Naming a web site is a lot like naming a pet. There are deep and intensely-held opinions on the right way to do it, many of which conflict with each other. That said, for a business or non-profit organization web site, I’ve developed some best practices that I think give you plenty of flexibility while still ensuring that your customers can shout your name and have your site come running to them with a tennis ball, ready to engage.
Just Plain Spot
We’ve all known plenty of spotted dogs named Spot. No one ever asks their owners how they decided on that name, and no one ever forgets it once they’ve heard it. It’s clear and to the point — pun intended — and, frankly, it’s a little boring.
When it comes to web sites, however, giving your site a predictable name is really the best way to ensure that people can find it. If your business is called “Franklin & Washington Accounting,” a domain name of “FranklinWashington.com” is the best way to be sure people remember it. If the exact name isn’t available, you can try some variations on it, but you should probably try to stay as close as possible to the name of your firm — the name that everyone will know when they think of you.
Spend enough time with a pet owner, and you’ll notice that they may have more than one name for their pet. A cat named Fluffy might also respond to — or ignore with equal apathy — names like “Ms. Fluffypants,” “Kitty,” and “You Lazy Cat.” Similarly, Rachel’s Cupcakes, whose web site can be found at RachelsCupcakes.com, might also own the domain names “FabooCupcakes.com,” “RachelsYummies.com,” and “RachelsCupcakesChicago.com.” Why would she want to do that? Well…
- She might use FabooCupcakes.com as the address she advertises in a more casual context, or if she decides to take on a partner whose name is not also Rachel.
- She might use RachelsYummies.com if she moves on to selling brownies and cookies.
- She might use RachelsCupcakesChicago.com if she opens more than one location — one in Chicago and one in Milwaukee.
All of these domain names could point to the same exact site online, or to different locations within her site. In the first scenario, she might start advertising FabooCupcakes.com when she takes on a partner, but retain ownership of RachelsCupcakes.com so that her previous customers can still find her site.
Lost Pet: Answers to Yabultchka
Years ago, I visited one of my dear friends, who was born in Russia, and her sweet little toddler daughter, to whom she was only speaking in Russian. I quickly learned the words for “give me” and “thank you,” and then the little girl very sweetly told me to give her a yabultchka. I pointed all over the room — doll? book? ball? — until her mom returned quickly with a plate of sliced apples. Yabultchka — “little apple” — was my new favorite word in Russian, and I fantasized about using it as a name for my first pet. It sounded so cute, and it was fun to say. Then, I tried to spell it. I also tried to tell my non-Russian-speaking friends about it, and none of them could feel my enthusiasm.
Here is where I have the dubious honor of serving as a warning to my clients: don’t name your web site — let alone your business — with a name that is difficult to spell or pronounce. Jebraweb — the name of my web consulting firm — comes from the combination of my name (Deborah), my brother’s (Joshua), and my father’s (Jeffrey). When my brother and I were children, we heard “Deb…Jo…Je…JEBRA! DINNER!” coming from the kitchen each night as my mom gathered us to the table. When I started Jebraweb with my brother more than a decade ago, we thought this was very clever. Now, with my brother having left the business to pursue other things, and the name requiring constant spelling over the phone to anyone who needs my email address, I’ve thought twice about it. If I had it to do over again, I might have chosen something that would be less work over time.
A Porcupine Named Fluffy
One of my favorite children’s books is called A Porcupine Named Fluffy. As the title suggests, Fluffy is probably not the best name for the main character, given the non-fluffy nature of porcupines. The same thing goes for a for-profit company whose web site ends in .org. While there is nothing stopping a profit-seeking company from buying a .org domain name, it’s a little bit like naming your porcupine “fluffy.” People make assumptions based on the name, and the last thing you want is for people to see you as deliberately misleading them.
On the other hand, there’s no reason not to register the domain name extensions that go with your company name, even if they don’t match your company mission. You can own them and just point them to your REAL web site, located at your .com address. To read about the domain extensions available for registry, you can check out the long domain extension list on Wikipedia, where they use the acronym “TLD” to mean “top level domain.” That list will tell you which extensions are available to anyone and which require more than just your registration fee.
You can look to see if the domain name you have in mind is available by searching any number of places, sometimes including the hosting company you’re considering for your web site. I like http://www.mydomain.com/. Before you buy it:
- Try saying it out loud and making sure people can spell it.
- Write it down and make sure there aren’t any surprises hidden there. Read 15 Unintentionally Inappropriate Domain Names for examples of bad surprises.
- Search some subtle variations on it to be sure no one will get confused about whether they’ve found you or some similar company. For example, http://nycdentist.com/, http://www.nycdental.com/, and http://www.dentistnyc.com/ are three totally different companies.
In the end, you should approach the decision about your domain name with some real consideration of all the ways you’ll use it and the ways your customers, donors, or clients will use it. When they start typing in the address, you want your site show up like an eager puppy, ready to connect.
OhShootIForgot Dot Com: Choosing Your Domain Name