Wouldn’t it be amazing if your website, in one simple, pithy phrase, compelled people to read it? When they arrived at your site, they say to themselves, “Yes! This is what I’ve been waiting for!”
Like say – sex.com? Insurance.com? Furniture.com? irs.com? LasVegas.com? banking.com?
You might think that when people visit your site, they’re amazed by your design, your content, or the cool plugins you’ve installed. I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s probably not at all what got them to come to your website.
More than anything else – your domain name is the first factor that piques the curiosity of a reader. Get it right – and you cement yourself in the minds of potential customers. Get it wrong, and they’ll be scratching their head for a few seconds before casting you into oblivion forever.
In 2006, a group of private investors purchased the domain name sex.com for an undisclosed amount rumored to be north of $12 million.
Twelve million dollars for a one-word domain name for what would become a porn site.
Believe it or not – sex.com wasn’t even the most expensive transaction to date. The domain “insurance.com” sold for an unbelievable price of 36 million dollars. Vacationrentals.com sold for 35 million dollars. Fund.com sold for approximately 18 million dollars (10 £ in 2008).
When pets.com went bankrupt – they had two assets that were liquidated in bankruptcy – the domain name (ultimately sold to Petsmart) and the dog sock puppet (sold to a finance company). A three-hundred-million-dollar venture boiled down to a URL and a hand puppet?
Why all this money? Why all the hullabaloo? I mean, isn’t a rose by any other name just as sweet?
Put simply, no.
You have no more than 6 seconds to grab a reader’s curiosity. So that means you have six… Mississippi… five… Mississippi… four… Mississippi… (are they still wondering what you’re about?) three… Mississippi… two… Mississippi… (starting to look now at cat videos) …
… and gone.
That’s how fast it happens. It’s a scientifically researched phenomenon that what you pick as your domain name affects your visitor traffic and whether anyone will even remember you.
This is not a decision to be made lightly. Chances are, if you already have a website, you’ve probably named it wrong – with a confusing name, that doesn’t speak to readers in any way whatsoever, and condemns you to obscurity probably for all eternity.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ll show you how to create the perfect domain name for your website. One that makes you instantly stand out with a memorable name and makes your readers instantly fall in love with you.
Let’s get started.
When new entrepreneurs try to name their website – they usually go for trying to be cute, clever, or they wind up naming it hyperglobalsupermegacorp.ws…
It’s a disaster.
To avoid this, I want you to think about one simple question that whatever domain name you choose must answer – is this the website for me?
Every potential visitor is asking this question when they read a blog post you made, land on a landing page, evaluate an offer you’re making, or look at a shared article online from your site. The degree to which you can answer this question for website visitors results in:
So, how do you help your potential website visitors answer this question? Simple.
It would be great if you could get a one-word domain like insurance.com. If you’re looking to shop for insurance, and you type in insurance.com, that’s a great domain name because it directly answers the question “is this website for me” in one simple word and concept. Same with domains like LasVegas.com or Vactionrentals.com.
Those domain names are simple, create an immediate concept in the mind of the reader as to what the website is about, and has a strong identification with both benefits and concept.
The problem is – all the one-word domains are literally gone. I’m not kidding. Type in any single word and add “.com” to it, and you’ll see it’s owned either by a cybersquatter (people who buy domain names and then attempt to make money selling them), is somehow a porn site (seriously, be careful what you type in), or is being used by some company.
That said, here’s the drill. I’ve taken a gun and put it to your head. You have six seconds to tell me what your business is about. If you’re unsuccessful, you die.
Think you’ll get some clarity?
I guess you will.
Or most likely, you’re thinking, “Ok Bryan, that’s great – now on top of not having a domain name, I’m going to die as well. Thanks.”
Well, luckily we’re not playing “Domain or Death.”
That said, to get clarity, and to name your domain something that is useful – you have to think about what is the clearest expression of your value. One word would be awesome, but it’s not the only way to go about this process. That said, there are some “don’ts” and so “do’s” for this process. Let’s begin with what you should not ever do.
I registered a domain called “unsuckit.com.” Now, the domain wasn’t going to be about reverse porn or something crazy. It was going to be about how to make your website design not suck.
