The Name Game

A number of years ago, there was a popular song that had a formula for creating new words from a person’s name. Add a syllable here. Change a sound there. And, voil`! a unique name was created. Creating a new name for a business or product used to be almost that simple but that was before the web came along.

Today, the starting point for many entrepreneurs and product managers is finding a domain that helps brand the product. However, finding a domain that isn’t already taken has become a challenge that could impact the growth of business on the web.

Recently, a group of seasoned Internet entrepreneurs starting their next dot-com company found themselves in an unusual position not being able to find a domain to fit the positioning statement of their new venture.

While they had always experienced problems finding just the right domain for their past Internet ventures, this time they were really stuck. They started with the rather traditional technique of listing all of the words that had anything to do with their new company and tried every combination of words, but none of those domains were available.

However, the reality is that an “unavailable” domain doesn’t always mean that a web site already exists with that domain. Yes, some of the combinations they tried to get were being used for existing web sites. But the majority of domains was unavailable because someone had registered the domain and was sitting on it.

Recently, Neil Cohen wrote about the challenges his new company faced in naming the company and then finding the domain. He applied sound naming techniques based on his position statement and competitive position.

The business of registering domains has grown from the original InterNIC site operated by Network Solutions into a small industry with many competitors. The domain-naming process has become so difficult that there are now web-based wizards that take a few keywords and produce a large list of potential domain names.

If the domain you want is already registered, you still may be able to buy it. A number of companies now provide the brokering and auction services needed to make buying the rights to a domain more efficient. The market for domains ranges from a few hundred dollars to a few million dollars.

And yet, even changing domains may provide only a partial solution to the need for a good domain.

For example, a company called Web Cards has created a memorable brand for its customized postcards that show a web site screen shot plus marketing copy. Until recently, the company’s domain was printing.com, but it recently announced that it has a new, more memorable domain. No, it’s not webcards.com that’s an unused domain. The new domain for Web Cards is wbcards.com.

It’s interesting that the FCC won’t let a radio or television frequency remain unused because the limited number of frequencies are seen as a public resource. Similarly, U.S. trademark laws allow the right to use a trademark indefinitely if the owner continues to use the mark to identify its goods or services.

In other words, use it or lose it.

The right to use a domain presents a different set of challenges for the governing bodies that manage the use of the limited resource that drives the Internet. In the long term, the creation of additional top-level domains will alleviate much of the bottleneck in securing a valuable domain.

In the meantime, the problem continues to present marketers with a challenge in naming their sites. It also affects consumers by making it difficult to easily enter a domain representing a brand they’ve heard or seen in advertising.

If this were a TV show, someone like Regis Philbin would say, “For viewers playing along at home, go to our web site and click on the right answer.” However, this isn’t a TV show it’s real life, and companies are being affected today by the problems of not being able to obtain a good domain. So, if you have any tips you’d like to share on how you find just the right domain, drop me a line, and let me know how you dot-com a new business.

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