Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Domain Name 101

You have a business or a brand, but you don't have a good domain name. Given that there are over 114 million active sites and another 377 million deleted names already in play, it's getting harder and harder to obtain a unique name that isn't five miles long.

It seems that there's just no way to get a decent domain name.

There's more myth in that one might think. Sure, every 4-letter combination of characters has been snatched up. (Try it - type in any combination of four characters and it will most likely take you to a site or a site holder page.) Understand, like playing the lottery, once you go beyond four, however, the combinations jump exponentially... meaning — there are still a lot of available names out there.

Here's how to craft your great domain:
Sor purposes of this blog, I presume you're already locked in to your company or brand name - so don't complicate things - just use the name of your business. It's how people know you. All that you're after is to place your existing business on the Internet map of your prospects and customers. If you're "Doug's Donuts" or "Acme Services, Inc.", search for those domains directly. You're not after a "Google" or "Flickr" kind of name (Go to Step 3, if you really are).

The problem, of course, is that your brand name may already be taken.

Step 1) Start by looking for your name.
Always start by trying to get exactly what you want - keeping the character count as low as possible without sacrificing clarity.If people know you, your company or your brand products or services, give them what they already know.

NOTE No.1: There are many domain companies, like Network Solutions, 1and1 and GoDaddy, but my favorite is I recommend them highly. Signing up with them is free; they're easy to work with; you can search in bulk for names and they have all the tools (hosting, web templates and such) that can take you from start to finish on the web for a very affordable price.

WARNING No.1: There are real concerns over some domain registries "poaching" names. I often check on the availability of domain names on behalf of my clients (yet often I have to wait for client approval before I can purchase the new domain). 9x... NINE TIMES, I have had available domains stolen from me just hours after I had searched for them. At first I thought it was pure coincidence, but when I searched WhoIs? for the purchaser, I found it newly owned by the very same registrar I had used! It's like going to the store - picking something out to put on layaway, but by the time you're to the back of the store to pay for it, the clerk is wearing your new shirt! I'm happy to report that I have not had this problem with in three years working with them.

NOTE No.2: BTW, you're looking for a .com name.
The day is coming when other suffixes will be acceptable, but to be taken seriously (and perception is key out of the gates), you need a .com domain unless you're a non-profit or group, in which case .org may be just fine. Don't fall for .net. It makes you less credible to your new prospects - avoid it.

Step 1.5) Sorry for the interruption...
Where was I? Yes, start by choosing clarity. Your own brand name. "" would be a great name. "" or "" are both strong names and easy to remember. When in doubt, use real words and avoid hyphens. How do you describe a hyphen to a prospect? "Dougs [dash]"? It's not pretty.

Step 2) My name's too long and has unusable characters, what do I do?
What if you're "Tallahassee Industrial Power & Equipment"? "" is a mouthful and doesn't even fit on your business card. Oh, and what to do about that ampersand? (" Hopefully not.) This might be a case to try for an acronym like, but guess what... that's four letters.

Try again, with the key words. Typically, the first two words that people remember: "" or "" You may need to do a little research to find out what your customers call you. Can the name be shortened? "" seems a bit awkward, while "" is catchy.

NOTE No.3: Why not buy the taken name?
Yes, you can try to buy it from the owner (check out WhoIs?), but don't do it unless you are expecting to go National and have the VC money lined up.

Try asking this instead: what's the benefit of your product? What's your tagline? Can that answer become the domain? You might be surprised to learn that "", "" or "" are not owned by the corporate giants who use(d) these phrases. This means that yours may be available! You can see the obvious benefit of having that phrase be your domain instead of the corporate name.  What's more, your tagline finally gets to go to work for a change! One of the best examples of this is for a regional insurance company called West Bend Insurance here in Wisconsin. Their domain? "" - brilliant.

Step 3) But I want some pizazz!
If your gut is telling you that your brand domain is a yawn, I have a trick for you. But, remember, you're only looking for the domain name to make it back to your prospect's computer. Can they remember it? Can they type it in correctly? You may not need a jazzy name.I hate to see real equity thrown out the door.

But, if you still want one, understand you may be talking about changing the brand name altogether. Having your domain name be identical to your brand name has huge advantages over time. Consider this carefully.

If you're game, here's one way of how to make the attempt: list out the attributes of your firm, your brand, your products. Single words that have some relevance. How it looks, feels, tastes, its benefits, affordability and so forth. Highlight the words that either have the most power or resonance to them, or those that seem to roll off the tongue. Mix 'em and match 'em. How do you think "MicroSoft" or "GreenPeace" were born? This can be an effective way of finding something entirely new and memorable.

WARNING No.2: Certain words are close to extinction.
Almost anything with "soft" or "green" or "micro" has been taken. "", however, is still available.

For help beyond what you can muster with this help... friend or tweet Mike Farley at JacksonSpencer and Become a Fan of JacksonSpencer on Facebook. If you like what you read here, FOLLOW this blog or jump over and join the Big Ideas Group on LinkedIn for more great small business insight. It's well worth the FREE pricetag! 

All the best — Mike Farley

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