Coming Soon to Netflix. If we owned Netflix.

One Domain Name Can Change Everything

When I entered university in 1990, the Internet wasn’t really much of a thing. Laser-printed pages were 10 cents a page and floppy disks came packaged in tens. Computer science courses were based on learning dBASE and if you could understand how to play The Sims then all your free time was gone.

Those items have long been surpassed by leaps in technology; however, there is one thing I never forgot. It isn’t the smile of one particular girl or the pain felt from that early Sunday morning soccer game (in the snow) after Karaoke Night at the local bar.

What I clearly remember, is a specific 800 number that was on billboards everywhere.

It wasn’t the nature of the ad, or even the product that interested me. It was how that 800 number sounded. At times I would try to forget it but couldn’t. It was the perfect number. To this day, when I think of calling an 800 number, I remember that one so clearly.

Twenty-six years later, the world has changed immensely but one thing hasn’t, and that is the power of successful branding.

Choosing a Domain Name

It’s been 20 years since I registered my first domain name. Over these 20 years, I have been involved in more than $50 Million in transactions, managed one of the industry’s leading brokerage houses, and worked with founders, venture capital companies, billionaires, Silicon Valley stars, celebrities, artists and more — all in the hunt for the perfect domain name.

The results have not always been successful. Although many deals were executed, some are still in discussion, some are tied up in estate issues, some failed, and others, well, we’re still trying to find the ghost behind the domain. After all, this is the Internet and some people don’t want to be found.

But there is one thing all clients have in common once they use their first great domain. It’s not the size of their wallet or the confidence they hold. It’s a feeling of owning an asset that provides value to every piece of their company model. A value measured in both time and money. Once they see this ROI in time they are sold on premium domains forever.

This knowledge is something very few people have but you only have to dig into statistics to understand this more. A very simple analysis of Fortunes’ 2016 Unicorn List shows overwhelming stats that prove almost everything we’re about to say.

Unicorns have no idea what they are doing. It’s all a fairytale, right? (LOUD sarcasm)

Building a Brand

Building a company is an incredible experience. Millions of people have the skill set required to build successful companies.

Building a brand, on the other hand, is an entirely advanced version of these skills.

If Liam Neeson was a Brand Manager, he would likely say: “If you’re looking for funding, I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

Only a small percentage of companies have ever been able to successfully pull off branding. Those that do, however, are consistent. And that word, consistency, is the key to branding.

Once you own a great domain name you will never settle for anything less.

This is an extremely important phrase to remember.

Every week we hear people complain about domain names. One day it’s the price, the next day it’s how another person isn’t using a domain so they think they have a right to it, or how $5,000 for a one-word dot-com is more than the owner will ever get. Then there are the charity requests, the pastor looking for a freebie (from a big company email) or the trademark request, from the guy who never really filed a trademark.

Some days it’s all of this together and more.

The people who do understand the value of domains totally get it. In fact, these people are often the ones kicking your ass as a competitor — time after time.

Why?

Because it’s not just a domain name.

It’s so much more.

Quickly. So I can stand up.

The True Power of a Great Domain Name

Founders who truly understand branding know the perfect domain name saves time and money which leads to a higher ROI.

Did you think there was anything more to this?

No, it all comes down to cash. A better domain name equals more ROI for you and your company.

Honestly. That’s the entire point of the story. I just skipped to the end.

If you don’t understand how a great domain name can provide greater returns for your company, then this is the part where you’ll want to go get some coffee and then come back to read further.

But, hey, if you like to lose market share then stop right here and keep complaining about domain name values. It’s OK.

How Does a Great Domain Name Lead to a Higher ROI?

The first step in domain name value rehabilitation is admitting you have a problem. Thankfully this is not something that takes a lifetime to recover from. All it takes is some simple logic and math. But it’s truly important that you do recognize the problem.

When you bought your domain name did you ask anyone for help?

Full stop.

See that’s where your problem started.

End full stop.

Smart founders perform due diligence on any asset they buy.

See how I got your attention there? Yes, domain names are assets. Just like the building you own, the home you purchased, the car you spent weeks researching or the future ex-spouse you are going to marry anyway.

A Domain Name Is An Asset.

Say that with me again, so you understand the difference between buying a service and an asset. A domain name is an asset.

  • A domain name is not a toy.
  • A domain name is not just a thing for the Interweb.
  • A domain name is not something everybody will automatically remember.

A domain name is a highly valuable piece of intellectual property that you need to focus on getting right.