Also completely useless, because 99% of the world suddenly had a vision of some kind of perverse sexual act instead of elegant web design.
This is the sin of being too clever for your reader.
In general, brevity is the soul of wit, but cleverness is the enemy of clarity. Most people won’t get the “joke” that makes the idea funny and clever. They’re going to view your domain name through whatever lens they have, over which you will have no control. There’s no comedic timing. There’s no “wink wink” so that people get the joke.
Unsuckit.com suddenly becomes a complete disaster. (I still own it by the way, not sure what I’m going ever to do with it.)
The another problem with being clever is – most people are time deprived and won’t put forward an extra effort to think through your joke (or worse, they’re just stupid). If they have to think about what the “joke is,” many readers will just be like “aw man, I have to THINK!” They’ll just move on.
Equally problematic are “clever” brand names that make no sense at all – hyperglobalmegacorp.com? Great? What? Or “Hipnoslice.com” – ok that’s great… what? People think they’re cool or leading edge – in reality, they confuse people.
Clever is the enemy of clarity. Avoid being clever.
I debated whether to make this the #1 sin. I decided that cleverness was worse than not using a “dot com” domain, but not by much.
I’ll say this clearly – if you don’t use a “dot-com” extension for your domain name, you might as well throw it away. It’s worthless.
Now, I realize you’re going to give me your favorite “dot net” website or whatever. That’s fine. In a field of three pedal clovers, you’ll find a unicorn and a four-leafed clover every quadrillion or so clovers.
For the rest of the world, a “ws” or a “net” or a “tv” or a “____” domain extension is a death sentence.
I’m not saying don’t register every TLD (top-level domain extension – org, com, net, etc.) you can for the name you do pick – but one of those TLD’s better be “dot com, ” or you’re dot screwed.
Three-fourths of the entire internet are dot com. People don’t want to use “dot whatever” as the extension. And if you come up with a great name, and forget the dot com, guess who will be getting a fair amount of your first-round direct traffic.
Somebody who owns that “dot-com” domain.
Here’s the another issue, if you use some other type of TLD naming scheme, you look like a buffoonish amateur. That’s something that most people don’t want to convey when they’re trying to run a business.
Don’t do it.
Clorox is a great made up name. You know what it takes to make a name like “Clorox” go from something nobody has ever heard of, to something that people not only have heard of but associate as being bleach?
About a half a trillion dollars.
I’m not kidding.
If you ran national campaigns in major markets, on TV, and did circulars, and did displays, and did shoppers marketing, and coupons, and trials, and everything else P&G and Unilever (the two biggest makers of consumer packaged goods), do, and you did it over say forty years – that’s how much you would spend to launch a made-up name, from nothing to being a household name.
I’m not kidding. Branding is super expensive. So if you’re going to name your site Bubaru.com – that’s great. But it’s not going to mean a damn thing to about 99% of the people out there. And to make that name mean something, you’re going to have to brand the crap out of it.
And I guess you don’t have hundreds of billions of dollars.
Branding is a losing proposition for 99% of the website owners out there. At best all they can hope for is maybe a recognized trade name in a limited geography – but a brand like Coke? Pepsi? Nike?
It may be that when you’ve said Budweiser, you’ve said it all – but only after you’ve spent billions of dollars advertising that fact to generations of consumers. Proctor and Gamble (P&G) spends roughly 5 billion dollars a year marketing a basket of about 50 products – all of which are household names – Tide, Crest, Covergirl, Tampax, Gilette, Downy, and others. Each line has millions in its budget for ad spend – and these are all products you’ve HEARD OF already!
It takes billions to reach that over decades, and then hundreds of millions to upkeep year after year. The largest “brands” in the world are also the largest advertising spenders.
So don’t name it “Bubaru.com,” unless you have half a trillion dollars lying around ready to make it a household name.
Some people decide to avoid the whole domain name thing entirely, and they’re totally stoked to find that delmonte.wordpress.com is suddenly available!
Yeah, I’m sure it is.
Subdomains are not a solution to the naming problem.
There are a couple of problems with this approach. First, you look like a buffoonish clod who can’t even set up his own website – and uses a free or freemium a hosting service (not exactly inspiring a lot of confidence). For one another thing – you don’t own the domain; you don’t own the website that your business is based on.
