Optimize your name for the internet

Today I’m posting a guest entry from a frequent contributor to our site, Mike Cerny. Mike and his wife Amy started FitCouture.com featuring stylish women’s fitness and yoga clothing in 2003. Initially, their goal was to create a company successful enough to allow Amy to buy herself a top of the line hobbyist sewing machine. Mike took some photos of Amy’s designs and put together a web page. Sales came in the very first day and three years later, Mike and Amy are still trying to catch their breath. While Amy oversees the creative aspects of the business (design, patternmaking and photography), Mike is responsible for sales & marketing, production management, and day to day operations. 95% of Fit Couture’s sales are direct to the consumer via FitCouture.com, making it a pure-play Internet designer-entreprenuer.

As with many DEs, Mike’s background is not sewn products. His career was in high technology startups, holding positions from programmer to CEO in several VC based companies. Likewise, Amy got into sewing later in life. She became inspired to teach herself to sew after having joined a gym and becoming dissatisfied with the availability of attractive fitness apparel. She is a landscape architect.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing has an excellent section about picking appropriate names for your sewn-products business. Kathleen does an excellent job of helping readers understand the considerations of names and gives good advice about what to avoid in a name. However, since the book was published, the Internet has changed the landscape in such that domain name considerations must be taken into account when choosing names.

Regardless of whether you plan on selling your products direct from your website, I strongly recommend that you build a solid informational website about your company. Accordingly, your company name should be optimized for the web. Many entrepreneurs find that the most difficult part of naming their company is finding a name that someone else on the web hasn’t already taken.


Several years ago, speculators started realizing that a surprising number of people find their way around the Internet by just typing words into their browser bar. Take 1000 parents that have all decided to use the Internet to find blue jeans for their daughter and a significant number will just type “girlsjeans.com” directly into their browser’s address bar. Do that and you’ll reach a page filled with targeted advertisements for companies that sell girls jeans. The owner of the page makes money every time someone clicks one of those advertisements. Add that up over the thousands of domains they own and the millions of clicks they receive, and you are talking about serious money.

While that’s well and good for domain speculators, it creates a huge problem for new businesses. Speculators have purchased nearly every two word combination of words that make sense together and a surprisingly number of three word combination. Try it, think of two words that make sense together and type them + .com into your browser’s address bar. You’ll be shocked at how many of them have websites attached.

In addition to simply being available, a domain name must be easy to spell and easy to remember. Not everyone is as good a speller as you, and once your site is up and running, you will discover the many ways that your seemingly easy-to-spell words have been butchered.

“Easy to remember” means two things:

  1. If you are in the US, you must have a .COM suffix. Do not waste your money with a .NET, .INFO, .BIZ, or .ORG name as your primary company name. Customers do not remember those extensions as well as they remember .COM. If your desired .COM name is not available, move on to another name.

  2. Shorter is better, and should not include extraneous information. Let’s assume that your name is Amy and you want your company to be called “amywear.com.” Much to your dismay, you discover that a speculator has snapped up your domain name already. You may be tempted to just add “inc” or “company” or some other suffix to the name. Do not give in to this temptation. Too many people will forget that you are AmyWearInc.com or AmyWearCompany.com. Many people looking for your site will find the speculator’s site instead and you will lose out on some of the traffic you should have received and be forced to pay to receive the rest.

    Once you’ve gone through the exhaustive and exhausting process of finding a name that satisfies your desire to have something catchy, marketable, available, spell-able, available, and easy to remember, you still aren’t done.

    The first thing you want to do is register the domain name, even if you are a long way away from being ready to launch a site on it. If you don’t register it, you will often find it unavailable when you finally get around to it. Domain name registrations are inexpensive: $6 to $10 a year. Even if you aren’t 100% sure you want that domain name, you are better off registering it just in case. There are instances when you should avoid spending money ahead of need, but this isn’t one of them.

