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How to choose a domain name that doesn’t suck

One of the greatest challenges for tech brands when it comes to choosing a name is the shortage of options in the dot com domain. The lack of supply – and the fact that many domains are parked by opportunists asking for huge sums of money to release them – can lead to the best names being ruled out before the branding process even begins.

Unfortunately, a dot com domain remains an important asset for all businesses and is even more important for tech startups looking to attract a user base. With its ever-changing algorithm, Google rewards dot com domains and so by using a .co, .net, .biz or another less-than-optimal top-level domain –  there’s a risk of the business and its offerings slipping through the cracks of the world wide web.

From a branding standpoint, your URL is not to be underestimated. It’s the first encounter people will have with you and it’s often what is used when sharing information by word of mouth.

But that doesn’t mean you need to be held to ransom by domain squatters, because purpose, meaning and experience can be breathed into just about any name.

Case in point is Google itself. Before it became a catch-all term for internet searches, it didn’t even exist. Derived from the mathematical term ’googol’ which represents the numeral one followed by 100 zeros, the creation of the word “Google” reflected founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s mission to organise a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web.

Then there’s Amazon, which was chosen to represent scale and also because it started with an A, something which used to matter in the olden days of search rankings. Spotify was the result of a misheard word one founder yelled to the other, while the Chinese search engine Baidu gets its name from a poem written more than 800 years ago during China’s Song Dynasty.

If the most successful tech brands in the world can snatch a name out of the ether and make billions off the back of it, so, potentially, can you.

There are a number of great local examples such as Xero, a clever take on numbers for an accounting software. Switching out the Z for an X would have helped them secure the domain. Pushpay says what it does – a play on “push play” – making donating to charities easier. Vend point of sale retail systems is a nice derivation of the French word Vendre which means “to sell” but you’ll note they had to go with vendhq.com for a domain. And when it comes to keeping things simple, Simplicity has the market cornered there. The name says what it’s all about – a simple retirement savings solution – using the .kiwi domain instead of .co.nz for differentiation and no doubt domain-securing ease.

There are plenty of examples but before you go off and generate a made up name, it’s worth considering established naming wisdom. Names should be memorable, authentic, simple and mean something.

You ideally want to evoke the purpose of what the technology does. Auto-suggestive examples of this nature include Netflix, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Tripadvisor, Facebook, Transferwise and Instagram.

Shorter names are easier to read on the tiny screens we use. They are easier to type into search engines and research has shown they’re more effective in generating traffic.

But whether you opt for a short or long title, a well-chosen name has the power to see you own your category.

Better still, you could reach the tech branding Holy Grail and be re-purposed as a verb. What better footsteps to follow in than the Googles and Ubers of the world.

Steve Main is the general manager of branding agency Principals, which gets its name from the principals of the company who work hands-on in the business.
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