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(Changes cybersquatter to domain owner in the fifth paragraph.)
When is it necessary or advisable for a startup to have a matching dot-com domain name? What should take priority, the brand name or the domain name? — B.E., Upland, Calif.
With so many startup companies building their business models around Web traffic and online sales, you might think domain names would be the top priority for a startup. But branding and naming experts disagree, particularly if yours will be a business-to-business company rather than a business that sells directly to consumers.
For most companies, achieving domain name alignment is not as important as coining a powerful brand name, says Jay Jurisich, chief executive at Zinzin, a naming agency in San Francisco. “Of course, everybody always wants an exact-match domain name, preferably dot-com. Unfortunately, the matching domain names for all single words and most compound names have already been registered, and buying one that is parked may cost you five or six figures,” Jurisich says.
Mike Carr, managing director at NameStormers in Austin, Tex., agrees. “Brand name and trademark hurdles are always more important than dot-com ownership; dot-coms are like license plates, brand names aren’t,” he writes in an e-mail. “With a dot-com, often you can just change one letter or add a short trailer and find yourself with an available URL that you can register for $15 if your preferred dot-com spelling is already taken.”
Slightly altering your brand name or adding an industry-specific modifier (think www.fireflylegal.com for legal services provider Firefly) can create a good domain name, says George Tierney, creative director at Quantum Method, a Los Angeles marketing and communications agency. “Let’s say the company is Acme Toys. You find that you can’t get acmetoys.com because someone has already purchased this domain name for the purposes of resale,” he says. Rather than pay a domain owner for the premium domain, he says, find a close alternative, such as acme-toys.com, or acmetoysco.com. “These alternatives will work just fine in the early days of your business. Once you have positive growth and budgets allow, you can go back and acquire the premium domain,” Tierney says.
The major exceptions to this rule are the “pure-play” online companies such as Google (GOOG), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (LNKD), or Dropbox. Those domain names should exactly match their brand names if at all possible, Jurisich says, since their business models revolve specifically around the Internet. He also points out, however, that even Internet-focused companies can survive without perfect agreement between brand and domain name, citing airline Wi-Fi provider Gogo, which has successfully used www.gogoair.com.
Jose Palomino, president of Value Prop Interactive, a Philadelphia marketing company, says businesses selling directly to consumers should try harder—and perhaps spend a bit more—on matching domain to brand. “You can get away with some disparity between company or product name and domain name with B2B, because it usually has a direct-sales component,” says Palomino. “It’s not so good for B2C, because consumers won’t spend as much time trying to find you.” He advises making sure your website is search-engine-optimized so customers searching keywords related to your business or industry will see your company listed high up in the results, he says.
Bottom line: Don’t squander an opportunity to create an amazing brand just because you can’t get the identical domain name, Jurisich advises. “A strong, memorable, and emotionally engaging brand name is the most powerful force in your marketing arsenal,” he says. His agency has compiled a list of memorable brand names and their history here.