  • A domain name is something your staff has to spell every day
  • A domain name is the face of your company email
  • A domain name is your home on the web.

Even when it comes to moving, domain names are treated like property. Switching service providers is easy but switching a domain name? It can be just as complicated (or more) as moving from one house to another. My bet is more, especially when you have a company of any decent size.

Are we biased? Maybe a little. But NameCorp® doesn’t operate a marketplace. We do not have a bunch of low-priced listings on hand, hoping you’ll buy one today. We also don’t sell new domain name registrations. And most important of all, we hear stories from founders all the time trying to correct past mistakes and upgrade their domain name.

  • Would you file a trademark application by writing a paragraph that sounds just about right?
  • Would you file a patent application with steps that you assume are spelled out fine?
  • Would you incorporate a company without researching what state best fits your needs?

No. You’d hire a specialized lawyer to tell you all about the complexities, advantages and disadvantages of how to file, where to file, when to file and more. The same degree of caution should be exercised with choosing the right domain name. You should hire a domain name expert. Maybe not us. Maybe one of our competitors. Maybe a fellow founder. Anyone. But you have to speak with someone. Due diligence is required because, again, you are buying a highly valuable piece of intellectual property for your company.

I may just stay awake for this.

The reasons below are the reasons our clients buy great domains. Not reasons we pitch them, but reasons that make real economic, marketing and cultural sense.

Never Judge a Book by Its Cover.

Our parents were nice. They told us some really nice things. The downfall is most of them never worked on building a brand.

“Never a judge a book by its cover.”

I wish we lived in this world but we don’t, especially when it comes to branding.

Customers are the biggest judges of all and, when your competitor has the perfect domain name, then you can bet the customer is looking at you as second tier.

Would you like another opinion?

Read Y-Combinator Co-Founder and Venture Capitalist Paul Graham’s post titled “Change Your Name.” — Of course, you know better than him… Of course you do.

Better Advertising ROI

The whole point of brand advertising is to have people remember your brand. You would think this is the golden selling point of owning the best domain name, but sometimes you have to spell it out.

How many commercials do you remember? What was the name of that brand again? You know the funky soda guy? I can’t remember.

You see, the founder with the great domain name. The one you clearly thought was overpriced. The one you felt you deserved. Well, his customers aren’t scratching their heads, wondering what brand they heard this morning. His customers are out telling their friends and posting on Facebook because they remembered his ad.

You are going to pay for many more ads just to get a fraction of what this guy got when he started using the great domain name he “overpaid” for.

Better Click-Through Rates

Better domain names are proven to have higher click-through rates. As a consumer, would you prefer to click on lendingtree.com or lendingtreeinc101.com?

Consumers are pretty savvy and great domain names often result in higher click-through rates. This means more customers and higher ROI.

Excuse me, I hear your competitor laughing and thanking you now for passing on that “overpriced” domain. He’s pretty loud.

Brand Protection

“But I have a trademark on that word. Nobody else can use it.”

Oh my. Trademark law is complicated and, quite frankly, very limiting in what can be enforced. Let’s put it this way… Almost anyone can apply for a trademark on anything. In the United States alone, there are 45 different trademark classes in total: 34 for products and 11 for services, according to Nolo.com.

Furthermore, there are dozens of countries in which you can submit a trademark application.

So, just because someone in the United States can’t use a domain, there’s still a good chance that somebody else in another country can.

How much do you think it will cost if that happens and “the best version of your domain” is pointed to a vice site, a similar company in another country, or another use that simply hurts your brand?

You see, the guy who “overpaid” for the great domain name doesn’t have to worry about this. In fact, it looks like he’s taking a stress-free nap right now. Very likeable guy this cat is.

The guy who “Overpaid” for the great domain name, aka not you. He can afford to dress like this.

Respect

Category-defining domain names command authority and respect. And this can quickly translate into ROI.

How many times have you attended a conference and glanced at name badges? I’ll bet any badge that reads “3DDigitalAmerica.com” rarely gets a notice. But the person with “3D.com” on their badge — people are sure to ask them, “What do you do?” or say, “Great domain name.” Guaranteed.

ROI is not just about marketing returns dollar for dollar, but also the intangible benefits like people actually wanting to speak with you. (I know, what a strange concept, right?). A great domain name is in itself an amazing ice-breaker.

I think I see the guy who “overpaid” for that domain name again. Looks like he’s already putting business cards in his pocket while you’re looking at the schedule, trying to figure out who to meet. He’s totally suffering from the downside of owning the best domain name in your market. I mean, really, who wants to have that much attention at a conference?

