Choosing the Right Domain Name:
all you need to know about domain names
(and some you don't need to know,
but is interesting anyway)
a Marketing Perspective
A FEW TRICKS WHEN EVERYTHING ELSE HAS DRAWN A BLANK
If you have got this far in the book and I have still not solved your domain name selection problems, this could be the segment for you - though I suspect some of you may well have skipped straight to this section!
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For those who are at a total loss and are unable to come up with a domain name for your organization or business venture, the following 'last-hope' advice comes in the form of the scientific and the artistic. As a marketer, I much favour the latter, but computer science can offer some help, so I'll start with that.
If you are struggling to come up with a suitable domain name - presumably because the most suitable has already gone - a number of online 'domain name generators' exist which produce a list of suggested - and available - domain names based on keywords entered. In other words, if you sell a certain product or you trade in a specific market, you input terms that are related to that trade or market. As the resulting list is computer-generated, I am sceptical about their value, but they can serve as a kind of brainstorming aid. For example, I tested one such site's system by researching their offerings for two separate keywords; 'Sunderland' (say, for a portal website about the city), and
'e-marketing' (perhaps for a new consultancy business). 'Sunderland' produced a number of novel returns that served only to reinforce my scepticism of these devices, including; sunderland-java, sunderland-attic, the-sunderland-s and sunderland-goblin. The only one in the list of around 30 suggestions that had any semblance of value as a domain name was 'sunderland-search', perhaps something that could be used for a portal for the city.
The search on 'e-marketing' was equally dubious. Suggestions included; e-marketing-gang, dyna-e-marketing, recluse-marketing and exemplifying that computer driven search can lack any common sense, eprivatetreaty and the somewhat baffling e-bootlegging! On the plus side, however, e-marketing-room and e-marketing-people might be used by a new business offering e-marketing services. Perhaps worth noting is the prevalence of hyphens in these 'suggestions' - yet the generator site was based in the USA.
Whilst tools such as the one described above are designed specifically to generate potential domain names, other applications exist that can be adopted to help in brain storming for possible names. One such type of online tool (often free, Google's is) is that which tracks and records the keywords used in search engines to find specific sites. Whilst the purpose of these reports is related to search engine marketing, they can offer the domain name hunter something also.
As an example, the following terms were published by Hitwise (hitwise.com) as being used by shoppers who were looking for the website of UK fashion retailer 'Next'. The first search term is obvious: 'next'. Another two are URLs:
* www.next.co.uk, and
* next.co.uk [Quite why so many people type 'www.next.co.uk' into a Google search box rather than directly into their browser is an issue for a different book.]
Two other terms used by searchers have links with the Next offline entity, those being
* next catalogue, and
* next directory
This is not a surprise as Next Directory is the name of Next's printed catalogue. The final four of the 'next' search top ten, however, all offer something to a would-be online clothes retailer who is looking for a domain name. They are;
* next clothing
* next shop
* next clothes, and
* next online
Obviously, the word next is a no-no if you want to avoid legal action, but if it fits, try adding 'clothing', 'clothes', 'shop' or 'online' to the name of, or brand used by, your offline business. For example, a fashion boutique called 'Prior' might use priorclothing, priorclothes, priorshop, or prioronline.
Although this example pertains only to fashion retailers, you can easily repeat the process using as a search term the name of your main competitor or brand leader in the marketplace. Similarly, most of these online tools also allow users to check on the terms used by search engine users to find specific information, so you could conduct the research based on generic product terms or services. For example, if you are selling garden furniture, put those words into the tool and see what the analysis says. It is not part of a book on domain names, but you would be surprised to see some of the terms searchers used in their quest for information, so perhaps your analysis might come up with a term that hasn't been registered as a domain - or at least give you something to think about.
If that is what science has to offer, what about the intangible - the art of choosing a domain name? The following are in no particular order of quality or importance - but somewhere in these examples there might be something that gives you an idea for the right domain name for your website, brand, company, product or organization. By this stage of the book, I hope that there is no need to remind you that different suffixes to your preferred option might be available for all of the suggestions - so don't just think of .com!