My advice to you is this – own your empire.
You can’t afford to set up a subdomain on someone else’s property.
Don’t do it. Get your own name.
Like being clever, people decide they’re suddenly “Imgur” or “Flickr” and start dropping vowels or abbreviating names.
It’s usually a recipe for disaster.
Here’s the primary reason why – abbreviations usually leave out an entire newbie audience, and the newbie audience is usually the largest potential audience in any market.
Now, let’s say I’m interested in setting up my domain name on search engine optimization strategies. The term “SEO” is known among all experienced people in the search engine optimization world. But not everyone in the world knows the term SEO.
So, if I set up the domain “seosuperstars.com,” is a that a good domain name?
But be wary about using abbreviations, acronyms, dropping vowels off names or words, or other shortcuts. First, people may not type the name in the right – and they’re not going to screw around forever figuring out how to get to your site. Second, whatever acronym you think you’re using that “everybody knows,” chances are a large swath of people, especially the people you might want to sell to and educate, won’t have a clue what it is.
It winds up being confusion for most people.
One way I see people try to solve the “all the good names are taken” problem is hyphenating.
It’s an utter mistake. Don’t do it.
Let’s say you want to call your business all-things-fixed.com, because you run a handyman service. When people type in that name, what do you think they’re most likely to type in?
Guess what – you just lost a sale to a competitor.
People don’t remember to type in the hyphens, and they don’t want to be bothered with it. They’ll type in whatever, and if someone who comes up fits the bill – they won’t care about you.
Second, again – it’s a buffoonish clod move. When I see a hyphenated name, I conclude “clod who has no idea what the heck he’s doing.”
Subconsciously it will affect traffic and sales.
Don’t do it.
Mary Poppins may be able to pull off saying and using a 34-letter word, but she was the coolest nanny who ever lived, could fly and was played by Julie Andrews.
The rest of us mortals dare not even attempt to say such words, let alone spell them.
But I see this all the time. They’re not as bad as the guy who does it as a joke: http://www.iamtheproudownerofthelongestlongestlongestdomainnameinthisworld.com, but they’re pretty close.
Here’re a couple of reasons why this sin is bad.
First, understand about half of all website traffic is mobile. Do you really want to type in “allthebestplumbersinmn.com” as a domain name with your pinky finger?
Second, the longer the name, the more likely the reader is going to screw it up in terms of figuring out what you’re about. Which one is easier to understand “kickasswebdesign.com” or “superamazinggraphicdesignforwebsites.com.”
Third, brevity is the soul of wit and the friend of CLARITY. (Yes, remember clarity?) It’s hard to read like 9 words smooshed together in one jumbled sentence. It’s unclear.
Don’t do it.
Are you doing one of the seven things I just mentioned never to do? Don’t worry – lots of people are. That’s because domain naming is hard, especially if you don’t have a strategy as for what works.
When I answer the question “what should I name my website,” I give people my five strategies for naming. All the top sites that survive and thrive are usually using one or more of these strategies. The result is a clear answer to the “is this for me?” question and usually, results in very clear and clean domain names.
There’s an axiom in advertising that goes like this – nobody buys the drill, they buy the hole. People buy benefits, not features. Thus, naming your domain name based upon the benefit is an excellent way to cut right to the chase.
There’s this “guru” (Ramit Sethi) who sells what I think is probably a snake-oil product, but he’s got a great domain name because it preys on exactly the benefit his intended readers desperately want:
Now, it violates a bunch of my other “don’t do” rules in terms of sins – but it does directly go to the benefit of what people who read his blog want – wealth.
Another one, which is significantly better, is “skinnymom.com.” This blog site is run by a friend of mine, Brooke Griffin. What do her readers want most? They’re moms who want to be skinny and sexually desirable. Her content is all about moms who want to live healthier lives and feel desirable.
The domain name, “teachyourchildtoread.com,” is also excellent. It delivers directly the benefit of the product – teaching your child to read. Another one that I thought was clever (often bad but in this case good), and describes the benefits well was “iphonephotographyschool.com.” I’m sure you can instantly understand the benefit – using your iPhone to take amazing pictures (which is exactly what the site is about).
If you can describe the benefit you provide in the domain name, that’s a powerful strategy and a very clear way to answer the question “is this website for me?”
