Welcome to Domaining for Beginners, where we’ll focus on the basics of domains and look at everything from how to choose a good domain name to how new top-level domains are affecting the industry.
45% of NamesCon attendees in 2016 and 2017 were first-timers, so we’ve created this “Domains 101” content series to help newcomers make sense of our exciting industry.
Part 5 of Domaining for Beginners will look at brandable domains.
In Part 4 of Domaining for Beginners, we clarified some oft-used terms in the world of domaining. Now that you have a stronger grasp on general domaining jargon, we're going explore why there's been a growing emphasis on branding in the industry.
The term “brandability” may sound like a made-up nonsense word, but brandability is an important consideration when it comes to choosing a domain for your business.
When something is “brandable,” it’s an original name that can function as a standalone brand. So when applied to domains, “brandable” refers a domain name that also functions as a marketing tool, i.e. one that can also be used as a brand name or vice versa. Brandable domains are usually short and easily readable, and a domain’s brandability will often affect the value of a domain.
Many domainers will purchase a domain based on its perceived brandability. For example “Apple,” though in and of itself a common word, soon became a brand. If someone had purchased “apple.com” prior to the explosion of the computer company, an enormous profit could have been made if the owner of the domain chose to sell it.
To sense or to nonsense: The argument to nonsense
In Part 2 of Domaining for Beginners, we looked at what makes a good domain name. Some of the tips we included are: keeping it short and sweet, ensuring uniqueness, and using real words. When applied to brandability, though, things can get a little murky. The names of a number of newer companies have embraced the use nonsense words as the company name, a real trend that the tech world has been seeing over the past decade. (The HBO show Silicon Valley highlights this with “Hooli,” the fictitious tech giant created for the show.) There’s even a running joke that vowels have become too expensive for bootstrapped startups.
“But nonsense words aren’t good, brandable domains,” you may think to yourself. While that is often true, it’s not always the case. (See: Google, Lululemon, and Twitter…even GoDaddy initially thought to call itself BigDaddy, but the domain name was taken.)
The most important thing to keep in mind is that your domain name represents your business, even if your business may not be fully fleshed out yet. Nowadays, a domain name is often the first thing people will see; it’s the face of your business, which is why it’s important that your URL sounds like a brand.
Back to our Part 2 tips: a simple, memorable, and novel domain will always be superior to a 10-word behemoth that’s impossible to remember and even harder to spell. Hyphens and numbers will complicate your domain, too. The focus here should be your brand, something that can represent your business, but is also simple, memorable, and novel. This means that nonsense words can indeed be fair game—just look at Etsy, Reddit, or Hulu.
tried and true: real word domains
Of course, Etsy, Reddit, and Hulu are extreme exceptions of successful “nonsense” brands, which is why many advocate the use of real word domains.
But what if that perfect, brandable, “apple.com” domain name isn’t available in the legacy .com you desire? Do you follow the trend in Silicon Valley, drop a vowel and rebrand your company “appl.com”?
This is where nTLDs come in: keep your real word brandable domain to the left of the dot, and use the appropriate TLD to qualify your business. In our example, think “apple.tech”, “apple.computer”, or simply “apple.inc” as potential options. This type of brandable domain captures some of the aforementioned requirements for a good domain, as they are often simple. But creating a memorable and novel .com domain can be a little trickier when using existing words, so this is where nTLDs can come in handy.
At this year’s NamesCon Europe, Jeff Sass of .CLUB made the case for real word domains and nTLDs. According to Sass, nonsense.coms suffer from misspelled URLs and it can ultimately be expensive for a business to build the domain into an SEO-friendly brand. With real word domains (also known as keyword domains), it’s much easier for them to rank well in an organic search.
“You want words to the left of the dot to be spelled correctly,” Sass insisted at NamesCon Europe. Using an existing word gives you a head start, since they already have inherent SEO values. Nonsense domains may also not be intuitive for users, creating a disconnect between brand and the service your business provides. (Any guesses for what the company Meebo was all about?)
Finding a useable real word domain name that’s available may be hard—or expensive if you’re keen on acquiring it. But with the help of a nTLD, you may be able to find one that fits your needs.
For more on Jeff Sass’s talk on domains that use real words vs. domains that use made-up, nonsense words, download the NamesCon Europe Trends Report.
While there are arguments for both sides of the coin, the takeaway is this: make a good, memorable, unique, and simple domain. Think of the domain’s marketing potential, and go from there. Whether it’s a nTLD or a .com, it should adequately represent your business and make intuitive sense to your potential clientele.
Now that you understand the ins and outs of a brandable domain, stay tuned for our next instalment of Domaining for Beginners, which will explain what the heck the difference between a registry and a registrar is.