The evolution of the domain name

Brand names no longer have include ‘ABC’ to be the first listing in the phone book. The rules are totally different now.

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Domain names used to be different: In the early days of the internet, you could simply buy a domain name, and that was that. Now, it’s a whole lot more. It’s an entire branding package for your business or organization.

“In many instances, your domain name is the most visible thing about your brand,” says Michael Rader, founder and CEO of Brandroot, a business that offers a creative selection of .com domain names. “You used to see some people design their brand names around the phone book, like naming their business ‘ABC’ so it would be the first listing. Now, the rules are totally different.”

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It’s true: nowadays, it’s about a whole lot more than an alphabetical listing. Companies need to consider things like keywords and uniqueness. A domain name is short, but you need to be able to explain who you are, what you do and why you matter -- all in a handful of letters.

If all that sounds like a difficult task, that’s because it is. Thus, when facing the tough decision of choosing a domain name, brands generally take a few different approaches:

1. Keyword name: By using industry keywords, you can make it very clear what your business does. For example, there’s no confusion about what General Motors does. On the downside, given that the internet is more crowded than ever with domain names, it will be difficult to stand out and gain visibility. Therefore, use a keyword name

2. Unique name: What’s a word that people aren’t competing for? Nike is the Greek goddess of victory, and was definitely not a keyword for shoes. Similarly, McDonald’s uses the last name of the McDonald brothers, who founded the company in 1940. By naming your business something that is less common, you can own that word and maximize your recall.

3. Invented name: An offshoot of the unique category, this method relies on creating an entirely new word or phrase for your business. Think Twitter, Verizon or Dasani. These words simply didn’t exist before they became brands. While choosing an invented name means that you have to spend considerable effort building your brand, once you’ve done that, it’s yours.

4. Misspellings: A combination of the “keyword” and “invented” categories, misspellings allow brands to express the essence of their business while still maintaining a unique brand identity. When you hear Lyft, for instance, you think of someone giving you a lift in their car. That’s by design, and yet Lyft doesn’t get lost in the sea of results for the search term “lift.” 

Another similar example is Mylestone Plans. The founder's last name was Myles, but they decided to extend that to Mylestone to give it a more tangible sense of purpose and importance.

So, as you see, a domain name isn’t just a domain name. It’s your first impression. People are going to read it and immediately make a decision about you as a brand and as an organization. In this way, a domain name is like a digital storefront: It can either draw people in or turn people away. Here are a few things that you should consider when choosing a domain name, regardless of which of the above categories it falls into:

1. How does it read in a browser? Write your name as one word, all lowercase. Can you still read it, or does it morph into a different phrase? For example, let’s say you have a business that recycles old IT equipment. You could call it IT Scrap. Not a bad idea -- until you see what it looks like in a browser: itscrap.com. Needless to say, this won’t be great for your business.

2. Does it explain what you do? General Motors clearly implies that it’s a car company. On the other hand, Uber implies no specific kind of business. Uber has been tremendously successful, but they had to overcome the question, “What’s an Uber?” This means that Uber had to put in significant effort into branding and awareness, unlike General Motors.

3. Will it be a problem down the road? Ask yourself where your business is going. Do you think you’ll expand into other industries or make different products down the line? If so, you shouldn’t choose a name that limits the scope of your services.

For instance, if General Motors wanted to start selling computers, they’d have a hard time breaking away from the associations of their name. Make sure you are setting yourself up for long-term success, because it can be costly and time-consuming to rebrand.

As you can see, in an increasingly digital era, we’ve reached a place where your domain name and website are essentially as important -- if not more -- than your actual storefront. Choose wisely, and you can turbocharge the growth of your new business.

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