Of all the myths associated with naming, the bogus rule that insists on a “pure” dot-com domain—a URL that’s an exact match for your company, product, or app name—is perhaps the most wrongheaded and damaging to your naming effort. It’s a zombie rule: a holdover from the late-1990s dot-com gold rush. The rule’s been dead for years, but it still nibbles away at brains.
Yes, you should devote resources (time and money) to your naming strategy. Certainly you should cast a wide net in your creative effort, using lateral thinking to explore metaphorical associations. You should make sure your name is distinctive and appropriate in its market(s). You should protect your name legally through trademark registration.
But rejecting a good name because an exact dot-com match isn’t instantly available? That’s foolish, and bad business.
Gradually, company founders and marketing directors are seeing the light. A recent post about naming on the Buffer blog—Buffer is a social-media-publishing app—includes some misinformation (use “real” words, make it two syllables, yada yada). But it does contain one piece of near-wisdom:
3. The domain name doesn’t matter
I see many, many founders limiting themselves with the domain name. One thing I’ve learned and embraced with naming my own startups is that the domain name doesn’t matter at all. The name itself matters much more than having the same domain name. Pick a great name, go with a tweaked domain name.
I don’t agree that the domain name “doesn’t matter at all.” It’s a brand asset, and I encourage clients to consider buying a for-sale domain if they have the budget for it. Many aftermarket domains are available for less than $2,000.
But I do endorse the “tweaked domain name” part. If you’re able to legally own your name in your trademark class(es)—a very big, very important if—and you can’t buy the pure domain, I urge you to break the zombie rule. Your URL does not have to be an identical twin; rather, it can be a helpful sibling—and an opportunity to build your brand.
Here are some examples of what an impure domain can do:
1. Say hello.
- Creature, an advertising and branding agency with offices in Seattle and London, uses WelcomeToCreature.com.
- Oscar, a new health-insurance company in New York, underscores its friendly brand personality with HiOscar.com.
- Lumio, which makes modern lighting systems with an element of surprise, sends a message of “new encounter” with HelloLumio.com.
2. Clarify the name.
- Tesla.com is parked, so Tesla Motors is TeslaMotors.com. The URL makes it immediately apparent that this isn’t a Nikola Tesla biography site.
- Twice could be the name of a restaurant or an ad agency. But LikeTwice.com gives you a first clue that this is, in fact, a site that resells clothing and accessories that can be “liked again.”
- Buffer is BufferApp.com. Appending “app” to your name to create the domain is both legitimate and honorable—if you’re an app-maker, of course.
3. Create a memorable phrase.
- Square, the mobile payment system, reinforces its “fairness” message with SquareUp.com.
- Balanced is the company name; BalancedPayments.com is the domain. Now you know what the company does and you have a convenient mnemonic for finding it on the Web.
- I don’t know what Ness means. (Surname? Acronym? Scottish monster? G-man?) But LikeNess.com makes me associate this company with liking and match-ups—and I appreciate the witty double meaning, too. (Ness “learns” your restaurant preferences and finds new places for you to eat; the company was recently bought by OpenTable.)
4. Have some fun.
- The winery is called EIEIO. The domain is OnHisFarm.com. Are you singing “Old MacDonald” yet?
- Open is the name of the design studio. Alas, American Express owns Open.com. So the studio chose NotClosed.com, a domain that clearly communicates “We’re creative.”
- A proverb is “a short, pithy saying that expresses a basic truth.” Proverb is a branding agency in Boston. Someone’s squatting on Proverb.com. The solution: TheTruthMadeSimple.com.
These domains work not only because they’re clever and memorable, but because they support their brands. They would not work if the brand names weren’t legally available—if, for example, another branding agency called Proverb or BigProverb or Proverbial already existed. Do your strategic homework, do your creative homework, do your legal homework. Then loosen your domain requirements.
For more on creating available domains (including advice about using country codes), see my 2010 guest post for Duets Blog, “Mastering Your Domain.”