    The second thing you need to do is determine whether the .NET and .ORG suffixes are available for your domain name. If they are, it’s usually a good idea to buy those up as well. When your site is up and running, you will be sending any traffic which hits those sites to your main .COM site. Even though you have picked a name which is easy to spell, you will want to write down all of the misspelling possibilities that you can think of. You should consider buying the most-likely misspellings as well. If you don’t, domain speculators will.

    If after going through this process, you decide you can’t live without a domain name that someone else owns, all is not lost. Most domains owned by speculators are available for sale if the price is right. Oftentimes, you can find a link on the site itself directing you how to inquire about purchasing the domain. If not, there are sites on the Internet where already-registered domain names are bought and sold. The largest of these is Sedo.com. Expect to pay a lot for anything you find appealing. I’ve been talking to someone recently that’s looking for a name for a new apparel business. The desired name is for sale, for $2900. Personally, I would advise against spending that much money up front, but everyone has to make their own decisions on the importance of cash in the bank versus owning their desired name for a website.

    Let’s look at a case study of an actual company and an actual domain name. Fit Couture is the company that my wife and I founded three years ago to design, manufacture and sell fitness clothing to women via a website. (Diligent students of Kathleen’s book will no doubt gasp at our choice of the word “couture” but rest assured that while Kathleen is not a huge fan of our use of the term, she understands why we chose it and accepts that it was not completely irrational. That does not mean that she thinks you should use the word in your company or brand name, because you should not.)

    Fit Couture meets many of the criteria I laid out, but not others. It has two significant drawbacks. First, it unnecessarily limits our scope. A major market for us is women looking for stylish fitness and workout clothing. Our name resonates with them for that purpose. However, an important and growing market for us is yoga and Pilates students looking for stylish clothing. Even though many of our designs are wonderfully appropriate for those activities, the name of the company doesn’t resonate as strongly with that market as it could.

    The second major drawback is that “couture” is an unfamiliar word to many people and therefore subject to a lot of spelling and pronunciation creativity. The spelling we tried to take care of by buying up lots of variants of the domain name (e.g. fitcoture.com. fitcoutoure.com) and automatically directing people from the misspellings to the correct site. I haven’t measured specific ROI, but the domains cost me roughtly $6/year, a very cost effective solution toward directing traffic intended for our site. I’ve seen a fair amount of traffic running through them over time. Maybe as much as 1%, which over the course of a year adds up to enough revenue to make it an easy choice.

    Google helps us out by doing an excellent job of correcting spelling mistakes and helping customers find what they seeking. Type “fit coture” into Google and see what it returns. Pretty smart, yes? The pronunciation is of more concern to us – when a customer calls us on the phone and has no idea how to pronounce “couture” it tells me that it is a word they aren’t familiar with. Some of the meaning of the brand name is lost if a potential customer isn’t familiar with one of the words.

    But, for the rest of the requirements, it does fairly well. It’s short and easy to remember and overall we’ve been pleased with the name. If we had the advantage of hindsight in the past, we might have chosen differently, but the drawbacks aren’t sufficient to cause us to rename or re-brand.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this article from Mike. If so, it is possible he may consider posting more frequently so do let us know in comments. In the meantime, if you have additional questions, specifically regarding DEs and ecommerce, Mike invites you to email him. Thanks Mike!

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15 comments

  1. La BellaDonna says:

    Thank you, Mike and Kathleen both. I found Mike’s advice so pertinent that I am now seriously considering buying up a couple of different domain names (and their possible variants), even though I don’t anticipate needing them in the immediate future. My big question is, um, register the domain name … where? The one piece of advice I remember reading elsewhere is to not search for your possible name(s) or the variants until you’re ready to buy, because the domain speculators are on the alert for those kinds of searches, and will buy those up as soon as possible. So I’m a little afraid to even google “how to register your domain name.” So if you’d be kind enough to let me know where to go, I will spend serious time this weekend registering.

    And also, congratulations on your success! Did Amy ever get her machine?

