What's in a (domain) name?
Web Informant #155, 17 May 1999
These days, you can't be too rich (from trading in Internet IPOs), too thin (in terms of server footprints) or have too short a domain name. Companies are finally getting the picture that when it comes to theirname.com, the shorter the better.
The best domain names should be short. That way they are memorable, they are easier to type and easier to type correctly, and they are easier to pronounce when you are telling someone to go to them over the phone or via email. The smaller the name, the easier it is to fit on a TV screen or in a print advertisement, or even on a bus shelter or billboard.
Funny how we have come full circle on this, picking up tips from the age-old physical marketeers. I remember when Kodak's founders (back in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, just to pick an example) were trying to formulate a good corporate name. They wanted something short, something memorable, something with hard consonant sounds at the beginning and end, something with few syllables, and something that would translate to other languages well. They got a great name, and it even works well as kodak.com too. Good thing they grabbed that domain name when they did.
Many Internet companies have finally figured out that to succeed in the domain name game, they have to prune letters from their names and make them shorter. Dejanews.com now goes by deja.com, to try to shake themselves of their news-group heritage. The Mining Company is now just about.com, which has to take the best timing prize (they changed their name just minutes before their IPO.) American Airlines now goes by aa.com, which if you are a frequent flyer is the two-letter airline code their flights use.
Sometimes the domain name starts out to mirror the corporate brand. When Barnes & Noble finally got the clue to go online, they had a horrendous domain name: barnesandnoble.com. Compared to other Internet booksellers, their name was atrocious. Sure, they were just trying to leverage their brand name of their physical stores, but the name was easy to mistype. Plus, the ampersand doesn't translate well into a domain name, and the "and" in the middle of the domain wasn't the most helpful thing either. So now they are bn.com, which while shorter is going to be hard to pronounce and costly to brand. Look at all the bucks the company is spending on print ads here. What a shame they couldn't come up with something when they first launched, such as books.com. (NetMarket already got that one.)
Speaking of typos, there are now several companies who exist solely to capture the keystrokes of bad typists. These companies sell the click-throughs when people type amazom.com instead of amazon.com, and then merrily send you to the appropriate and intended site after serving up a nice banner ad for your viewing pleasure. Try www.typo.net if you too want to profit from other's mistakes. Is the Internet a great place to work or what?
Before I go, let me give you two examples of great domain names -- Hearst's women.com (and even woman.com) and Garden Escape's garden.com. You don't need a computer science degree to figure out what these sites are all about. They will be great brands, if not now then in the near future. Compare this with pathfinder.com. Quick quiz: name five magazines that are associated with this name. Most of us can't.
The great domain name land grab era is still with us, with stories of people paying big bucks for particular names. And there is plenty of room for name speculators. I have heard stories of businesses that spot when a particular domain name goes unpaid and they quickly grab it up, then send you a bill to get it back.
So are all the good domain names taken? Certainly, the single-letter .com's are long gone. My favorite is d.com, which is owned by YRITYSPALVELU2000.COM of Finland. (No, I am not making this up.) Now there is a mouthful that would be better off served with fewer letters!
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Web Informant copyright 1999 by David Strom, Inc., reprinted by permission
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