7 Guidelines for Choosing the Perfect Domain
One of the best parts of working with Media Options is researching and speaking with hundreds of entrepreneurs, CMO’s and digital marketing managers. A topic that frequently comes up is the role that domains play in branding and commercialization.
Often the first interaction that a new customer has with a company in now online. The typical path to purchase now inevitably leads thru your domain name. Digital marketing managers have a tremendous impact on how the brand is communicated to the customer. For example, a brand’s domain hierarchy can create a seamless walk thru the product portfolio or complete confusion. The ROI for traditional advertising is diminishing, while ROI on digital advertising in increasing. Digital advertising will surpass TV advertising by the end of 2016. Businesses are projected to spend over $77B on digital advertising in 2017.
What this means is that the global demand for quality domains will increase while the supply of domains that make sense to each individual language remain relatively limited. The new gTLD extensions will provide some new supply however the domains that make sense linguistically are still limited. Your domain name is now inseparable from your brand name. This is great if you got in the game early, however, what about new companies or brands that want to expand and pivot? Your domain name is one of the foundational elements of your branding efforts.
It is your brand name and portal to the online world. Your domain will impact everything from your click-through rates, social media results, search results, type-in traffic to your ability to go viral. There are many different strategies for choosing your domain name and domain portfolio. The closer the domain is to your brand and product portfolio the exponential impact it has on your online marketing. Domains are a strategic investment that appreciates in value.
If you acquire it correctly, they can be sold later for a higher amount. This is an important decision for your business and brand.
Seven guidelines for choosing your domain name
The C.O.N.V.E.R.T. formula is one of the guidelines that we created to help our clients pick the perfect domain. Walking thru these guiding principles will help you determine the strength and quality of your domain name options. Check out our past post on the different categories The formula:
- C – capture consumer intent
- O – One word or simplicity in messaging
- N – Nimble
- V – Viral & Verb
- E – Elevate your brand
- R – Radio test
- T – Trademark availability
Here is a detailed look into each of these areas in the C.O.N.V.E.R.T. formula.
C – (Capture consumer intent)
Capturing and connecting with consumer intent at the moment when a potential customer is looking for a product is powerful. Google published an article titled “Why consumer intent is more powerful than demographics” that shares how starting with the intent of your customers can help you reach more of the right people when advertising on Google. Verisign also has a study that shows that internet search users are almost twice as likely to click on a domain name that includes at least one of the keywords in their search query, compared to a domain name that does not contain any of the keywords in their search query.
Capturing consumer intent and connecting with your customers’ needs at the moment they are searching for it, is the keys to increasing conversion Your domain plays an influential role in clearly communicating to potential clients that you have an answer to their problem or desire. Beard.com, Hotels.com, and Cars.com are great examples of domains that effortlessly capture consumer intent.
Successful businesses also use domains as marketing tools separate from their main branded domains. For example, StoryBrand.com uses the domain FiveMinuteMarketingMakeover.com as a destination for their introductory free course. If you have not checked it out yet, I would highly recommend it. Acquiring a category defining domain that communicates consumer intent is very rare.
The reason for this is that they become strategic assets and strategic marketing vehicles. Even if they are sidelined and only used to redirect to your main site, brands will keep them for a defensive reason. In the right hands, a category defining domain can elevate a brand overnight to a leadership position. Your domain should capture consumer intent either directly or indirectly.
O – (One word or simplicity in messaging)
Choose a domain name that is one word or creates simplicity for your brand and product. Creating simplicity with your domain decision is critical to standing out from your competitors. Search engines are now driving a significant amount of traffic for most business. What this means is that your domain name will be compared to your competition. One word domains signal to consumer’s strength and leadership. It is how our brain processes information.
The simpler and clearer a marketing message is the easier it is to retain and take action. The greatest brands understand the importance of simplicity and the competitive advantage that this achieves. Domain names that are one-word tap into this simplicity and way we process information. Siegel+Gale have published a report for the last 6 years called the Global Brand Simplicity Index.
They found that simplicity strengthens customer loyalty, reduces price sensitivity and drives positive word of mouth. Their survey found that 63% of consumers are willing to pay more for a simpler experience, and 69% are more likely to recommend a brand because it provides simpler experiences. A domain can be the first interaction that a customer has with your brand. Simplicity in your domain strategy should capture consumer intent in a way that compliments your brand. Your customers will reward you for this investment because it simplifies their journey through your brand.
