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What’s In A Domain Name?

Friday, January 22, 2010 -

In the physical world, you can distinguish a business because of its structure, window displays, or signs. You can tell that a bank is a bank, or a clothing store is indeed a clothing store. Catalogs and brochures also establish the product line: a Finger Hut catalog can tell you that they are fashion retailers.

In the Internet, however, it is an entirely different story altogether. Your domain name is the only clue to your online business. You do not have visual clues: no location, no look, and no store design. Instead, they have to type in a word or a set of words to reach your site. Your prospective visitors has no way of knowing what your site is all about until they find it and read its contents. Who can ever tell that sells books? Or that Excite is a search engine? There are no clues to point that sells handcrafted goods from around the world. Unlike in the real world, a person can stand in a corner, and know instantly that the business in front is a watch store, or a record store is located at the right corner, and that a restaurant is located down the street. With no physical clues to offer, you only have your domain name to make your business distinguishable from all the rest.

Your domain name can spell your success on the Internet. A good domain name is the best asset you can ever have. It can make your business stand out in the crowd, or just float aimlessly in space. Your only weapon to ensure that people can find you, and best of all, remember you, is through your domain name. In the real world, people can forget the name, but can say "It's that bagel shop located between 1st and 2nd Streets." In the Internet, no one says, "I don't know the name of that site, but I know its IP address."

While weak business names are excusable in the real world (e.g. Vinnie's Shoe Repair Store), your branding and marketing success will depend on how good and how memorable your domain name is. The goal of every online marketer is to etch their names in the minds of their customers, so when people think of their product they would go to them. Yahoo! wants users to think of their site when searching for something on the Internet. AOL wants to be the first thing to come to mind when people think of an ISP.

Common Name vs. Proper Name

The need to provide immediate clues to an online business led to the prevalence of generic domain names. Generic names instantly provides the user with an idea of what a business is all about, what to expect and look for in a site. is a toy store. leaves you without a doubt that their site caters to women. is about families, while is for small businesses.

The lure of the generic has been so powerful; that some companies even paid absurdly high prices to get the name they want. Remember A Los Angeles company paid $7.5 million to get the rights to that name. The domains and were both bought for $3 million. was acquired for $1.75 million, while sold for $1.1 million.

Thus, we see sites (and lots of them!) use generic domain
names, and all its possible iterations. Take a site on business planning. We have

And these are just dot.coms. The list does not include all the dot.nets, dot.orgs, and other domain wannabes. Majority simply want THE generic name for their business:,,,,

But is it working? The problem with generic names, is well … it's generic! It's a common name. While such names could lead users to your site, it hardly creates the zing or magic that makes successful brands. Branding has always been about proper names: McDonald's did not name their store Hamburger. Hertz is not called Car Rental. FedEx is not Mail Carrier. Kodak is not Photographs. Microsoft is not Computer Software.

Even the early winners on the Internet have showed the power of using proper names as domain names. Yahoo is not a generic name. Same with AOL, Amazon, BlueMountain,, or even Priceline. Yet these sites have grown to become the biggest online businesses in their categories.

The right domain name can solidify your business identity, permanently imbed it in user's psyche and garner more attention than a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl. For better branding results, your domain name should be memorable and easy to remember.

Here are six guides on how to choose an effective domain name:

  1. It should be short. When it comes to domain names, the rule is: the shorter, the better. Since users will have to type into the keyboard the domain name, it should be both short and easy to spell. Long generic names, in particular, can be confusing and hard to remember. The consulting firm PriceWaterHouse's is both complicated and long. Thus, it is not hard to imagine that the 65-character domain names never catched on. Who could remember (much less have the patience to type correctly) names such as Long names are simply too cumbersome for the Internet.
  2. It should be simple. To increase recall, a domain name should be simple. Simple domain names are those that use few letters in the alphabets and arrange them in an easy to use way. While a domain name may be short, it does not necessarily mean that it is simple. Some also combine numbers with letters, resulting in hard-to-remember domain names such as and Combining names and numbers makes it much more difficult to recall and these domain names usually make poor brand names.
  3. It should be suggestive of the category. Some successful online businesses use domain name that use the best of both worlds: it is a proper name, but stops short of being generic. AOL or America Online is suggestive of its category - which is the Internet. CNET is short for computer network. is play of the home business category.
  4. It should be unique. Your domain name should be unique to be memorable. Examples of unique names are the search portals Altavista and Lycos. The name, manages to suggest the function of its site, while being memorable. Another example is the, a price comparison site. Common or generic names are not unique, and thus can hardly be memorable.
  5. It should be easy to say. Similar to the offline world, word of mouth is a potent communication medium., a relationship marketing application software provider, may be a short name but it is by no means simple and definitely not easy to say. Try pronouncing that name and remembering the spelling!
  6. It should be personalized. If the situation allows it, you can name your site after an individual, maybe even you. Using a personal name for a domain assures that you will be using proper name and enhances the publicity potential of your site., for example, capitalized on the good name of the former U.S. Surgeon General. is named after their founder Michael Dell's name. Even personal coach Lynn Berger uses her name for her site.
While it may be hard for a domain name to embody all the six qualities above, choosing a name with these qualities in mind will help you develop an Internet brand that will lead to your online success. Remember, it all starts with the name.

by Nach M Maravilla Publisher



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