Closely related to identifying the benefit is identifying the audience. The best example of this that I can think of is lifehacker.com.
People who are constantly looking to find shortcuts have come to be known as “hackers.” There’s lifehacker.com, and growthacker.com, and hacker this and that dot com.
Another example of this strategy is Problogger.net. Yes, it violates the dot-com rule, but otherwise, it’s clear on what the audience is about – professional bloggers.
A better example of this might be afineparent.com. It describes the audience target rather well and also hints as to the benefit they want (better parenting).
Another great example would be couchpotato.com. Although perhaps indulging people’s inner slovenliness isn’t something that will win you “good person of the year” points, it’s pretty clear what that website is about – sitting on the couch watching TV, playing video games, and using electronics.
Another example – yogaformanlymen.com. This website is, well, not my cup of tea, but I think it’s a great domain name as it identifies the audience well.
A final example, divebuddy.com. It describes the community of divers that divebuddy.com serves with its content. It took them ten years, but last October, they reached one million uniquely daily visitors. That’s unbelievable.
Closely related to identifying the audience is identifying the topic. Lifehacks.org, dailyblogtips.com, nerdfitness.com, and my favorite, the artofmanliness.com are all examples of this strategy. Another one that is doing well is artofcharm.com.
The advantage to this strategy is, done well; you can potentially own the concept topic even without having a one-word domain name. For example, the domain “artofcharm.com” owns the idea of being charming and in many ways is more powerful than potentially owning charm.com or charming.com.
I’m not going to lie to you – this strategy is often hard, and done wrong, goes sideways quickly. What works for this strategy – clarity – can also work against it. Misname the topic, and you’ll eliminate readers rather quickly, answering the question “is this for me?” with a clear answer of “no.”
Donald Trump, the 45th President-elect of the United States, did not make the majority of his money in real-estate.
It made it naming things. Trump Tower. Trump Steaks. Trump this. Trump that. The majority of Donald Trump’s revenue comes from naming rights and branding.
In seriousness, naming things after yourself is actually a great strategy – especially if in the end what will be “purchased” (either in terms of attention or money) is you. In my own case, I struggled a long time before settling on this domain, bryandelmonte.com. In the end, I realized that what people want to buy is a connection with someone whom they think knows something useful and will use that knowledge to help them (which I will).
Oprah.com is an example. So is chrisbrogan.com. So is tonyrobbins.com.
Understand, however, that this choice is not without potential consequences. For one thing, when you brand your domain as *you* then you are inseparable from the business. What this means as a practical matter is this – selling the business may be improbable if not impossible (since they’re forever bonded to you like their brand), you will never be able to escape the products and services that you create (that’s only a downside if you’re unscrupulous in my view), and getting others on board to run things is always going to be a challenge (since people expect to see *YOU* as the main host).
That said, there are quite a few upsides as well. One – in a day where everyone is hyperglobalmegacorp.com – being real makes you stand out in a hurry. Most people are more than willing to hide behind some moniker. It builds trust and bonds you to an audience to have your name. There’s a reason why doctors, lawyers, and accountants were only allowed to use their names in businesses, and using it as a partnership (where each partner is jointly and severally liable for the business). Those businesses required a high degree of trust from the public – thus, they had to put their names on it and trust not only each other but put themselves out there for the public to trust. In a time where trust is problematic, putting yourself out there transparently is definitely a way to go.
Two – the recognized authority and celebrity status is somewhat like a snowball falling down a hill. It starts of small, but then it grows to an enormous proportion and will allow you to branch off and do other things, starting with an audience that knows and likes (or potentially loves) you.
Three – while selling your business may be problematic, ultimately you can diversify and change over time so long as you stay connected. Tony Robbins, for example, is still the main attraction for all things Tony Robbins – but the Robbin’s institute also does work beyond just the self-help seminars. Another example is that Pat Flynn is bonded closely with the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Over time, it would be possible for Flynn to have someone else run that podcast – granted it would be tricky.
You just need to understand that in the end, if you brand the domain as you – then you’re the product. You can’t just suddenly switcheroo and not expect people to be completely and utterly pissed. When you go to see the Siegfried and Roy show – you expect to see Siegfried and Roy, not to two flunkies. So long term, you need to think about diversifying your talent pool and elevating others to your celebrity status so that you have options when it’s time to cash out.
