Fortunately, the confusion over forgettable, unspellable domain names has helped usher in a new behavior that will, Google willing, cause a trend back to comprehensible brand names.
In short, we’re seeing less direct input of URLs into the address window of a browser, and more navigation by way of search engines. In 2006 “Yahoo” was the most popular search term in Google. Imagine that. Instead of entering yahoo.com into their browser’s address bar, countless users chose to enter it into Google’s search window instead, then click from the results.
There are several explanations for this growing trend.
- People have learned not to trust their spelling. Unlike direct URL input, in which a misspelled address will most likely result in a visit to a domain squatter’s site or 404 page, a good search engine will suggest related spellings.
- Pure habit. People are used to using a search engine to find things, so that’s where they turn first.
- Using a search engine for navigation won’t leave incriminating URLs in a browser’s dropdown history.
- More people are installing the Google Toolbar and similar search widgets into their browser, making it quick and easy to perform a search.
- It’s quicker to type “ebay” than it is to type “www.ebay.com” or worse, “http://www.ebay.com”. Many users don’t know that Firefox automatically adds the .com, nor do they realize that “www” is seldom needed.
Regardless of why users are now navigating more via search engines, this is good news for branding. Why? Because it means the prima facie name is no longer as important. Most users understand that there are too many Web sites with similar names. Rather than waste time entering an URL that may turn out to be the wrong address, they’ll use a search engine instead and find the site they’re looking for by way of the meta description.
So now, it’s more important for a brand name to be memorable, distinctive and relevant than it is for it to have the prima facie dot com address. If I remember the approximate brand name and the category, I can find anything as long as the brand name is unlike anything else in its category. Case in point: Fuze, my current beverage of choice. I won’t find it at fuze.com. I would never think of accessing it at drinkfuze.com (its actual address). But I can find it on the first page of results by entering “fuze” into a search engine.
If I misspell it “fuse”, one glance at the search results tells me I’m not even close. So I enter “fuse” and “drink”–and there it is. Even misspelled, I can find it on the first page as long as I know one other obvious, pertinent term.
I hope we will soon see the end of nonsense names and made-up words spawned by the fever to secure the prima facie dot com domain name. The gold standard for brand naming can and should return to the basics: A name that fits the brand positioning, that’s memorable, that’s easy to say and spell, that’s provocative and distinctive and trademarkable.
Remember: You’re naming a company or a product, not just your Web site. Always do what’s best for the brand, not the URL.