The process of coming up with a domain name for a startup can be a bit frustrating; especially when practically all the names you can come up with have already been taken. One of the questions you’re bound to ask yourself is this: “Should I choose a name that actually makes sense or would it be wiser to go for a fantasy name?” There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to both options and you’d do well to learn more about them to take away at least some of the frustration this process has been causing you.
As the term suggests, a literal or descriptive domain name literally describes what a website is all about (e.g. RealEstate.com, blogger.com, dogtraining.com). Like any other type of domain name, there are good reasons for you to choose this type of name and also reasons for you to avoid it.
The biggest advantages of having a descriptive domain name are quite obvious. First, it immediately lets consumers know what your site is all about. Second, it’s easy for consumers to remember, thus, increasing the chance of your business coming to mind whenever someone is looking for the kind of products/services you offer. Third, it enhances search optimization for your website. Fourth, it requires very little brand marketing, since not a lot of people will be left wondering what a website named “shoebusiness.com” is selling.
In most cases, those who go for descriptive names think only of the business as originally planned. This can carry with it the disadvantage of having a name that’ll no longer be as much of a perfect fit when you expand the business. As the above example shows, you could choose “shoebusiness.com” for an online shoe store. What if you decide to expand the business and start selling clothes as well in the future? Your options in this case (change the name or create a different website for the clothing business and a “mother site” for both businesses) are both a bit costly. Furthermore, having a literal domain name may be perceived by some as boring and unimaginative. That’s an image you surely wouldn’t want your startup to have!
No, the term “fantasy name” does not refer to terms used in your favorite fantasy novels or movies. It simply means names that you make up for purposes of having a unique domain name. Just like descriptive names, fantasy names have their share of pros and cons.
The advantages of having a made-up domain name are usually only evident in the long run. For one thing, you will own the name and no one will ever confuse you with any other business. If you’re lucky, your business may even become so popular that your brand name practically becomes a generic name for the products/services you offer. Just think about how Kleenex has become synonymous to “facial tissues” and Polaroid has come to mean “photograph.”
Another huge advantage of having a fantasy name is that you won’t have to worry about translation if you plan to market your business to a global audience. English may be known as a universal language, but it’s no secret that many people all over the world still have difficulty understanding some English words. Rather than risk being misunderstood, it may be better to go with a name that has no real meaning beyond that which you attach to it. Take Nike, for example. Wherever you are in the world, no one will mistake Nike for anything but sportswear.
The biggest disadvantage of making up a domain name (also the usual reason why business owners hesitate to create their own name) is that it is often difficult, time-consuming, and a bit costly to introduce a new word into the general consciousness of consumers. Another disadvantage is that it may take a bit of time for Google to successfully figure out what your site is all about.
There is another alternative to descriptive names and fantasy names. It’s not actually a combination of the two, but close enough. The idea here is to take an existing word and turn it into a brand, thereby creating an entirely new meaning for that word. One of the best examples of this strategy for choosing a domain name is Apple. What once referred to a delicious fruit now also refers to a computer giant and everyone now knows that “apple.com” isn’t a website selling fruits.
This has practically the same advantages as using descriptive domain names. Since consumers are already familiar with the word you’re using, it’s easier for them to remember and they’re less likely to misspell it. Take, for example, Lawrence Ng’s Oversee.net. The domain name is an existing word and while it doesn’t really tell you what the site is all about (it’s an online performance marketing network), it is catchy and easy for anyone to remember. A less obvious but equally important advantage is the fact that it denotes creativity on your part, which is something consumers generally appreciate.
The most obvious disadvantage to this strategy is the confusion it is likely to cause in the beginning. For example, you may be planning to buy the domain “magic.com” (which is not being used at the time this was written) for your website because you run a SEO firm that boasts of having a lot of tricks up their sleeve. But it may take some time for people to figure out that the domain name points to a site that has nothing to do with magic per se. This can also translate to the problems fantasy names have: costly marketing and a delay in seeing positive results.
Now that you’re aware of the pros and cons, it should be a lot easier for you to answer the question posed earlier: Should you choose a domain name that actually makes sense or should you create a fantasy name for your website? This time, though, you have another option to consider: Would it be better to pick an existing word and create a homonym?
Whatever you choose to do, never forget to ensure that the name you chose is available and that there are no existing trademarks protecting it. If you’re going for a fantasy name, be sure to check if it doesn’t have any meaning in other languages. You may just have “created” the name out of thin air, but you never know…it may already exist in other countries or cultures. What’s worse is that it might have an embarrassing meaning, so be very, very careful.
Bear in mind that there is no such thing as the perfect domain name. Whatever type of domain name you choose, there will always be someone who won’t agree with the choice. What’s important for you is to choose a name that’s as unique, easy to pronounce, and memorable as you can think of.