How to find a great domain (among the not-so-good)
Owning that perfect, single-word .com domain is an objective that for all forward-thinking, ambitious business owners share when naming their new venture. But finding the perfect domain that's available is another matter altogether...
Dot com domains deliver brand authority
The case for owning a dot com domain is pretty compelling. Not only does a having an address like ‘Inchbank.com' or ‘Vendena.com' provide a touch of gravitas from day one - a great boost for a startup - it also tells your marketplace that your company is the ‘Inchbank' or the ‘Vendena', even if there are other people out there on the web using that name. And while the ownership of a single word domain may not be a guarantee of corporate uniqueness, it's a strong indication of rarity.
A dot com address is also practical; because it's the 'default' top level domain (TLD) people remember it; and it makes email addresses short too. So while flavour-of-the-moment TLDs like .tv, .london, .coffee, etc may come and go, .com is where it's really at.
There's a problem which is familiar to anyone who's tried to name their own business. With pretty much any name you can think of, its .com domain will already have been snapped up by someone else. Naturally, this leads to disappointment and dead-end ideas. Naming can be a frustrating business.
This frustration leads many business owners to compromise on their domain name by taking the company name they want, and bolting on another word. It's why we see so many domains like: NameServices.com, GetName.com, NameConsulting.com, NameTechnologies.com, and so on. Tempting though it is, this approach guarantees that the company in question can only be just another company among others with the same name.
Light at the end of the branding tunnel
One potential solution to this naming problem is what are often referred to as 'brandable domains'. These are pre-registered domains that are sold by brandable domain websites, and purchased by businesses who will turn them into brands.
But nothing in life or business is easy, and there are also problems with brandable domains:
- Most don’t look like credible business names at all; probably because they’re created by domain people, not branding people
- Some copy current naming trends, so they date quickly
- Some are clunky, awkward or tortuously misspelled ...and, in truth, most so-called brandable domains are pretty much un-brandable
- Most are overpriced and don’t represent good value
- Many don't even offer a .com, and use current-trend compromises like .ly, .me, .io and so on
- The majority are constructed from sector-related keywords - this tends to look tacky, makes names hard to find online ...but crucially it's very hard to make a credible brand out of keywords (try Googling brandable domain names and you'll see what I mean.)
Separating the brand wheat from the bland chaff
The biggest challenge is that because the marketplace for brandable business names is fairly crowded (some sites display thousands and thousands of domains), picking the genuinely 'brandable' names from the rest is not easy. Another obstacle is that many sellers are a bit opaque when it comes to pricing, or sell their domains through auctions – an unappealing prospect for most startups.
But there are some great, affordable domains with genuine brandability out there. So to help you find that elusive needle in the haystack, here are a few tips:
Don’t look for names that are literal descriptions of what you do - this will avoid painting yourself into a corner (who knows what your company will be specialising in a few down the line)
- When browsing brandable domains, don't just look in the categories that match your marketplace (these can often be arbitrary and subjective)
- Ignore 'keyword domains' - you can't build a brand on keywords, and you'll probably be invisible online too
- If you're seriously considering going for Blinkzzi.com, or Zappingu.com, go for a walk and get some fresh air
- Don’t emulate or even ‘draw inspiration’ from brand names in your marketplace: this way you'll avoid blending in
- Don’t look for names that aim to accurately describe what your business does - instead go for names that somehow feel right in the context of your marketplace
- Don’t ask for too many opinions from friends and family, especially from those who don't fully understand what you're building; everyone will have an opinion on your company name, few of them informed or relevant
- Be open to metaphors, analogies and loose references
- Look for the unexpected - names that differentiate you from competitors. This doesn’t mean going crazy (see point 4), it just means having the confidence to be a bit different
- Keep in mind that names of the companies and brands you know, expect (or even love) - not to copy them, just to be aware of the kinds of names that become real brands
- Don’t sweat it too much - sure, invest some time and effort in getting it right, but going live and getting some money in is more important than an endless search for perfection
- Go with your instincts
That final point is the most important of all: go with your instincts. Only you will be able to spot the name that instinctively feels right for the brand you’re aiming to build. So ignore competitors, buck those trends, avoid the obvious …and be bold!
Take a quick look at some example brandable domains here, and see if anything grabs you.