One strategy is to identify your goal. For example, getrichordietrying.com would be an example (albeit a rather wordy one). Another example (albeit it’s totally stupid stuff mostly) is manvspin.com. Another one is manvsdebt.com – where the blog chronicles a man getting out of debt and trying to live his life debt free.
This type of domain naming flips the other strategies on its head because all the prior strategies attempt to identify things and desires in answering the “is this for me?” question. This strategy is a bit more nuanced in that it attempts to answer that question by saying, “well, are you trying to achieve this goal? If so, then yes – this is for you.”
For example, are you a mom? Momonamission.com might be something you would want to read. This domain (and website content) answer the question of “is this for me?” by saying, “well, I’m a mom trying to live her life dealing with modernity through Christian values and looking for ways to cook for my family.”
Is that you? If the answer is yes – the question is answered. (For me, it’s not me – so I’m self-excluded, as I imagine are lots of other readers). But it’s clear, concise, and gives you some idea what it’s about before you see any content.
Your domain name can also be what you’re striving for. For example – becommingminimalist.com is a great domain name if your audience is composed of people who are trying to simplify their lives. Another one, although it violates our subdomain rule, is myyearwithoutspending.blogpost.com.
In looking at that domain, you instantly know what the journey will be about.
Finally, another great one, which I’m sure you’ve heard of, is feedthechildren.org.
I think that people misunderstand the idea of Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet when the passage of the “name” and the rose is introduced. Most people I think hear the literal argument of Juliet, saying, essentially, what does it matter?
But the point of that passage, that Shakespeare sets up for us, is that the name WILL matter. Because Romeo is a Montague, which means that the pairing between Romeo and Juliet is forever doomed because she is a Capulet. While they may wish it that words don’t matter – the fact of the world is that they do, as they color our perceptions, and thus, our actions.
Thus, you need to put some thought into your name. First, you will, of course, realize you’re going to choose a dot-com domain name, versus any other type. You’re going to avoid being too clever, too wordy, not spell things correctly, use jargon that people might not understand, and refrain from abbreviations.
Next, the real hard work comes after avoiding those pitfalls – you have to figure out how in six seconds you’re going to create a mental image that answers one simple question – is this website for me?
Six seconds, that’s all you have. I gave you five strategies to find a solution.
These are not the only strategies you can use, but they are the five most successful strategies I’ve seen used by beginners. They avoid the pitfalls of having too much complexity, too heavy of a lift to the brand, too confusing to new visitors, and ultimately, keep the new website master focused on what the website should be about. If your website is going to be named “cleanveganeating.com” you’re unlikely to suddenly write an article about preparing Beef Wellington.
My point is that names matter, and put some time into naming your website. If it sticks you might have to live with it for a long time – potentially for as long as you run your website.
When bloggers write about domain naming (and I reviewed a lot of those articles before penning this one), they almost always bring up Shakespeare and the rose passage.
I prefer instead to cite Plautus.
Plautus was a Roman playwright. He wrote mostly commentaries and comedies on Roman life. In one of his plays, “Persa,” the slave Toxilus lures his owner, Dordalus, to buy an expensive slave-girl by arguing he has to make the purchase saying, “Nōmen atque ōmen quantīvīs iam est pretī.”
Now for those who don’t speak Latin (which imagine most of you do not), the translation is “the name and the omen are worth any price.”
Now I’m sure you’re like huh? Bear with me, there’s a point to this. From that passage, comes the Italian saying nomen est omen – the name becomes the sign (or the outcome).
This idea is the reason behind why parents put so much thought into their children’s names is – what a child is named is long thought to be a partial determinant of whom they become.
Johnny Cash even wrote a song about it – the boy named Sue.
Smartly named children (or at least those with names thought of as intelligent) are more likely to exhibit intelligence. Femininely named girls are less likely to pursue sciences and more likely to pursue arts, than less femininely named girls. Entire books have been written on the names of children, picking names, and how that choice might affect their lives… all based on this observation from Plautus – nomen est omen.
In many ways, websites are like our children. Whatever you choose as the name – is likely to become the outcome.