* Make the domain name a combination of the target market segment and the product or service being offered - studentloans is an obvious application of this concept, but the options are limited only by the number of product and target customer combinations. Perhaps worth noting with this route is the use - or not - of the possessive 's' in any of these combinations. For example studentloans could just as easily be studentsloans. Whilst this increases the potential for suitable domains, some terms really do need the possessive 's' for them to be logical - gardenergloves, for example, doesn't make the same sense as gardenersgloves. This opens up another possibility if the description of the customer (gardener) is also a verb (to garden) - which is often the case. In this example, gardeninggloves actually makes more sense. Don't forget, of course, all of these can use a hyphen instead of being all one word - gardening-gloves might actually be preferable as the hyphen splits the two 'g's. Another variation on this theme would be to reverse the words and add a preposition - glovesforgardening or glovesforgardeners, for example.
* In generic product-based names, take a lead from offline retailers who have for years been inventive in naming their shops. The use of the abreviation for etcetera - shoesetc, for example. Or perhaps for an up-market site, use the full word, shoesetcetera (why up-market? Your clientele has to understand the word, some demographic groups might not realize that etc is an abbreviation). Interestingly, shoesetc has been registered on most suffixes, shoesetcetera on none. Another option is to use a short phrase. Consider 'and much more', for example. What about shoesandmuchmore for the ladies accessories store? (as I write, it is currently available in all US suffixes). Don't forget also that with the examples given, and any others you might come up with, there is always the use of the hyphen if the first choice is gone. In some cases, the inclusion of a hyphen can actually help the term make more sense - for the ladies accessories shop for example, shoes-andmuchmore, the hyphen replaces a comma in emphasizing that the sentence addresses two product areas. Try saying it out loud, as in; 'we sell shoes, and much more' - or what about 'wesellshoes-andmuchmore.com as a domain name?
* Another tip from offline retail is the world concept. Dolls, for example, could be sold on worldofdolls or dollsworld - although the latter works better if the product can be presented - and still make sense - without the possessive apostrophe, furnitureworld or vanworld for example. As with all multi-word domain names don't forget the hyphen. In these cases it is (almost) grammatically acceptable to use a hyphen, so its use in a domain name is this context is ideal - furniture-world or van-world, in the previous examples.
* Also for the established offline retailer, is to add a 'descriptor' to the company name. This could be as easy as adding 'online' (sunderlandtoysonline), '365' to reflect that the Internet shop is open every day (sunderlandtoys365) or 'direct' to suggest the product is available direct to your home rather than only in a physical store (sunderlandtoysdirect). Each of these can also be used with 'sales' to emphasize the purpose of the site - sunderlandtoysonlinesales, for example. Perhaps you could state the obvious by adding 'website' (sunderlandtoyswebsite) - though prefixing the term with the definite article will emphasize the standing of the business by employing 'the' as an adjective (thesunderlandtoyswebsite), this is something that can work with a common name (thealancharlesworthwebsite) where the emphasis is on the website being the official one in a sea of fakes. Going back to the first 'descriptor' - online can also be used with a myriad of generic terms. This can be particularly effective for 'interest' sites, be they commercial or not - tomatoesonline or gardeningonline for example. Note however that reversing the words does not have the same effect. For example, onlinetomatoes suggests the fruit is actually being grown in some kind of virtual environment!
* Sometimes simple works. Prefixing a generic combination with the definite or indefinite article can make the name distinctive or might even have the site appear more important in the eyes of the potential customers. Using 'the' might add a little something to a domain name, remember, 'the' is also an adjective - theonlineshoestore, for example. On the other hand, aclifftopbedandbreakfast sounds a little less pretentious than theclifftopbedandbreakfast.