This will create a competitive advantage and help drive conversion The shorter the domain, the more powerful it becomes in communicating your message. Statistics have been compiled to show the ideal (most effective) length of everything online: email subjects, Google Plus headlines, paragraph widths, etc.
For instance, tweets between 71-100 characters are most often retweeted, while Facebook posts totaling forty characters’ result in 86% greater audience engagement. Microsoft and other prominent think tanks believe that domain names containing fewer than 8 characters (some assert less than 6 characters) are ideal for domains. Mobile stats skyrocket for shorter domains, with every digit less correlating to significant increase in both traffic and revenue.
Short domain names are proven to engender the most consumer trust. This is vital for converting sales as well as SEO and engagement. Short equals viral. Sharing short names is easier on character-counting social media, and short names are not lost to equally short memory spans. Check out NameBio.com and search domains of different lengths and look at their sales price.
Two letter .com domains regularly sell in the seven figures where domains over 10 letters sell in the four to five figures. Businesses are willing to pay these prices because of the ROI they receive for their brand and product. Domains are also one of the best investments that a company because of the impact they have on branding, marketing, and conversion. They should be considered an asset on the books and can be depreciated over five to ten years.
The ROI should be viewed as how it impacts the entire brand. Once acquired they are assets for life. If you buy them correctly, they will appreciate in value and produce a nice profit if you decide to sell. Look for a domain that is one word, short and creates simplicity for your brand’s message.
N – (Nimble)
Choose a domain that allows your brand to be nimble and grow with your business and industry. As your company grows having the option to pivot with industry changes or trends is powerful. A domain becomes a foundational element to your marketing and is integrated throughout almost ever branding and marketing vehicle. Changing your domain at a later date is not impossible however it does get more complicated the longer you wait.
If you choose a domain name that restricts you from evolving and expanding, you will need to rebrand. Startups are encouraged to be laser focused on a product or service that differentiates and fills a gap in the market. The key is to make sure that your domain name does not restrict you from evolving and expanding your business. For example, in 2015 Zen Payroll rebranded to Gusto.com because their original brand and domain were limiting their ability to communicate new product offerings.
Zen Payroll wanted to add worker’s compensation and health benefits, and the single message of payroll was restriction this growth. We wrote a more detailed post on rebranding here. If you do decide to go with a more refined domain name that describes your product lay out a plan for future growth. This may involve buying the shortened version of your domain early on, so you have the felxibilty when you need it. For example, Snapchat rebranded to Snap to allow them to expand their product offering.
This rebranding effort was the perfect choice because of how it created simplicity and congruence with the goodwill they had built up under Snapchat. They got lucky and were able to purchase the domain Snap.com. Ask yourself these questions to help determine the amount of flexibility you need in your domain name.
- Will your domain allow you to pivot with new products?
- Does your company vision match your brand?
- Are you differentiated enough from your competition.?
- How quickly does the competitive landscape change?
The best domains allow your company to be nimble and pivot with any industry or growth needs.
V – (Viral & Verb)
Choose a domain that allows your brand to go viral. Long domains that are hard to spell also make them hard to share. Technology will continue to change, and tools are available to truncate domains however brands also lose the power of branding when this happens. Some of the greatest marketing campaigns are ones that go viral. Choose a domain that gives you the best possibility to get the most from your brand by going viral. It is also important to think about how your domain will be used in everyday conversation. If you are wanting your domain to be integrated into the fabric and processes of a company, it will need to be easy to pronounce. Having your brand or domain used as a verb is still a controversial topic among some brand makers.
The fear is that your brand becomes so generic that you lose control of the conversation. Xerox is an example of an iconic brand becoming a generic term. The internet has changed the way we perceive and use brand names in our daily conversations. Having your brand name become a verb is now seen as an advantage to gaining market share.
Brands are looking for ways to keep themselves foremost in consumer’s mind and now see this as an advantage. Sigel & Gale recommend that you don’t try too hard at making your brand name a verb. It should be something that is earned. If you back your product up by a great product, this increases the chances of your brand/domain being used more often in casual conversation.
It is not something that can be forced. Longer domains and brands do make this harder. Keep your domain short and notice how it feels in everyday conversation. We do recommend getting the trademark for any twists to your brand that could be used as a verb. For example, Twitter filed for a trademark on the word “Tweet.”
