>> Part 2 of 2 in a series on branding and SEO.
It’s no wonder businesses today find it more and more difficult to discover a brand name and domain they can own. It’s increasingly more difficult with the proliferation of online businesses and online business presence. Being creative with your brand name likely makes it easier to find domain options that aren’t already registered, since most Exact Match Domains (EMDs) and even some unique domains are long-ago captured and buying one from squatters or prior owners can be very expensive.
There are also strong arguments for differentiation, not getting caught in the rut of descriptive names, or choosing your brand name solely from keyword research. For more on that see our prior post: “What Importance Should SEO Play in Choosing Your Brand Name?”
Brand Names are a Long-Term Investment
Given how long we have to live with a company or brand name, it’s amazing how little thought most businesses give to them. Most look at a name as a personal choice rather than a brand or marketing strategy, or strictly as a legal necessity. Given the complexities added by consumer psychology, global search competition or confusion, potential legal infringement, unavailable domains, and the need for differentiation, it can be well worth your time to hire someone very familiar with brand and naming strategy to help you not just develop creative options, but help you objectively evaluate them and choose the best option.
But here are some beginning pointers.
What Makes a Domain Brandable?
There are many strategies to brand naming; multiple and differing name forms or types; as well as various ways to critique and evaluate them. It’s a pretty complex process even when the resulting name seems…well, simple. Usually the simpler the name, the more rigorous the process and strategy and the more options were explored.
What we’ll focus on here, rather than the creative development aspect, is how those names can effectively translate into the domain space; or conversely how to develop (and evaluate) a domain that is “brandable.”
In many cases, when people are referring to “brandable domains” they actually mean domains that are non-keyword names with no specific descriptive meaning. While the name and domain might have direct reference or meaning to the business or product, these domains don’t specifically spell it out. Instead they convey character, values, or qualities of the brand, product, or service. These non-descriptive domains build strong brand value over time; they are less likely to already be registered as domains (more likely available); and they also allow for flexibility in the brand in that they are not permanently tagged or associated with a narrow descriptive category.
We talked a lot about Google in the “What Importance Should SEO Play in Choosing Your Brand Name?” post that precedes this one. Google chose a brandable domain. Rather than launching as bestsearchengine.com they have built a brand that not only is differentiated and easy to remember, but which has expanded to include all things data driven—including driverless cars, wearable tech, business apps, and data centers. There’s no way bestsearchengine.com could have expanded to encompass this or survive Google’s diverse interests or massive growth. The power of choosing distinctive branding should also be self-evident in that we now use “Google” as a verb.
That doesn’t mean that you either have to choose some obscure word or invent a term to end up with a brandable domain.
Six Common Characteristics of Brandable Domains
Brandable domains, in addition to being available, typically incorporate most, if not all, of the following characteristics. They are:
Relevant. Through either complementary or implied meaning, they relate to your mission, purpose, product or service even if they don’t describe it.
Unique. They are distinctly different from your competition; they are intriguing in some way or express a unique personality.
Memorable. They are easy to remember and recall. (Note this is different than uniqueness.)
Credible. They sound trustworthy and professional, even if very creative and unusual. (As in many domains that list “best,” “quality,” or “top” in their names, having to say you’re credible in your name or domain probably indicates you aren’t.) They look agreeable or positive, and aren’t easily corruptible.
Brief. Ideally, they are short. One or two words are best. This is partly about memorability (above) but also partly about the ease of keying the domain into browsers and keying it without errors.
User-friendly. Easy to spell; easy to say; no aural confusion (was that “eight” or “ate?”); no use of numbers as digits, random abbreviations, or inside jargon; obviously reads at a glance as multiple words rather than a letter jumble; non-repeating characters to discourage keyboarding errors, etc.
If we look at the example of Google, it represents all of these characteristics, even though it’s an odd word. For some, who didn’t know the mathematical theory meaning of a Googol (a mind-boggling number written as 1 followed by 100 zeros) the name might have suffered a bit on the relevancy and credibility factors in the early days, but as it’s become the standard for search all of those issues have disappeared.
Other Good Advice for Choosing Your Brand Name and Domain Combo
Your domain should as closely approximate the main component of your trade name as possible.
Sometimes a vanity or tricky domain can work, especially if your brand name is already established and uses relatively common words (i.e. gosmithexterminators.com, hellojoneslaw.com) but don’t make people work so hard for it, if you don’t have to.
Think like a customer when choosing your name and domain.
