid using them?
21 tips to choose the right domain name in the new top level domain space
The following 21 tips will help guide you to select the most representative web address for your business:
TIP 1 – Think it through whether to use a .com or a new top level domain
Let me make it clear that I’m not biased whether to choose a .com or a new domain extension. .Com is recognized worldwide as the most trusted domain extension, and the primary recommendation by any of the naming experts. But I do think that the new top level domains add freshness to a brand, can be more descriptive of what you do and provide a creative space. Besides that, acquiring the right .com could set you back thousands of dollars, while most options are still available in the new top level domain space.
I asked Phil Davis, a world renowned naming expert, what his thoughts were on making the choice between .com and the new domain extensions for your business. Phil is an Inc contributor and has named 250 businesses and products at his consultancy Tungsten Branding.
“As a general rule, I advise my clients to go with a .com, since it’s the default behavior of most internet users to type that extension. When using a new TLD extension, you, as the business owner, are doing the heavy lifting in helping to promote and educate the public about that extension, and it can prove disruptive to your own message (e.g. having to stop and explain that the name ends in .xyz vs. .com) I would wait for a significant precedent to be set in the market to pave the way before using the extension, which may happen at some point.
The .com domain name will be the “downtown” real estate for the foreseeable future. But it’s not to say that attractive “suburbs” might not pop up and offer novel and attractive alternatives. Until the extensions become more widely used, accepted by consumers and advertised by major players, I would take a more wait and see attitude.
If the exact matching, or closely matching .com is not available, a small business might consider a TLD name that ends with a descriptor phrase from their business name. For example, if BigMikesPizza.com is taken, and several variations around it, then BigMikes.Pizza might prove to be a viable alternative. Keep in mind these new TLDs are still novel, and not what consumers are used to typing. So you would need to be the kind of business with a close knit client base that you could communicate with directly, and underscore that the .pizza is the extension.”
I think Phil’s advice is sound. A .com is always a solid solution, but you should not ignore the potential of some of the new domain extensions.
While .com is one option Maria Cypher from Catchword (helps Starbucks, McDonalds, Xerox, Cisco and many more global brands) emphasizes that cTLDs (country code) have been used successfully in the past, and the best new gTLDs could work the same way :
“Another option is to choose either a ccTLD (country-code TLD) or new gTLD. Several ccTLDs—in particular .ly (Libya), .co (Colombia), .me (Montenegro), .io (Indian Ocean), and .tv (Tuvalu)—have become widely used and accepted in recent years, especially within certain industries (e.g., .tv for companies associated with television or video). The embrace of these ccTLDs is an indication that the more logical and usable new gTLDs will gain acceptance—though we also predict significant consolidation in the gTLD field; many will fall by the wayside. New extensions with likely good prospects include .web, .shop, .music, .eco, .app, and .blog.
Individuals and businesses that don’t expect to expand outside a particular region can also consider geographical gTLDs like .berlin, .nyc, and .london.”
Naseem Javed from ABC Namebank is a world recognized authority on corporate nomenclature (principles of naming) working with Fortune 500 clients such as IBM, General Motors and KPMG. He wants corporations to dig deep to understand the overall strategy before deciding on going for the new domain extensions:
“The critical recommendation is to have a professional name evaluation done on the candidate names to determine all this in advance. Most solid and well structured .com’s are extremely valuable and equally 30% of the new TLDs will not survive for being poorly structured and outside the rules of corporate nomenclature.
Naming, either global or regional has now become a serious game for serious players. Naming for power and creating market domination cannot be achieved by toying with domain names at random, it required in-depth-analysis and distinct knowledge of corporate nomenclature.”
Shannon DeJong, director of creation, at brand agency WHO adds that brand positioning decides what is possible in domain name country:
“What’s the brand personality and positioning? Do they need to communicate ‘girth’, professionalism, ‘big boy player’ or large firm in the field? Then a .com is going to be more important and they might be inclined to avoid the new extensions and pony up for the original domain. Is it a playful, youth-targeted startup that can afford to be less conventional? Then the new extensions might come into play – and that’s an exploration that should parallel naming, if possible. I’m seeing extensions like “.actor” work great for individual artists, but is that the same for bigger brands? No. It all depends on size, strategy, need.”
TIP 2 – Make sure your domain name is easy to remember
Which one of these domain names is the most difficult to remember?
tchm.com or tchmedical.com
The second one is easier to remember because of the word “medical“. People would recall “tch” and “medical” better than simply “tchm“, because one version has a real word, while the other is shorter but is a pile of characters.