  2. Mike C says:

    Every so often, the rumor gets started the domain speculators can monitor what domains people are searching for and buy them to hold you hostage.

    There is a huge thread on Webmasterworld on the topic

    Many people believe quite strongly that your domain name searches are sniffed and can be purchased out from under you. However, there isn’t a lot of real evidence that it occurs.

    You are completely safe searching out information on how to register domain names. Without getting too detailed, suffice to say that if your specific domain name queries are being monitored, that’s all that’s being seen. Typing domain names into your address bar to see if they exist won’t cause you any problems.

    As far as registering domains, I’ve used Yahoo before as well as http://www.GoDaddy.com. There are plenty of others, but those two both do a pretty decent job of walking you through the process.

    As far as Amy’s machine… no, she never did. So, we keep working :)

  3. Malissa says:

    Web site and geting the bang for your buck is very important. Thanks,for the advise,Mike. I think it would be good for DEs to have a solid source of information on creating a good web site.

  4. Alisa Benay says:

    Thanks Mike for sharing with us! Another tip I found helpful was to buy the domain name with an “s” at the end. An example local here is “springswedding” and “springsweddings” are owned by two different people. So an opportunity is missed to have more traffic directed to all one site. I think I found that advice on selfpromotion.com. If you’re going to be delving into a website at all, you really need to check out his info. It’s the single most helpful website on running a website I’ve found.

    Mike…I’d love to hear more about your adventures in running a company…about how and when you made what decisions, what bumps in the road you’ve had, and what you feel has made your company successful.

  5. Mike C says:

    The “s” endings tip is definitely a good one if you have a name that lends itself to pluralization.

    I’m not familiar with the selfpromotion website, though a quick look tells me he’s promoting his URL submission stuff. Generally speaking, submitting your URL to the various search engines has little value. The search engines prefer to find your site via links from other sites. (Catch-22, I know, perhaps I’ll write about it in the future.)

  6. colleen says:

    Thanks, Mike, I enjoyed your article. Other areas I’m interested in learning about are: what market research did you use to target your customer? Does your contractor ship finished product to you and you ship to the customer OR is there another option? I love the idea of selling directly via the internet. Can you suggest books or other web-sites where I can learn more? Thanks, again!

  7. Yahzi Rose says:

    Mike, thanks for the info. I’ve been procrastinating buying other domain names but what you said about the low price of potentially missed sales really hit home. My name (yahzi rose) isnt something speculators would want but I really need to do the misspellings. A couple of other things I came across wen choosing my name…

    If it is not an english word please check the meaning in other languages – it could have a negative meaning or be a name popular with umm unseemly (word?) practices.

    Also, it might pay to think about things like list placement. If you are marketing to people who may choose your business in a somewhat random fashion – think Yellow pages/etc – then a name in the first quarter of the alphabet may prove worthy. I went back & forth with this when choosing my name and just recently got listed in my first children’s wear directory…my business is on the 2nd to last page. alas…

  8. Lisa NYC says:

    great info Kathleen and Mike…thanks!

    A long while back when my boys’ line was just a thought, I bought the URL and several variants of it. Think I paid about $7 each from GoDaddy.com….best money spent.

    I, too, would love to hear more about the process of FitCouture’s order fulfilment.

    With friendship,
    Lisa

  9. Mike C says:

    Thanks, Mike, I enjoyed your article. Other areas I’m interested in learning about are: what market research did you use to target your customer?

    We didn’t start off with the “let’s start an apparel business, so let’s look at which market we should serve.” We started with Amy saying “I want to make some cute exercise clothes” and me saying, “maybe we could make a business of it…”

    Market research wasn’t much more than Amy saying she was having trouble finding things she liked and me realizing that if she was seeing a hole in the market, other women no doubt would as well.

    In a market as huge as women’s apparel, that was all we needed, especially since our initial investment was only a few thousand dollars. (And, if it hadn’t worked out, some of the money we spent on equipment would have been recouped on ebay.)

