Choosing a Business Name

There's plenty of advice out there about choosing a business name, such as the need to do a name search in your state, a trademark search, register the name, and other key legal issues. Those are all important factors to consider as you choose a business name.

But I'd like to focus today on five considerations you should also be thinking about. These five things may be overlooked when choosing a business name (or thinking about a re-branding of your business):

Dot Com Domain Names Still Rule

Today's small businesses depend on Web presence to generate leads. Prospective customers are researching businesses online before they buy, so being findable online is crucial.

Before you settle on a choice for a business name, go to your favorite domain registrar, and search to see whether the .com URL is available. The 'dot com' version of a name is still the go-to address that most of the public thinks of automatically. So whenever possible, try to get the dot com version of your chosen name.

Otherwise, you may end up like me - buying that dot com extension at auction on the secondary market later for thousands of dollars. After years of vainly trying to encourage people to use our chosen domain name (which was close but not exact), I finally caved in and purchased the one that matched my company name and that people tended to automatically think of, and redirected it to our company website. So now we no longer 'leak' that misguided Web traffic, but it did cost us.

Newer Domain Extensions Can Be Catchy

Absent that - or perhaps in addition to a dot com - consider the catchiness of some other top level domain extensions. Today we have many more choices for domain extensions, to the point that they can become a clever part of your name.

Consider a name like Lesson.ly. The '.ly' extension is used as an integral part of the name.

Some of the new domain extensions suggest the type of business you may be in. For instance, a consultant might opt for a .guru domain extension, as in JohnQSmith.guru. A photographer might opt for a .photography domain, as in SuperSnazzy.photography or something similar.

There's no rule that says you are limited to just one domain name. You can always have two or more using some for specific marketing purposes - just make sure they are directed properly to your website.

Will Trendy Names Stand the Test of Time?

Names, like fashion, go through trends. A number of years back, names with 'crunch' in them were trendy. Think Techcrunch. Names with dropped vowels were also trendy for a long time - such as Unbxd. Or adding in extra letters was cool, such as the three b's in Dribbble.

Consider, though, whether that trendiness will be difficult to spell or remember. Will the public remember to drop the right combination of vowels, or to add in that extra letter?

Catchy vs. Descriptive

There's a trade-off when choosing a name. Go for marketing memorability? Or go for findability online or in yellow pages? Have you ever wondered why there are so many service providers named 'AAAA Best Plumber of Skokie, Iowa' or 'AAA Pest Control of Hunstville, Arkansas'? In the days when yellow pages ruled, businesses wanted to be first on alphabetical lists.

When the Web showed up, names shifted toward the descriptive terms that the public looked for in search engines ('Lima Oklahoma Used Car Dealer').

But consider whether you're letting the tail wag the dog. For many businesses, you want the public to remember your name. A catchy, memorable name often trumps one that is designed to get people to find it when searching.

Of course, the best names manage to do both: make it easy to find when searching, yet are memorable. Or the business owner gets two domain names - one that matches the brand name and one that pairs up with searches.

The International Dilemma

The world is becoming a small place when it comes to commerce. The majority of companies that export are small businesses. Business owners who are thinking ahead have to consider not only how that name sounds or what it means in the United States, but how it plays in other countries and languages. Years ago, Chevrolet allegedly named a new car model the Nova - only to have it pointed out later that in Spanish, Nova meant 'it doesn't go.' That turned out to be an urban legend about Chevrolet that has now been debunked according to Snopes.com - but the lesson it represents is still valid. If nothing else, it's wise to consider whether your business name will be pronounceable and spellable in countries you may plan to sell into. And consider whether there's already a famous competitor in those countries with the same name.

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