In the last couple of years it has become more and more difficult to find a URL that has not already been taken when starting a new business. This is particularly a problem for the dot com domain. This has resulted in a proliferation of start ups with zany names or weird spellings, but is the URL you choose really that important?
“A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet… Not if you called them stench blossoms.” The Simpsons
This quote from The Simpsons is actually very accurate. While at University studying psychology I read a paper where the researcher had taken identical CVs and placed different names at the top and got participants to rate how suitable the person was for the job. The study showed that the CVs bearing names that had previously been rated as more attractive were rated as more suitable.
Since the url is used to locate the site and often appears on advertising material the choice can have a significant affect on the branding of the site. Although the URL sometimes differs from the site brand particularly for a short term advertising campaign it is often best to keep the site name and URL the same. It can help reassure the user that it is the genuine site, makes it more memorable and easier to guess.
The international nature of the web also affects the availability of URLs. If your site is in an English speaking country you will often want the dot com. In the UK and US it is often the users first port of call when looking for a site. Companies in other countries will also want to purchase these domains in case they expand or to prevent unfavourable content appearing on them.
Internationalisation can affect your choice of brand name as a brand that may sound good in one language can mean something quite different in another. For example, the mobile phone company Orange with their campaign copy ‘the future’s bright, the future’s Orange’ faced significant challenges in Northern Ireland where Orange is associated with sectarianism. Similarly the Ford Pinto required a name change in Brazil where pinto is slang for tiny male genitals.
So if you find that the URL has gone for the brand you had decided on when planning your site what choices are open to you?
Wait – If the URL has been recently purchased it is worth checking again in a few days. As it is possible to get a full refund on a domain name for a few days after purchase this has lead to some people purchasing domains then returning them if they don’t receive many visitors.
Purchase from current owner – The current owner of a domain may be willing to sell it particularly if they have yet to do anything with it. However, you need to be careful not to over estimate the value of a domain and remember domains that already get significant traffic will be expensive.
Consider unusual spellings – Sites such as flickr and del.icio.us have introduced us all to the phenomena of brands using quirky spellings and structure. In fact, google is a misspelling of googol (the digit one followed by a hundred zeros) although that is due to a mistake when registering the name. These names keep the URL short and easy to enter, however they require more marketing effort to get the URL known and are harder for users to guess, for example flickr could be flikr, flika or phlicker.
Consider extending the URL – If you work in a particular sector you may consider entering an additional word into your URL describing what your company does. For example, if your company is called Smiths and you work in the insurance sector you may consider smithsinsurance.com or smiths-insurance.com. This means you can continue to brand the site with the shorter name and may also help with search engine optimisation as it contains information on the sector in which you work. However, it can be limiting if your company is going to expand into other areas. It may also be more difficult to guess or remember and requires greater effort when entering the URL.
Select a different domain extension - Although dot coms are the preferred domains there are several others to choose from. These include country specific domains, such as co.uk, and purpose specific domains, such as .mobi for mobile phone sites. However, there are also several more general domains such as .net, .info and .biz. These are never going to be as prestigious as a dot com and are less obvious to the general public but are worth considering and can help keep your URL short and memorable.
Search for alternatives – Often the process of searching for alternative names can help produce ideas you may not have otherwise considered. In some cases this may result in a better name as while searching you will consider length, memorability and tone of voice in more detail as you eliminate alternatives. However, due to the impact of the URL on your site you should always try to secure a domain name before you start developing your site.
Unfortunately none of these approaches is likely to be ideal. Unless it becomes unprofitable for companies to buy a URL and place a few adverts on the main page it is likely to be difficult to locate short, snappy, domains that are memorable and easily guessed. This means greater emphasis needs to be placed on marketing the URL you choose and making it a recognised brand for your customers.