It’s one of the hardest things to do; think from someone else’s perspective. In addition to looking at how names might appeal to a customer, instead of how they appeal to you, think of the customer from a user perspective. What are they most likely to recall? What terms or ideas would an everyday person use, as opposed to someone in the industry? Evaluate your possible variations and abbreviations. (Should it be smithaccounting.com, smithacctg.com, smithcpa.com or smithcpas.com?) Ideally align your business name to what you plan to use as a domain and be consistent everywhere. Make it easy for them to find you and as effortless as possible to remember you.
Make sure your brandable domain is also available as an official company handle on your primary social media platforms.
Users will assume your domain is your “handle” or identity elsewhere. Make it easy for them to find you by having your domain and social media profiles match exactly, or be as close as possible. Availability across platforms can be one of your tests in vetting your different name options. Conversely, you will make it much easier for them to discover your website if they happen to see a social media post.
Look at the competition and learn from it; but then do something different. Ideally, drastically different.
Users scan results and make decisions about links to follow partly from excerpts, but also from the credibility, relevancy, and character of the domains displayed. Even if you get someone to follow a link, will they be able to remember and return if your domain is a keyword mash-up or looks like thirty similar results? Can a user even tell the difference between multiple similar domains based on remixes of the same generic keyword sets? Say you’d found a good deal online; would your remember that it was at tiredeals.com, besttiredeals.com, bestdealtires.com or dealsontires.com?
If you want to incorporate a keyword in your name and domain, choose the most relevant keyword and work from there.
A descriptive keyword, especially for your category, isn’t a bad thing. It’s just not going to be a silver bullet to SEO today, given the many factors in search engine ranking. (For the answer to why, see our other post.) Users frequently still want to know what a website is about just from seeing a domain, and depending on your business or industry that may be valuable. Search engines do get a signal from a keyword that it’s likely that the site should be ranked for that keyword, but it’s the depth of content that determines the ranking. Brandable domains and keyword domains also don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can embed a keyword into a more unique branded name. Just remember it’s usually better to have one strong keyword involved rather than a string of related keywords.
If you choose the keyword route, look for a “narrower,” more targeted keyword, if you can.
It’s easier to brand based on a smaller pie…and get better traffic! If you can micro-niche, do it. Is your specialty really “performance tires?” Then why are you going after “tires” as a whole in either your brand or SEO strategy? If you’re business is strictly local rather than global, you likely should use a different approach and your keyword competition may be drastically different. You’ll need to share in-depth strategy and client profiles with your SEO strategist, but this is a place where they can be worth their weight in gold. Though it’s a narrower funnel, it can be a richer funnel, especially if your goal is to convert more visitors to sales, rather than just rack up amazing visitor stats that don’t make you any money. A targeted approach will also clue your clients into the fact that you are more relevant, more specialized, or more desirable. Your biggest concern about targeting should be: Will that term or embedded keyword be able to “contain” your business as it grows and evolves?
Stick to the standard domain suffixes.
Unless you’re doing work in foreign markets and want country-specific domains, in most cases you are better sticking to the common domain suffixes (.com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov) and doing more creative naming gymnastics to find a workable and available domain, rather than snapping up exactly what you want available on newer suffixes (.info, .biz, .firm, .web, .store, etc.) For one thing, unless someone’s just squatting on the common iterations that means there’s already a business out there, or multiples, that could be easily mistaken for yours or where traffic meant for you might get pointed. People also tend to trust the main suffixes more or assume those businesses are either the “original” or have been established longer.
Once you have a brandable domain and have an established web presence, you’ll be hawked other suffix variants of your new domain by squatters, brokers, and even your domain registrar. You probably don’t need to spend the money on any non-standard ones, or foreign variants (.uk, .fr, .ru) unless you want to localize your business in other markets or have a very specific need. But do try to capture the other standard suffix variations (patiently over time as they expire and become available) to feed your main domain as forwards. Keep in mind though that some (such as .gov and .edu) are restricted for certain uses.
Point it all toward home.
If you do choose to purchase different domains or multiple suffixes, you really want to point them all to your main domain, unless you’re doing some kind of micro-site or campaign-based strategy that benefits from distinctly different sites.
“I’ve seen many small and medium businesses buy up a bunch of different extensions of the same domain, and put the same content on all the sites thinking they’re casting a wide traffic net,” says Keith Fleming of 540 SEO. “In fact they are creating sites of duplicate content that will harm their ranking ability. They should absolutely be redirecting those other domains to the ‘main’ (.com) version.”
This is the second in a series of two posts on branding and SEO. See the first in the series: “What Importance Should SEO Play in Choosing your Brand Name?”
Special thanks to Dan Phillips (@DesignPhilled) of Design Philled for his original question via Twitter which prompted this series, and for the review and weigh-in of Keith Fleming (@540SEO) of 540 SEO on current SEO strategy and factors.