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The Hunt for a Unique Domain Name

(This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Southwest Graphics, Winter 2008)

I used to complain that the most difficult task in marketing was naming a company or product. The process is always highly subjective, fraught with the pitfalls of connotation, innuendo, vernacular, and slang, complicated by trademark searches and translation issues.

Then along came the Internet and the need to register domain names, and all of my past complaints seemed trivial by comparison.

Consider this: There are over 100 million domain names currently active, and another 200,000 are added each day. The prospect of thinking up a domain name that hasn’t already been thought up is daunting.

So, what can you do if you are starting a new business, launching a product, or…shudder…finally getting around to registering a domain name for your existing business? Here is a logical process to follow, and some tips to guide you through the domain name jungle.

Start your domain name search with your company or product name

If a savvy Internet user knows your company or product name, they’ll often just type the name into their browser bar. Give it a try with Coke, Hertz, Apple or iPod: No .com is necessary. If you have a unique name — Rumpelstiltskin or Shrek, for example — you may just be able to register this as your domain name and live happily ever after. If not, read on.

Make your domain name memorable (and short, if possible)

If you’re creating a new business or product, be sure to include a domain name search into your naming criteria. You want your potential customers to hear your domain name on TV or radio or read it in print and be able to carry it around in their heads until they need it. On the other hand, Uncle Elmer’s Country Time Barbecue and Bandstand may be memorable, but nobody wants to type that into their browser. You better hope the shorter UncleElmers.com is available.

Another option is an invented word, which has the advantages of being short and memorable as well as unique. An iPod meant nothing until Apple invented the thing and the name. There are popular websites called Pownce, Bebo, Vimeo, and Twitter.

Doug Cholewa, owner of interactive design firm Catywampus, has both short and memorable going for him in a business name. For those who aren’t so lucky, Cholewa offers a useful tip: “If you have to use a longer domain name, print your domain name in your ads and on your marketing materials using capitalization. SouthwestGraphicsRocks.com is a lot easier to read than southwestgraphicsrocks.com.” Domain names are not case sensitive, so you can type them in with or without the caps.

What if your company/product/service name is already reserved?

The real heartbreak of domain names happens here. You’ve come up with the perfect name for your business, only to discover that the domain is already in use or reserved. Mike Corak, director of Mighty Interactive in Phoenix, suggests your best options. “You can try to purchase the domain you want from the person who registered it, you can add a descriptive word onto your name to create the domain, or you can try to find a phrase related to your industry.”

That first option, purchasing a domain name, can be surprisingly simple or maddeningly impossible. You can try to make an offer to the domain name owner, but I’d recommend you call a pro for help with this.

The second option is a bit easier: Just start with the name you wanted, and add another word to it. If you wanted GuitarWiz.com but it’s taken, consider GuitarWizAZ, GuitarWizStore, or MegaGuitarWiz. Just be careful you’re not infringing on someone’s trademarked name (in other words, forget trying to build a company called AppleComputerAZ.com).

The third option is to give up on owning the domain you want and go with a related phrase. This is a tough choice to make, and it depends on customers using a search engine to find you. If your business is Trusty Lawnmower Service and TrustyLawnmowerService.com is taken, you could register SharpBlades.com. That strategy would find you some new blade sharpening business from local Google searches. Then, to make sure your current customers and people searching for you by your business name can find you, make sure your website includes your business name on every page and is also loaded up with all the terms your current customer might search on to find you. Here again, you’d be well advised to seek help from an Internet marketing professional.

Register all the domain name variants

Doug Cholewa calls the .com domain “the holy grail.” If you can’t get that, you should seriously consider picking a different name. Conversely, if you can get the .com domain, don’t stop there. Also buy the .net and the .org, and as many other extensions and variations as you can afford. Your goal is to prevent your competitors or unsavory online types from buying your precious domain name with a different extension and wreaking havoc on your good name.

Also register any common misspellings of your domain name. Del.icio.us is a handy bookmarking site, but I can never remember where the dots go in their name. Happily for me, they smartly registered Delicious.com, too. Walmart used to be Wal-Mart, but they registered domains with and without the hyphen, as well as the misspelled Wallmart.com. Adidas has Adiddas.com.

Or do what the Japanese do

Having collectively thrown their hands in the air over getting domain names that match their business names, Japanese marketers have simply started displaying a search box in their print advertising with their suggested search term already filled in. “Search for Guitar Wiz” is advertising’s new “Visit mylamedomainname.com.”

Do you have domain name success stories and tales of terror? Leave a comment.

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