Knowledge Base

How to choose an effective domain name

In planning your online presence, a domain name is one of the most important decisions you will make, particularly if you rely on non-internet promotion to drive traffic to your site. If you expect all of your visitors to come to your site by simply clicking a link from a search engine or from other web sites, your domain name can be almost anything. However, if you expect any portion of your audience to manually type the domain name into their browser's address bar, you need to choose a domain name carefully.

Your domain name becomes the "brand name" of your web site. Millions of dollars and millions of hours have been spent researching effective branding. Most of the results of that research apply directly to choosing internet domain names. A "good" or effective domain name meets most or all of the following criteria.

Easy to spell and pronounce

You should avoid words that are difficult to spell, or can be spelled more than one way. You should also choose a domain name that allows you to say the name to someone else, who can then easily type the name into a browser. They should not have to ask you to spell it out for them.

Some “good” examples are yahoo.com, cnn.com, infoseek.com, and excite.com. Even the more “unusual” of these domain names can be typed easily and correctly based on the spoken word.

Some domain names that are not as easy to spell are eidos.com, submit-me.net, and hisel.com. In particular, hyphenated domain names are often problematic. The natural tendency is to pronounce the name as if it were not hyphenated. Even if you specifically say “submit hyphen me dot net,” for example, people may forget to insert the hyphen.

Easy to remember

Presumably you want people to visit your web site more than once. Therefore, you should choose a distinctive name that is easy to remember. Many of the other suggestions in this article can help you create a memorable domain name. Avoiding hyphens and irrelevant number combinations in a domain name helps as well.

Evoking positive associations

“Cover Girl” makeup, “Irish Spring” soap, and “Bounty” paper towels evoke positive associations in the consumer's mind, even when those associations have no direct connection to the product. Research has shown that individuals remember information better, and form more positive attitudes when the information is associated with positive, happy images.

Some examples of positive domain names are yahoo.com, islandofgifts.com, alohaprints.com, and webolicious.com.

Reinforcing the site's concept

The visitor should be able to draw some connection between a site's domain name and its content. Consistency between content and name can aid in memory and encourage repeat visits. A domain name that is completely contrary to the site's content can cause dissonance in the visitor's cognitive processes, and is likely to result in more negative attitudes being formed. (A notable exception is when the dissonance is used in a humorous or ironic way.)

Some examples of domain names that are relevant to the site's actual content are yourdomainhost.com, 3dfxgames.com, perlarchive.com, etoys.com, blackfilm.com, downloads.com, and shareware.com.

Shorter is better

Usually, shorter domain names are better than longer domain names. Shorter domain names are easier to spell, and easier to type. Unfortunately, most of the “good” short names are unavailable. Practically all two-, three-, and four-letter combinations are already registered.

Three-letter names seem to be very appealing, perhaps because so many individuals and companies have names that can be initialized into three-letter combinations. Some people try to compensate for the shortage of these domain names by hyphenating between each letter (for example, x-y-z.com). This may not be a good idea, though, for reasons given above.

The domain name registration system puts a limit on long names. Domain names cannot exceed 63 characters in length. (This does not include the top-level domain, such as .com or .net.). In any event, if you are considering a domain name that is 63 characters long, you may want to reconsider.

Uniqueness

Finding a unique domain name gets harder with each passing day. It seems that all of the really unique names have been taken. However, you do not want a domain name that so closely resembles other domain names that your visitors become confused and type in your competition's URL.

The distinctiveness issue is why so many consumer products companies “create” brand-new words for their brand names—words like Exxon, Xerox, and Citgo. Note also that these distinctive made-up words are easy to pronounce. A domain name like xycjxyk.com is certainly unique, but it is not going to be effective in generating traffic, and no one will be able to remember it.

Say something about the visitor

Along with positively associating the site's concept, good domain names often say something positive or unique about the visitor. This makes the experience and the domain name more personally relevant to the visitor. For exampe, you can often achieve this effect by directing the domain name specifically toward the visitor with the words “you”, “your”, or some variation.

Some examples of this technique are doityourself.com, lovingyou.com, and myownemail.com.

Avoid linguistic traps

One of the reasons many companies make up new words for their brands is to avoid using a word that has potentially negative connotations in different languages or cultures. One of the more popular marketing-related urban legends involves Chevrolet's attempt to sell the Nova automobile in Spanish-speaking countries. As the story goes, one possible interpretation of Nova in Spanish is “it doesn't go,” which, of course, would be an unfortunate name for an automobile.

Urban legends aside, the point is to “step back” from the domain names you are considering, and look at them from as many possible viewpoints as possible. When you combine multiple words into one name, check to see how many other, unintended words might be derived from the name. Look for any possible unwanted double-entendres that may be hiding in the combination. Always consider your target audience, and that audience's likely interpretation of your domain name.

Conclusion

Selecting the right domain name has never been easy, and it gets more difficult as the number of registered domains increases. However, it remains one of the most important decisions you can make for your web site.

A good process is to select a number of possible names, and then ask for comments from disinterested third parties. Play the word association game to discover what associations the name invokes, and to uncover any unintended meanings or difficulties. Ask your testers to spell the names to see if they meet the easy-to-spell criteria. Also ask them what type of content they would expect to find on such a web site.

The domain name choice you make now can have large impacts later on. So think about it carefully, and do some research. A little work now can pay big dividends in the future.