Email Security

People gravitate to short domain names. We did a case study on 30 days of catch-all emails to a generic dot-com address and you’d be surprised how many people naturally shorten a domain name and end up emailing the wrong company — often with sensitive information.

While .com is the primary extension, this rule also applies to any domain name that doesn’t use the best version of its name. For example, the owners of prosky.com surely get emails from clients of prosky.co regularly. The owners of a hyphenated domain like medi-corp.com lose traffic to the correctly spelled medicorp.com every day. And so on.

Even for companies that choose other popular extensions like .io, the problem can easily happen by users shortening a domain. If your company is called visionapp.io then it would be natural for people to email vision.io.

What is the cost of this?

It depends on your company, but it’s definitely going to cost something in time and money when emails are lost. Even more when confidential information is sent to the wrong people.

The guy who “overpaid” for your domain may even be reading one of your emails now. Boom! That’s entertainment.

Internal Confusion Avoided

Have you ever read the case of Nissan vs. Nissan?

It’s an incredible domain name story about Nissan Motor Corporation vs. Nissan Computer Company (owned by a Mr. Uzi Nissan). Nissan Motors has been trying to acquire this domain name for almost 20 years. In reference to not owning the best version of their domain name (page 26 of the opening brief), Nissan Motor’s Internet Strategy Manager, Merril Davis, distributed a firm-wide memorandum stating:

“our current proliferation of regional websites and URL’s creates confusion for customers and fragments [the] Nissan and Infiniti brands.”

Most other car manufacturers own the preferred version of their domain name such as Volkswagen (vw.com) and BMW (bmw.com). Even Tesla just acquired Tesla.com.

The cost of not owning the best version of your domain can not only become expensive and sometimes impossible, but can also lead to substantial expenditures to market and manage the fragmentation of your brand. Just ask Nissan.

More People Will Like (Link) to You

Shorter is better. Especially when writers are trying to source information.

Remember how we spoke about not judging a book by its cover?

Well, when many writers source information and see a domain name such as CampusBuildings101.com, they’ll often keep looking for a more authoritative source (such as campus.com) for the exact same information.

Amazing, right? — Domain name stereotyping and profiling and no laws to prevent it. Crazy. Even the people who don’t know you are judging your domain name.

What about the guy that “overpaid” for the domain? — He’s picking up backlinks without even asking. You, on the other hand, are spending more time and money trying to rank. Wait, I think he just splurged for an extra dessert with the cash he’s saving. That pie looks delicious!

(Insert intense sarcasm from the guy who “overpaid” for the great domain name you could have owned.)

So, What Makes a Great Domain Name?

This is a fair question. After all, not everybody understands the art of naming.

While some people just don’t want to spend the money, others simply don’t pay enough attention to naming until it’s too late and the topic of rebranding has to be discussed.

Rebranding — A very expensive word.

It’s also often the most beautiful word your competitor can hear. That guy who “overpaid” for a domain typically never has to waste time or money rebranding. So, while you and your team sit around for weeks trying to find a new name, he’s focused on taking your market share. It’s like a win, win, win, win, win for this guy. He can’t lose!

Here’s a short list of things critical to naming, especially in today’s digital age.

Shorter Is Better:

Try to get the shortest possible version of your brand and ignore words like play, go, inc, llc, app etc.

Avoid domain hacks (such as love.ly) at all cost. The only use for a domain hack is as a URL shortener. Sure, it might sound great, but try saying or spelling it. Your customers will think of you as lovely. Not love dot ly. Period.

Plan for the Future

You may be in one service now, but as you grow you may want to expand. This is one of the primary reasons why companies upgrade their domain name.

Just recently, GrabTaxi became Grab.com, and Tesla acquired Tesla.com. Many other brands have done the same thing. Remove words that restrict (or box) your brand in a corner. This secondary word often restricts your ability to expand or change.

When the Yellow Pages acquired YP.com, AT&T Interactive GM Greg Isaacs said:

“AT&T research showed that YP.com evokes the Yellow Pages heritage without weighing the brand down with the limitations the term conveys.” Source: BIA/Kelsey

Read this again.

What if Amazon was called AmazonBooks, Uber was still UberTaxi or Twitter was Twwttterrr (or however you spell that dumb domain name)?

The original domains surely limited their branding ability in future markets.

What happened?

They upgraded to better domains.

Question asked. Question answered.

