A few months back, I got an email from my former boss, Alan Brew. “The subject of URL availability with a new corporate or brand name comes up more often than not with clients. What’s your advice and position on the subject?” he asked. “Do clients really need an exact match URL, and if not, why not?”
As Alan probably expected, my position is in line with that of the majority of professional brand namers: I don’t believe getting the “exact match, dot-com domain” is imperative—at least, not in the majority of cases.
It’s an important lesson, perhaps because it contradicts the recommendations of many “tips for brand naming” articles out there. Be sure to “get the .com domain name,” advises one Forbes article. “Make sure the name is available,” by running a “Google search,” suggests a recent article in Ad Age. But these articles aren’t written by professional namers who’ve run dozens of naming assignments—instead, they often provide advice from startup founders or marketers who’ve been involved in just a handful of naming projects.
Take it from me (and many other professional namers): Avoid getting overly focused on getting an exact dot-com. One of the best-selling books* by a professional namer lays out the basic case against a “domain first” approach:
- Insisting on an exact dot-com domain will constrain the naming process too much—you’ll likely wind up with a name that’s hard to pronounce, hard to spell, or too long to remember.
- Many major brands have launched with “imperfect” domains and gone on to great success: Tesla, Dropbox, and Peloton, to name a few.
- These days, most web users will search for a brand rather than attempt to guess its domain name.
Instead, take a “name first” approach to naming; i.e., find a name that’s right for your brand, then start trying to solve the domain problem. Assuming [name].com is not freely available—and it likely won’t be—consider the following paths to finding a domain:
- If the domain is parked or in use by a small business, reach out to see whether it’s for sale. But be careful: The second you ask if the domain is for sale, its value increases in the mind of its owner. Hire an experienced domain broker, who can look into the domain’s availability and cost without ruffling any feathers.
- Add a descriptor, as Dove Chocolate had to do (dovechocolate.com) and Tesla did up until 2016 (teslamotors.com).
- Create a phrase, like getdropbox.com (the Dropbox URL until 2009). Consider using the words in the graphic below.
- Look at other top-level domains (TLDs), domain hacks, and other creative solutions. These approaches have notable downsides, but are still worth considering. Slideshare was originally located at slideshare.net, for example, and VSCO (the photo sharing app) can be found at VSCO.co. And while domain hacks like del.icio.us have resulted in some unfortunate naming trends, including the countless -ly startups, creative ideas like abc.xyz (for Alphabet, which owns Google) not only solve the domain problem, but earn a smile from most users.
Remember that a great brand name, which you may be using for as long as your business or product survives, is ultimately worth far more than a regrettable brand name with a perfect domain.
Further reading on brands and naming:
Rob Meyerson is Principal and Founder of Heirloom, a coalition of independent brand and marketing professionals who come together to solve specific client challenges. www.heirloomagency.com