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Last night I calculated that I have spent somewhere in the region of three days brainstorming a domain name for a new web venture. It shouldn’t be this difficult, but it feels like it is something approaching rocket science!


There are two major reasons for this. 

Firstly, there is a scarcity of ‘good’ domain names that are available. This typically reduces all of your obvious / immediate options, and leads you into a world of pain.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the domain name is also the brand name (or should be) and as such there are plenty of other considerations to factor in. 

So what I’ve done, partly to restore some sanity to the situation (I’m still undecided on my final choices) is to create a checklist of factors that should be taken into account.

What you’re looking for is a long list of names, which you would then whittle down to a short list of maybe half a dozen possible choices. Remember that there are always going to be trade-offs, which is why some kind of scoring might help you target the right name.

I have listed these factors in reverse order of importance, with the most important (in my opinion) being at the bottom of the list. 

I'm also going to try scoring my shortlist, awarding one point for the first point in my list ('A to Z considerations', which isn't a big deal) through to 25 points for the most important factor, found at the bottom of the list. If there's any sense in that I'll release a scoring template as an attachment to this post to help you do the same.

Here we go…

A 25-point checklist for brainstorming brand and domain names

  1. A to Z considerations (in directory / visibility terms, aardvark beats zulu, baby beats yup…)
  2. Don’t be silly with the placement of the dots (that's you I'm talking about, Delicious!)
  3. Avoid negative connotations (depends on the target market of course, but in general this is a good idea...)
  4. Punchy or plain weird FTW (hey, if you want memorable, why not try something a little off the wall?)
  5. Avoid initials / acronyms (did anybody ever ask you "WTF does ROTFLOL mean?")
  6. Available on social media platforms (obviously handy if you can also bag the name on Twitter, Youtube, Digg, etc)
  7. Avoid numbers (looks cheap, I hate textspeak, and using numbers also leads to spelling questions)
  8. Multinational spelling (avoid z and s issues, for example… optimize / optimise)
  9. Aesthetics (some letter combinations work better than others, as logo designers will no doubt testify)
  10. Sound (does it roll off the tongue?)
  11. Make it easy to pronounce (lest you have to spend big to educate people on how to say it…)
  12. Cheap (why spend $28,000 on a 'premium domain name' when I can build you a whole business for that amount? There are some exceptions to this rule!)
  13. Flexibility (it's good to build in a little room for movement, in case your business changes direction)
  14. No hyphens (we recently lost the hyphen in our brand name, and it caused all kinds of headaches... punctiation is to be avoided) 
  15. Singular (plurals suck nine big ones, especially when the singular alternative is out there)
  16. Target market friendly (you must do some research and canvass opinion, lest you get it badly wrong)
  17. Synonyms (think about related words and phrases associated with your sector, but don’t get too obscure... you shouldn't need to explain yourself)
  18. Keywords (if possible it is wise to include at least one strategic keyword; multiple keywords joined together do not always make for the best brand names)
  19. Meaningful (but not necessarily descriptive! Remember to allow for flexibility. Dallas Carpets, last I heard, was not solely based in Dallas…)
  20. Domain name must match the brand name (obvious, no?)
  21. Unique (easy to track growth and watch your brand go viral via Google etc; avoid trademarks; it's nice to have ownership of a new word / verb etc)
  22. Available in .com and other key extensions (go for the set! You can do it!)
  23. Short (up to 67 characters are allowed but at a brand level it is best to stay short, lest people start abbreviating your brand name...)
  24. Easy to type (reduce guesswork. If anybody asks 'how do you spell that' then you might have failed...)
  25. Memorable (only time will tell, but aim for something that is immediately memorable. If you forget about it the next day it may not be the best sign!)
My very favourite domain brainstorming tool is called BustAName and is quite wonderful. Do check it out. I also wrote a post last year on five other domain tools.
Good luck!
[image by jurvetson via Flickr, all kinds of rights reserved]
Chris Lake

Published 14 May, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Clare Thommen

Clare Thommen, Director at Boudiche Ltd

It took us 10 months to launch our retail business "Boudiche" from concept to opening first retail outlet, and 9 of those to come up with the brand name - domain name for this very reason. 