Pass the Radio Test

If a domain name doesn’t pass the radio test. Move on.

Every time you invest in a domain name that doesn’t pass the radio test you lose money. Why? Because you want people to talk about your company. You want people to remember it. You do not want people to try and remember how to spell it. If the domain name doesn’t pass the radio test, then move on. Period.

The guy who overpaid for a domain name is back. He’s starting to mock the spelling of your name and laughing hysterically. You should see his hand motions also. This guy is gold!

Understand Your Competition

The World Wide Web is a big place. A big enough place that brand confusion happens all the time.

  • Are you a politically neutral company but the better version of your domain name is a pro-life site?
  • Are you serving Fortune 500 companies and the better version of your domain name is a porn site?
  • Are you starting with a domain name where the best version is already owned by a well-established brand?

Research everything. Look at the search results, social handles and different domain name extensions.

OMG — The guy who “overpaid” for his domain just showed me the better version of the domain name for the company his competitor started. You have to see this — I had no idea cats were that freaking flexible. I so want to clone this guy. Maybe we can adopt him?

We may have superhero costumes, but we are kind of brilliant also. And people can remember our domain.

Does It Convey Your Company Culture?

Culture is huge. It is also a very intangible asset that is hard to measure in dollars. However, the right domain name can translate to quite significant value in both time and money.

A great domain name exerts authority (as discussed above) and this authority extends to employee and customer loyalty. It can even translate to more people wanting to work for you. You see, people want to work for great brands.

We live in a world where almost everyone is looking for the next best thing. A great domain name tells people you’re invested in your company. A poor domain name gives the impression you’re not fully vested.

Hold on for a second.

The guy who “overpaid” for the domain. Holy Captain America! — He’s taking applications from all those people who decided not to call you and waving their resumes at me. Seriously, I am so photoshopping him into my family album!! This guy had me at “Hello.”

Will Your Domain Tell a Story?

Great brands have great stories.

Great domain names also typically have great acquisition stories.

Nobody asks bad domain name owners their story — except to ask why you chose such a horrible domain name.

Man, it’s getting loud here. The guy who “overpaid” for the domain is in the corner now, telling his story to all your friends. Everybody is laughing and giving high-fives. What was that? Nobody is at your table. I’m sorry … but man, he is so awesome!! You should join.

Will It Inspire Others?

Great domain names evoke emotions. They inspire story tellers.

Graphic designers are artists. They want to show you their talent. In fact, the really best graphic designers choose their work and rarely ever do work chosen for them.

Your three-word .net is not exciting. Your domain name that ends with inc. (Insert loud yawn). These are not cool. Not now; not ever.

A bad domain name will evoke mediocre work. A great domain name evokes excitement. It provides a wide canvas for graphic artists to showcase their talent and have pride in their work.

Why? Because they want to work on projects they can showcase on their resume. They want to work on projects that challenge them for people who appreciate branding. You know, people like the guy who “overpaid” for the domain name you passed on.

On a good note, you both will likely pay the same for the work. Yours just won’t be as good.

Does It Have an X-Factor?

An X-Factor is something that makes you different. Something that differentiates you from the sea of companies called competition.

A great domain name may do this. It all depends on what you do and the story you tell. One thing is for sure, however. A bad domain name has no chance of ever doing this.

The only X-Factor a bad domain name has is that it will help you add zeros to a check for a new domain name down the road.

The guy who “overpaid” for your domain name is laughing hysterically now. “An X-Factor — Ha ha, I own his X-Factor.”

Seriously, someone get this guy his own TV show.

The Grand Finale

So let’s recap.

A great domain name saves you money, improves company culture, provides brand protection, encourages employees, inspires designers, increases brand value, commands authority and saves employee/customer time trying to spell.

A bad domain name provides headaches, (un)inspires others, causes brand confusion, lowers morale, leads to higher advertising costs, jeopardizes email security and never starts a conversation.

It now makes total sense why you think the domain name was overpriced.

I mean, really, you keep thinking that.

While our clients continue to bank.

Word.

THANK YOU for passing on that domain name. You are totally invited to our holiday party. Mad Love.

— Story inspired by true events that happen every day in the domain name industry. For more information on the consequences and health risks of owning a bad domain name, or to seek treatment for a new domain name acquisition, please contact NameCorp® today. Our unlicensed, non-medical naming professionals can help build you a better brand.

Follow Alan Dunn on Medium, or Twitter, or Facebook, or send an email to sales@namecorp.com to talk about domain names.