How to Pick a Company Name

We do a lot of logo and corporate branding work, so we deal with a lot of clients who haven’t quite firmed up their company name yet.  Enough that I figured it was worth addressing for posterity.  Read on…

The rules of changed.  What was true 50 years ago is not true today, primarily because of the internet and because of electronic lists.  With all these electronic lists, your company name often is simply listed by name, along with dozens or hundreds of others.  If your name says what you do, you’ve got built in marketing.  You instantly grab the attention of your target audience.  (Personal proof: my wife and I are suckers for Chinese Buffets.  And our GPS system in the car has the ability to find ‘Asian Restaurants.’  As we’re driving, we pull up that list, and we go to the first one that has ‘buffet’ in the name.  And since the GPS only lists by name with no way to get additional info, this is a prime example of how having a descriptive name can really work to your advantage.)  Consider places where your company name might be written with no additional information to explain what you do: business cards, trade show catalogs, phone books, and of course, GPS systems. 😉

Let’s take this notion one step further: if your name says what you do AND is your company URL (your web address), even better!  Now you’ve told the customer what you do and told them how to find you, all just by listing your name.  The problem here is that a lot of people don’t think it’s very classy or sophisticated to have URL company name—especially professional service type of clients such as doctors and lawyers.  And while sometimes there is a case to be made for that argument, it’s tough to deny the marketing power of giving your audience a means to contact you just by telling them your name.  Let’s consider some examples here.  Let’s say you’re a defense lawyer.  Consider these potential names for your firm:

Smith & Smith, LLC (I have NO CLUE what you do)

Smith Law Firm (well, I at least know you’re a lawyer…)

Smith Defense Lawyers (Now we’re getting somewhere)

SmithDefenseLawyers.com (bingo!)

Now ask yourself, if you’re not Smith, do you really care what his name is?  Why not try to put some sort of qualifier in there to distinguish yourself even more?

MilitaryDefenseLawyers.com (If you are looking for a military defender, wouldn’t you pick this one over all the X & Y, LLC’s in the list?)  We’ll come back to this issue of qualifying words in a bit.

Next thing to consider: unless you have no desire to be online, you probably will want a website, and you’ll probably want your website to attract visitors.  We’ll save the rest of my ranting and raving about search engine optimization for another day except to say that having keywords in your domain name REALLY helps with your search engine optimization efforts.  Again, working on the assumption that no one but you cares that your name is Smith, putting ‘Smith’ in your domain name does you very little good.  You’d be much better served to put something in your name that told people more about you—something that makes you unique—ideally, something that could be considered a competitive advantage or a very niche specialty.

Now, if you’re like most of our clients, you have a focus, but you don’t want to narrow your reach by overly-focusing your name.  In our example, maybe you really specialize in courts martial.  But you don’t want to have a name like coutsmartialmilitarylawyer.com because you do more than just that one specific type of case.  Fair point.  But it doesn’t change the fact that having such a specific domain name would in fact significantly help your odds of a top-10 Google ranking when people typed in ‘courts martial defense lawyer.’  As they say, it is what it is.

Let’s go back to my point about making your company name your domain name.  The first thing you’re bound to encounter is frustration with the fact that every domain you want is taken.  Avoid the temptation to settle for a .net or .us.  Hold out for the .com.  If you don’t, you could be helping your competition because people will instinctively try the .com version first.  If you got smithlawfirm.net, there is a reasonable chance that the part they’ll remember is ‘smithlawfirm.’  If they type that in, they’ll instinctively go for the .com.  And the worst part is that given the domain name, there is a good chance that the potential customer that you managed to get to go look you up, has now gone to your competition and thinks it’s you!  So the moral of the story here is to hold out for the .com.

Finding that perfect domain name is going to be harder after this list of things to consider:

  1. Don’t use words that would cause a repeat letter (ie, legallawyers.com would be bad because people wouldn’t be sure whether or not to repeat the ‘L’)
  2. Don’t use hyphens.
  3. Try to avoid using any words that don’t mean something to someone who doesn’t already know you.  Keep in mind that no one else cares that you’re Smith.  And for anyone that knows you by Smith—well, they’ll find you easily enough if they want to.
  4. Keep in mind that if you subscribe to my whole theory of using keywords to attract search engine users, it does you no good to be cute and use unorthodox spellings or words that people would normally Google.  (I used to work for a company called YellowBrix.  It drove our clients nuts because they were always going to yellowbricks.com and not finding us.
  5. If you can follow all of the above and still come up with something catchy, then all the better.  But if you’re forced to pick between catchy or conforming to all of this other stuff, my advice would be to conform.  Though there are some businesses where that may not be good advice.  If your client base isn’t going to be looking for you on the web, but instead, will see your URL painted on a storefront or whatever, then ‘catchy’ may have more importance than I’m giving it credit for.

By now you’re thinking it’s going to be nearly impossible to find a good name.  The good news is that registrars (the companies like Network Solutions and GoDaddy.com who sell you domain names) have suggestion engines that take your idea (that wasn’t available) and gives you suggestions that are available.  I recommend godaddy.com and register.com.  Go there and play around with their suggestions engines to see what you can come up with.

(Note: When you’re ready to buy, buy from Godaddy.com.  There are a handful of other companies you could go to, but Godaddy is typically the cheapest and has the best service.  And for the whopping $9/year, just go get it at GoDaddy and save yourself the time of shopping around.  Don’t let your web developer buy it for you or buy it from some middle-man hosting company that are just reselling the domain.  If you do, you run the chance of being held hostage (because he who actually buys the URL at the top of the chain, owns it.  Time and time again we see our clients left high and dry by rouge web developers, and then realize that they can’t even get their domain back!)

Finally, we’re often asked if it’s okay to just get a bunch of domains—one to satisfy all the different terms you want to promote—and just point them all to the same site.  The short answer is: no.  It’s not a great idea.  Technically speaking, it’s not difficult to point multiple domain names to a single site (it’s called “domain aliasing”), but firstly, if you get too many, the search engines will actually penalize you.  Secondly, you end up not knowing which one to put your resources behind.  And if you divide your resources, you just water down your efforts.  Hold out for the best name/domain you can get, and fully commit to it.  (There are a lot of exceptions to this rule, and a lot of various was to go about doing this.  For example, if you have a specific product or division that you want to give its own home in cyberspace while still keeping it under your company umbrella, there are ways to do that (for example, subdomains:  http://military.legaldefense.com).  If you fall into this category, it’s best to simply call us for more in-depth consultation.

Keep in mind I’m saying all this as a ‘rule of thumb.’  But there are lots of very valid reasons to break away from my list of rules.  Also keep in mind that I’m layout out ‘in a perfect world’ scenarios here.  If don’t comply with all my suggestions, it’s not like it’s the end of the world for your company.   And sometimes, there is something to be said for gut instinct.  After all, look at our name: Taoti.  It breaks every rule I mentioned so far (though truth be told, that’s because we got the domain name long before there was even such thing as SEO, and we’re too committed to it now to change.)  If you can’t come up with a satisfactory company/domain name that works for you, consider a tag line that says what you do.  It’s the next best thing.