Every name put forward was either trade marked, or had the domain for .co.uk / .com already taken, and it was important for us to create a brand that the domain matched brand name, and was strong.  And that when people searched online for our brand name, we came up number one and were not confused with any other meaning of the name or word.

http://www.boudiche.com/ was our chosen business and domain name, and I'm glad we took the extra time to get it right from the start.  It held up branding concepts, signage for the physical retail store, consents and council permissions for the signage, but as a result we have a very strong brand both online and offline.  There is also no competition for our own brand name with paid search for example.

over 7 years ago

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Jamie

The list looked good until you put #12 (Cheap). Direct Navigation is WHY 'premium domain names' hold the price tag they have. Trust is another large factor that you gain with a premium domain. You can not get more Targetted Traffic with people that WILL spend money then with a category killer .com domain name.

The domain name aftermarket should not 'scare' people as much as it does because many domain investors are good people and very easy to work with when a 'fair' offer is made.

I would guess that 60-80% of the time a startup can actually purchase the 'perfect' domain they Really Want.

over 7 years ago

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.Comment

The current #22 (ie, "Make sure to get the .COM verison") should be #1.  The rest are details.  The guy who thinks he's saving a few bucks by buying the .NET will be very disappointed to learn that he will be losing 25% of all future profits to the guy who did shell out the bucks for the .COM. 

over 7 years ago

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Michele

While I agree overall with the points in your article, I would have to disagree with some of them.

Singular vs. plural - search traffic reports on a lot of keywords show that people opt for the plural not the singular, which make sense. If I was looking for a film I'd probably look for "films" not "film".

A strong domain name might cost more in the secondary market, but if it's a strong name it will save you a fortune in PPC

over 7 years ago

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Edwin

It amazes me how companies are willing to expend so much time and effort (both of which equal money unless everyone is working literally for free, and even then there are massive opportunity costs) to find some kind of "available" domain name when the obvious course of action if we're talking about some kind of major launch is to secure the appropriate GENERIC domain name.

In most niches, it's still possible to find 3rd parties selling pre-owned generic domains that are appropriate to the niche, i.e. not all obvious domains covering the subject have already been turned into a fully-fledged website. And that's a GOOD THING.

If you type in the most obvious URL you can think of for your intended product or service, and it resolves to a parking page or an "enquire about this domain" page then you've just potentially won the lottery - you're just a check away from securing THE killer domain name for your niche market.

A good generic is...

A) Easier to remember (it matches the thought patterns of the people who will be looking for the type of products or services you offer - remember, most potential customers have never heard of you) People commonly don't search for brands, they search for products or services, solutions to problems they have. Get a domain that exactly matches what they're looking for and bingo, they'll remember your URL forever.

B) Easier to SEO. All incoming links will contain the most important keywords since they're in the domain name itself, regardless of the link text. All 3 major search engines also give bonus points for having keywords in the URL, in roughly decreasing order from Microsoft Live (it's the super-ingredient to boost you to the top like an express elevator) to Yahoo (helps quite a bit) to Google (helps a little but is one of hundreds of other ranking factors)

C) Cheaper and easier to promote via PPC. A recent study I conducted proved that the right generic could produce 100% more traffic from Adwords than a "coined" (i.e. branded) alternative.

D) More credible. Suddenly, you're not one of hundreds of identicompanies in your niche, you're THE company and all the others look like also-rans in the race. Even better if they're bigger than you, because nobody can see the size of your office or the volume of your shopfloor from behind their web browser. As a startup, this credibility boost is even more valuable since it makes it easier for other companies to take you seriously, whether discussing partnership and joint venture opportunities, securing financing, or whatever.

E) An asset that will grow in value. Imagine taking a really great domain name and marrying it to a really great business and then promoting it for a while - a clear case of 2+2=5 when you come to sell the whole thing as a going concern, as neither is easy for the competition to replicate.