Liz Castleman has developed brand names, taglines and naming strategies for businesses over the last 14 years. Clients she has worked with include Pfizer, Microsoft and Siemens, but also smaller ventures. Regarding memorability she has this to say about startups looking for the perfect domain name for their business :
“My overall recommendation to them (Start-ups) would be to select an extension that is simple, and works to clearly support the name itself, which is where the focus should be.
In some cases, .ly is used to further play off or compliment a name. For younger start-ups or brands who want to (further) convey a fun, engaging tone, that feels like a good strategy. In general, keep it simple. Consumers just want to quickly find where they’re going, on and offline…For existing brands who might decide to change their domain extension (or overall domain name strategy), I don’t think they would face any trouble or see any consequence by doing so. Brand affinity is so hard-wired that people will find them regardless.”
TIP 3 – Let the domain name explain what you do
One classic naming tip for your .com is the following :
“Use at least one dictionary keyword”.
The idea here is that you include the generic term in your brand name (or in your domain name), with the aim to have Google rank you higher. Secondly, you make it easier for users to identify what you offer. In my opinion though the disadvantage of including a generic term will make your brand name less distinctive.
When I founded EuropeanDomainCentre.com in 2003, we focussed too hard about search engine optimization, and too little about having a distinctive profile.
Liz Castleman comments : “Yesterday I was talking to a client in NY, who’s naming a new e-commerce platform, and she was insistent upon having a descriptive one or two word brand name that has an available .com. A near impossible feat these days, especially in the technology space! I pointed out that people don’t tend to search for companies or brands the way they used to. They generally use Google to type in their request, often followed by a relevant keyword. I also suggested that if there’s a particular name she is interested in, that we explore a simple one or two word modifier, in order to secure the .com domain.”
But you can have your and eat it too .
This is where the new top level domains really come into use.
Lets say your name is Ben Johnson, and you offer a golf training course.
You don’t have to call your brand for Ben Johnson Golf Training to ensure that the term golf is part of the web address – BenJohnsonGolfTraining.com.
Do it short and sweet with BenJohnson.Golf.
Katarina Nilsson from Swedish naming agency Eqvarium (Scandinavian clients include Rynkeby, NCC Nordea and Electrolux) says :
“Register the name together with a descriptive component on your preferred domain, and register your name on one or several of the new domain extensions which are relevant to your business. For example: www.aniaradentalcare.com and www.aniara.dental.”
So which of the new top level domains are relevant for your business?
While a yoga instructor might need only to register their .yoga, there are other industries which have some work to do. E.g. if you’re in real estate you have 17 different options such as .property, .estate, .realestate and .realtor (plus dot city top level domains such as .london), while other industries have a much more simple task. But it’s important to secure the domains which are close to your brand. You can see the list of all +800 domain extensions in this infographic.
Mark Gunnion is a legendary namer, who has worked on names and taglines for Procter & Gamble, Seagram’s, Nike and many other global brands. Here is his take on the use of industry domain endings :
“My main advice in using the new names would be to pick one that is relevant to your industry, company, or product in its implied content, and not to use it as a building block of the name itself….Consumers are sophisticated enough to understand that what’s on the right of the dot means something, they know it’s not part of the name.
But if the addition adds meaning and helps explain the product or company, that can be an asset, almost like a mini-tagline or descriptor – for example, Blip.tv or Turntable.fm. To explore the field and to have a sample for my clients, I recently picked up Namer.guru, for example.
People know that after the dot will be some indication about the history or meaning of the name.
I think the dot.com ending will be a “default” in many people’s minds still, for another five years or so, and will represent the “established, old-school” members of the internet age, but mobile and the apps world and the new TLDs are already breaking that down, and you can’t reverse the entropy of that change.”
Margaret Wolfson has helped out businesses with naming in numerous industries such as technology, food and beverage, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, and non-profits. She is the founder and chief creative of River + Wolf, a product and company naming agency based in New York City.
As Mark she thinks that one of the new extensions can work better than a mediocre .com :
“If an exact match dot.com is not available or too costly to purchase, a smart workaround is to add an extension. In fact, a well-chosen extension might even help better position your company or product, particularly if you use a keyword relevant to your industry. As a rule of thumb, it is far better to add an extension to a terrific name, rather than go with a mediocre name for the sake of an exact match dot com URL.”
Non English domain names
How about non English new top level domains? In the new TLD space you can now get domain names 100% in Chinese, Arabic, French, German and Spanish.
Werner Brandl is a German naming expert based in Munich. He has created names for global brands such as Audi, Toyota, BASF, Wrigley and many others. While most of the new top level domains are in English, he points out that some other language TLDs do have potential :
“Does the English top level domain suit your markets and your target groups? If there is a localized version, you have to ask yourself the same question, with some of them being rather long-winded and clumsy. But with a strict positioning this can be a fitting way to go.
