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]