F) A way to slice through the clutter of advertising and introduce what your company does in seconds. With the right generic, descriptive domain name, people need only to glance at your URL to understand what it is you offer - they don't even have to get as far as your website! Contrast that with the typical "brand" where people unfamiliar with it have to be enticed to navigate over to the site, read a bunch of intro text and make a connection between a coined term (the brand) and a concept they're already familiar with (the thing they were actually looking for)

Basically, you need to crunch the numbers and ask yourself questions like...

  • How much could I save by making my URL super-easy to remember, thus cutting down on the frequency of my advertising?
  • How much could I gain by boosting the perceived credibility and trustworthiness of my business with new and existing customers, especially in these troubled economic times?
  • How much of an edge would having THE domain name for my niche give me over my more established competitors?
  • How else will I be able to simplify my SEO/PPC marketing?
  • How stale will it get having to explain what my brand does every single time between now and FOREVER, each time I interact with a new prospect?
  • How many extra and repeat sales am I going to be able to clock up by setting myself up with a super-obvious domain name?

And so on. 99 times out of 100, the math will stack up in favour of cutting a check to the person prescient enough to have secured the web equivalent of prime real estate early on in the game, and then sitting back and basking in the knowledge that you're now THE player in your market.

NOTE: You can still have a "brand" - but you use the generic domain name as the URL of the site that markets that brand, or for a specific mini-site that you use as the sales/brochureware site that pushes that brand. Best of both worlds!

The problem to doing the "right thing" is nearly always psychological - there is a part of the brain that screams "why should I reward this &$*(# for having taken the domain name I wanted?" - but let's face it, that's just emotions getting in the way of reason. If you break it down logically, you're going to end up writing that check just about every single time...

over 7 years ago

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Claire

Well if that picture up there, is an image the amount of work gone into choosing a domain name, i dread to think what it is like to do a logo or a website! A few excellent points by Edwin there as well. Yes the domain name is important, but it doesn't take that much research to figure a catchy domain name that represents your companys product(s). You need to spend more time on everything else around this that will make your business work.

over 7 years ago

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Emmie Faust

I agree that this is a bit of a nightmare - the main problem that I have found is finding a url that is actually available, that has the .com and .co.uk extension, that is easy to remember (and write for the user) and that is relevant to the product or service being marketed.

I am setting up a 'boutique'/cool wedding site which will give people cool and unusual (and inexpensive) ideas for weddings and target a completely different market to confetti or hitched.co.uk  It was near on impossible to find anything and I too spent hours and hours trying to find a solution.  The best I came up with is http://www.boutiquebridal.co.uk/ , couldn't get the .com and in my mind is a pretty poor domain for what I want to do and the message I want to convey. It sounds like its promotiong wedding shops (boutiques) rather than being a destination site for 'boutique' style weddings.  In the process I must have gone through your 25 steps and I still haven't found a good solution :-(

From an SEO perspective how important is it to have the keywords in the url? and if you are only targetting the UK how important is it to have the .com too?  If you had to choose between good .co.uk domain and not so good .co.uk with .com domains which would you choose?

over 7 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Good one.  We've got a short paper on naming B2B companies if anyone's interested:

http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/2007/10/01/re-naming-your-company/

The premise: people spend too much time on names.  Aim low, decide fast and move on.

over 7 years ago

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Edwin

Emma, one way to go would be to contact the owner of WeddingIdeas.co.uk and find out how much they'd want for it. I'm guessing you might be able to get it for a few thousand pounds or so.

On the SEO/visibility side of things "wedding ideas" has an exact match of 14,800 searches on Google UK's keyword research tool, so you're hitting all the right buttons there and it's obviously a popular phrase. It also tells people what they can expect from the site before they even get there. You could also set up subdomains such as cool.weddingideas.co.uk, unusual.weddingideas.co.uk and so on.

And WeddingIdeas.com hasn't been updated since 1998 by the looks of it, so down the road once your site gets a bit busier and the revenue's flowing in, you could go after that domain name too by offering to buy their old site from them.

NOTE: neither of the above domains are mine, I'm just illustrating the process of mining for good "available to buy" generic, descriptive domains.

over 7 years ago

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Edwin

From an SEO perspective how important is it to have the keywords in the url? and if you are only targetting the UK how important is it to have the .com too?  If you had to choose between good .co.uk domain and not so good .co.uk with .com domains which would you choose?