Do you want to set an example different from established players? Then one of the new (and unusual) domains might be a good way to position you as standing out from the crowd.”
TIP 4 – Research how to stand out in Google
While Google tests “breadcrumb ranking” instead of displaying the website URL, most Google searches still show the web address. With so many similar Google results a new top level domain is a way to stand out.
Liz Castleman says : “To me, search has changed, or rather the way most of us search. So, my advice to brands is to keep the focus on what’s on the left side of the dot, and to keep the extension as clear and direct as an actual physical street address; some of the new gTLDs do just that, by using country code, or other words that help clearly describe the brand, or its location, or intended use.”
When doing a Google search for “creative digital agency” the circled result in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) below stood out. Why? Because they were the only not .com result, and they used the web address creatively.
Four steps to test how your result will look in the SERPs :
Here’s a way for you to test, how your result would look using a different web address.
STEP 1 : Do a search in Google for a search term you want to rank for. E.g. digital agency London. The top result shows the following Google My Business listing (formerly Google places) :
STEP 2 : Take a screenshot of the results with a tool such as SnagIt.
STEP 3 : Go to SEOmofo and use their Google rich snippets tool. Insert your description and see what your snippet would look like in Google.
Our made up agency Headline Results would look like this :
STEP 4 : Cut it out with SnagIt and place it together with the other agencies on the list.
Does it stand out ?
TIP 5 – Make sure that the domain name tells your story offline
A typical adult is exposed to 600-625 ads every day according to a study from Media Matters. Half of these are from traditional media (radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, road signs etc.). How many milliseconds do you have for them to remember your message – and the domain name?
Even if you don’t do traditional advertisement or get quoted in a magazines, your domain name will be part of your offline story on business cards, your banner stand, your van, catalogues, invoices etc.
Jill Stanewick, Naming Director at Tanj Branding (They were the ones coming up up with the Wii name for Nintendo) has the following thoughts on using your domain name offline :
“Choosing an alternative domain extension can be a great way to get a pure URL for your name while also adding either some personality (think .boo or .you) or additional context (think .faith or .style).
But before you nail down your name and extension, it’s important to think about how they will work together. Where will the URL be seen? Will it primarily be in links online, or will it be found on billboards and other printed collateral? If the latter is the case, consider whether it will be clear that the string of letters is a URL. More conservative folks may want to stick with shorter extensions that will allow the URL to look more like the traditional .com and .org domain names.”
Here are a couple of examples found at inthewild.domains.
And here is a creative example of a business card telling the story perfectly:
.. . And then check the back of the business card.
TIP 6 – The domain name should preferably be short
Shorter domain names are just more memorable. An advantage with some of the new domain extensions is the obvious “domain hack” (see TIP 12), where you can get rid of 4-5 characters (.com, .net, .org etc.), while communicating the same.
Rose Linke from California based A Hundred Monkeys has helped Timberland, Nike, Amway, Jamba Juice and many more coming up with names. I recommend their blog which is full of naming and renaming case studies. Very inspirational. This is what she has to say about short domain names.
“Our clients often want ‘thename.com’ which is not available or is being held hostage for an insane sum.
But we rarely have to stop them from getting a hyper long hyphenated hyperlink. Our clients always want something short. What this usually means is that at the last minute they may consider switching from the names that we propose, which help tell a story, to a name that doesn’t mean anything at all, but has a short .com available.
…The domain does help support the story. we see the domain name as an opportunity to be creative and reinforce the story we’re trying to tell with the name and brand.”
TIP 7 – The domain should ideally be timeless
Think ahead. Where is your business going?
You might only be located in Paris today, but if you have expansion plans, then a .paris is probably not the best long term solution.
Or you offer various services to the same clients, e.g. fitness training and yoga, so both .fitness and .yoga will come off short. You might want to think more abstract about how to communicate your business concept.
Werner Brandl elaborates on this : “Does the extension reflect your current and future brand positioning? The meaning of the extension should match the communicative values of your brand as well as possible. But this is only one possible way to go. You can also pick an ending that sets a regional focus. Yet you have to think about future developments.”
TIP 8 – Don’t be too clever with the domain name
How do your clients see you?
You should choose a domain extension, which has the right affiliation. As a New York based business (.nyc) or as a digital business (.digital)?
Phil Davis comments : “I would avoid clever TLDs that don’t add to the brand identity, such as BigMikesPizza.ninja. Those tend to be more confusing than helpful.”
Alan Dunn from NameCorp is a seasoned naming consultant with 20 years experience in the field. He has been featured in publications such as Forbes, Business Insider and US News.
“Naming is a combination of art and science, and it’s imperative for companies to spend as much energy selecting a domain name as they do on other parts of their business plan.