Think about how your domain will look and sound in everyday conversation. Shorter domains do impact your brands ability to go viral and become verbs.
E – (Elevate your brand)
Choose a domain that elevates your brand into a position of authority and leadership. Traffic from search engines continues to be a major source of visitors for brands. What this means is that your domain will be evaluated against your competition and against consumer intent. Your domain needs to set you apart to be successful.
We categorize domains into three types, descriptive, suggestive and inventive. Depending up the competitive landscape and product each type will have a different advantage. Short descriptive domains show clarity, leadership, and simplicity.
There are now thousands of new gTLD’s available for your brand. If you do go this route it is important to see if there is a business on the .com domain to avoid confusion with your brand. Supplier.Community is a good example of using a new extension. Many branding experts include Paul Graham from Y Combinator still believe that your company should have the (.com) domain. The .com is almost not recognized in speech because we are so conditioned that ignore it.
This will be a major hurdle for the new gTLD’s You may only get one opportunity to acquire a shortened and elevated version of your brand. For example, Walmart missed out on the chance to buy WM.com. American Express missed the opportunity to purchase AE.com.
How much more business could they have used by leveraging these simpler options for their online presence?
R – (Radio test)
If you plan on doing any advertising, it is critical that your domain can be easily spelled and remembered. Although this is called the radio test, it is equally applicable to the internet. One of the strategic goals of advertising is to drive consumers to your domain and keep them coming back. To do that your domain needs to be easy to remember and spell. Watch out for these potential mistakes when choosing your domain.
- Shortening words (think texting):
- Voice search is becoming an increasingly popular way to search on your mobile device. If you shorten a word similar to texting the voice search system will not understand and could lead you to a competitors site.
- For example, uSmile.com would turn into YouSmile.com
- Making up new words:
- Inventing new words has become a popular way for companies to brand themselves, and can be an advantage if done correctly (Uber, Twitter, Amazon). This strategy, however, is very often abused. It is worth investing in the correct spelling of your domain and brand. If you don’t invest in the domain, you will be investing in additional advertising to explain your domain.
- For example, Phind.it will most likely drive traffic to FindIt.com.
- Using Numbers:
- Numbers can be a great way to create clarity and interest in your website. Make sure you own both the spelling and the number
- For example, Story Brand owns 5MinuteMarketingMakeover.com and FiveMinuteMarketingMakeover.com.
- Similar sounds
- If there is a potential that your advertising will drive traffic to a domain with a similar sound think twice about acquiring that domain.
- For example, bCool.com, BeCool.com or BeeCool.com
- Stay away from underscores because they take valuable time away from marketing your product. They also communicate a position of weakness for your brand or product.
- Also, stay away from dashes because most consumers get confused between a dash and a hyphen. Dashes also take away from the message of your brand and may possibly overpower it because of the strong “D” in the dash.
- New gTLD’s
- There are now more than 1,000 new gTLD extensions (.xyz, .club, .tech, etc…). Make sure that your choice can easily be pronounced and makes sense in your language.
Spend the extra time to make sure that your domain passes the radio test. Invest in a domain with the proper spelling to ensure that you optimize your advertising spend. The last thing you want to do is pay for traffic that goes to a competitors site.
T – (Trademark availability)
Trademarks play a imperative part of domain decisions. Make sure you spend the time to do a thorough trademark search. The last thing you want to do is invest time and money into your brand that will be contested by a trademark holder. A simple tool to use to search for trademarks is Trademarkia.com
Deciding on a domain name for your brand is a foundational element of your brand. Digital marketing is now overtaking traditional marketing vehicles. What this means is that your online presence will become more strategic and valuable. Domains play an important but often overlooked element of branding and commercialization.
The closer the domain is to your brand and product portfolio the exponential impact it has on your online marketing. Your domain decision should be viewed as an asset for your business that can provide a strategic advantage for marketing and positioning.
The C.O.N.V.E.R.T. formula is one of the guidelines that we created to help our clients pick the perfect domain. Walking thru these guiding principles will help you determine the strength and quality of your domain name options.
Working with a domain broker like Media Options opens up more possibilities for acquiring a premium domain. Here are a few premium domains that Media Options is brokering that will make great brands: DingDong.com, Aces.com, Author.com, and Heart.com. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about new domains we are brokering.