Nominet did a study a while back which showed that UK searchers were 6x more likely to choose a site with a .co.uk domain name than with a .com domain name when doing searches. So if you're only targeting the UK, you're certainly fine with .co.uk, and you might even be better off.

The second part of your question now falls into place: again, if you're only targeting the UK, then a good .co.uk domain is MUCH better than an average-to-mediocre .com domain.

over 7 years ago

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farouk

thanks for the info :)

over 7 years ago

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Emmie Faust

Thanks Edwin. Those comments are really helpful and questions I have been wanting to ask for a while and this seemed the perfect opportunity - for UK only clearly a .co.uk is more than acceptable and potentially better.

I'll also do a bit of digging and see if the I can get that domain on the cheap :-)

Much appreciated

over 7 years ago

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Jim @smashadv

Really? Stuff like this makes me so grateful to be a concept writer. I guess these processes occur in my brain, but it happens so fast that I'm able to filter out the noise without much effort. Wow. Thanks for sharing this.

over 7 years ago

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Michelle Carvill

When working on the social 'space' concept which is now 'bizzbug.com' - we spent days and days coming up with fab names that fitted the 'brief' - yet even as 'kookie and clever' we thought some of them were - when it came to checking out availability of .com and .co.uk then the domains were taken.  You're right in as much as simply looking at the whois info and contacting the domain owners directly is a good tactic to apply.  I did this - but unfortunately, I'd been given a budget of £5K and the owners of the domains I was checking out wanted 'way' more than that.  In the end - we fortunately stumbled across the 'bug' - words and bought whizzbug, fizzbug, and of course, bizzbug.com - we were fortunate, and the client and all associated love the www.bizzbug.com brand.  I truly thought that we would never find the right domain available (which effectively was the brand driver for an online social space platform!) - and whilst the product was excellent - we needed a strong identity.  It was a slog but we got the .com and .co.uk domain names we all agreed upon for the standard domain fee.  

From an SEO perspective, I understand that Google will serve .co.uk urls to users in the UK - and so perhaps the new .uk.com url (whilst initially I thought looked odd) are actually getting the best of both worlds from an seo perspective and will grow in popularity and become universally accepted as a strong url.  So I'm off to start securing some strong urls... just in case!!! (LOL)

over 7 years ago

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Cris

Thanks a lot!! This would be helpful in my plan.

over 7 years ago

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Alan Charlesworth

Some good stuff in both the original '25' and the comments.

I was in domain name registration in the early days [with domainnames.com - now that's a domain name] and have a few tips, just follow the link on my name.

In particular,  Michelle - you will find out why you should run a mile from .uk.com.

Hope the info on my pages are of some use to some of you - watch out for my next book : Choosing an Effective Domain Name - a Marketing Perspective - should be out in the summer [this article has confirmed to me that there is a market for it - thanks Chris]

over 7 years ago

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Alan Charlesworth

Cor blimey - I didn't put all that code after my last comment, honest guv. Hope it doesn't appear after this as well !

over 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Sorted Alan - thanks for the pointers!

c.

over 7 years ago

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seo

Thanks, very informative! I just searched for such information.

over 6 years ago

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รับทำ seo

Good job! THANKS! You guys do a great website, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work.
best regards,

over 6 years ago

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รถมือสอง

I'll also do a bit of digging and see if the I can get that domain on the cheap :-)

over 6 years ago

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industry domains

good writeup, i enjoyed i also enjoyed the photo, was that from your brainstorming? everything in your list is good, however the 'available in .com' is a little ridiculous. if you're going to do all the hard work and then expect to pay $8 in 2010, you're a little nuts if you're a startup in 2010 you gotta pay some of your budget on a great domain name i would say , use processes you went through, but nail down maybe half a dozen possibles. then go after the names being willing to pay a reasonable amount

over 6 years ago

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Alex Kovalov

Very good list of suggestions. In spite of many opinions it is still plenty of perfectly suitable domains available. You just have to know how to look for them.

about 4 years ago

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Alice

Very interesting post. really informative. of all the blogs I have read on the same topic, this one is actually enlightening.

over 3 years ago

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