    Does your contractor ship finished product to you and you ship to the customer OR is there another option?

    We’re doing all of our manufacturing in house. We’ve been down the contractor route three times now. Twice its been an abject failure and once we were able to get some pieces made, but not others. The logistical and timeframe complexity made us abandon the effort.

    We’re going to try again in 2007 to get some of our work outsourced. If its a failure again, we’ll accept the fact that we’re going to need to invest heavily in our own infrastructure.

    The issues we face with contractors as related to the choices we’ve made in business model and won’t necessarily be something that most DEs run into.

    I love the idea of selling directly via the internet. Can you suggest books or other web-sites where I can learn more? Thanks, again!

    Good question.

    The Ecommerce forum of webmasterworld.com has a fair amount of information. Where I usually recommend people start is in their own heads though. Imagine that you had a web store that people could come to and purchase your items. How would they find you? If they were looking for the products that you sell, what would they type into Google? If you can answer those questions, its probably worth considering selling direct online.

  10. Carissa says:

    Thanks so much for all of this food for thought. It’s been very helpful.

    It’s also very inspiring to read of yet another couple that didn’t start out in this area of business yet is successful in this industry. I need all of the inspiration I can get!

    One question- I have different domain names registered, do I have to pay for hosting to route them all to my website?

    Thanks!

  11. Marsha says:

    This is terrific information. Thanks Mike for sharing. I have been reading the blog for months but this is my first entry. I purchased Kathleen’s book and between the book and this blog I learn something valuable everyday. Thanks Kathleen. You are providing such valuable information.

    I will definitely be purchasing several different versions close to my domain name as Mike suggested. Often people spell my company name incorrectly so this would help to send them my direction.

    I have a question regarding optimizing my website. Constantly I am approached by companies that say they can drive mega business my way by optimizing the site and adding quality links. They charge anywhere from $800 to $2000 initially plus a monthly charge. My instincts say “beware” as I can’t see how I can track what they would really be doing for me. Sometimes it’s tempting as I am looking for ways to drive more traffic to my website and I am at a loss to exactly what needs to be done. Do any of you have any experience with this on your websites? Is it worth the money or a rip off?

    Thanks!

  12. Mike C says:

    One question- I have different domain names registered, do I have to pay for hosting to route them all to my website?

    Forwarding has been included for free with the yearly registration fee for the registrars I’ve used in the past.

  13. Mike C says:

    I have a question regarding optimizing my website. Constantly I am approached by companies that say they can drive mega business my way by optimizing the site and adding quality links. They charge anywhere from $800 to $2000 initially plus a monthly charge. My instincts say “beware” as I can’t see how I can track what they would really be doing for me. Sometimes it’s tempting as I am looking for ways to drive more traffic to my website and I am at a loss to exactly what needs to be done. Do any of you have any experience with this on your websites? Is it worth the money or a rip off?

    A general rule of thumb that has served me well in business is that if someone calls me pitching something, I probably don’t need it. And, if I do need it, I probably don’t want to buy it from them.

    I would pretty much always stay away from companies calling and offering to boost traffic to your website.

  14. Adam Alpern says:

    One of the other very important things to consider when picking a business name is the “google-ability” of it — in other words, if someone has heard your company’s name, but doesn’t know the website URL, can they find it with Google?

    When I chose the brand name for my bags, I initially considered “Atomic Baggage” – it’s a play on my name, a word I like a lot, and has great logo possibilities. The problem is, “Atomic” has way too many hits on Google, and there’s already an “Atomic Luggage” (although their site is pretty difficult to find as well). In short, not googlable.

    On the other hand, “Zugster Bags” didn’t turn up any hits at all before I registered it. Now all the search results are for my business.

  15. carissa says:

    Marsha:
    An entrepreneur friend of mine paid A LOT of money for one of those optimizer deals and I couldn’t find his website of I were being held at gunpoint. He even gave me several variations of ways that I could search it and I still couldn’t find it.

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