* Prefixes to the product name can also work, with a variety of options being available. Try a verb (lovefootball) or an adjective (allhondaparts). An extension to this theme is the use of an adjective to describe the target customers (keenanglers or dedicatedgolfers). For places or hobbies you could 'discover', 'visit', 'think' or 'explore' virtually any location or subject. For the more forceful sales site you could try prefixing the subject with a verb so that the domain name becomes almost a command or instruction - the obvious one for an online shop being 'buy' - buyshirts, buytables etc, or buyshirtsonline perhaps. Other softer verbs are more suitable when associated with the objectives of the website - words like 'seek' or 'find' go nicely with tourism or gifts and sound more like a request than a command. Or consider using a phrase instead of a single word - 'look for', 'look at' or 'look to', for example. If the website is meant to reflect the essence or culture of something (perhaps a place or practice) the verb might be something that reflects a more intangible act - 'think' (thinksafety) or 'feel' (feelfit), for example, or add the definite article to make the subject more explicit (feeltheheat).
* Another possibility for a sport, pastime or hobby (and in some circumstances a place), would be to prefix them with 'enjoy'. Whilst combinations such as enjoysquash or enjoychess have limited applications for an online environment (they just don't sound right), a website that extols the virtues of a city or region as part of its promotion to potential visitors would sit comfortably on 'enjoy' - enjoyglasgow, for example. The use of verbs in this way must be considered with caution - and due deference paid to not only the actual definition of the word, but people's perceptions of what they mean. For example, where 'enjoy' implies that visiting the place or playing the sport would be a pleasurable experience, terms such as 'like' or 'appreciate' just don't work - we don't normally visit a city on holiday to like it. But on the other hand, we do appreciate fine art or architecture - so, used in context, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
* A prefix is not the only way to go - don't forget about giving the subject a suffix. If the application suits the business, try adding a noun - 'things', for example, gives fishingthings, swimmingthings and so on. Taking this a stage further would be to insert 'and' in much the same way as suggested earlier in the shoes example. The online fishing accessories store could become fishingrodsandthings. Of course, things might not work for some products or organizations, so get out the thesaurus and look up other options. Perhaps 'kit' might be better for sports products (tenniskit), 'gear' for pastimes (walkingear) or 'equipment' for more complex pursuits (divingequipment).
* Along the same line is to use an adverb or adjective to narrow the range of products being made available by using words like 'just' or 'only' in combination with either the product (justsneakers) or the target market (onlytoyotadrivers).
* As mentioned in other sections, promotional domain names can also make use of dates within the phrase - remember people always write a year in numerals (ie '1956', not 'nineteen fifty six'), so the numerals versus in-full issue for numbers doesn't apply. In some circumstances promotions lend themselves to the inclusion of a year as they tend to be time specific. Such practice also makes the use of long-gone generic words viable, something like football2009.com, for example. Although some campaigns are almost self-naming (Athens 2004 or Germany 2006, for the Olympics and World Cup receptively, for example), a promotional campaign for a holiday resort might be something like 'ibiza2010bethere'. An issue with this route is that, obviously, the domain and any site hosted on it will go out of date on the first of January of the following year. However, with a little forethought this can be used to the organization's advantage. Take my home-city's annual International Airshow, for example, whose web presence is on the local council's sunderlandevents.co.uk. I would not only have a dedicated website for the event, but update the domain name each year - sunderlandairshow2009 and so on. The why is all about search engines and using the web to meet the needs of users (I call it Internet marketing). Take the 2009 show for example, which featured a fly past by a rare Vulcan bomber. If the website on sunderlandairshow2009.org had a user-generated content element that allowed visitors to upload their photos and videos of that display, aircraft enthusiasts anywhere in the world typing "Vulcan bomber pictures" or "Vulcan bomber video" into Google would get the site. As the years go by - 2009 was the 21st Sunderland International Airshow - each website would feature high in Google searches, and so the city would gain brand recognition.
As with every chapter that has gone before, this section does not profess to give all the answers to your domain name problem - but I hope it has given you something to think about.
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Copyright copyright 2009 Alan Charlesworth. All rights reserved.
International Standard Book Number: 978-1-4452-0538-0
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