Guide to Finding a Good and Safe Company or Product Name

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I enjoy the process of coming up with a new product or project name and finding a domain. I am currently in the process of doing this with my new startup (still negotiating the domain), and have gone through the process at least a dozen times in the past.

Here are some basic rules that I go by, as well as some tips and tools.

Basic Rules

  • Pronounceable - The 'crowded bar' situation. The brand should be easily spelt and pronounceable.
  • Domain - The .com is available, or can be purchased (there are exceptions here, but .com is easier).
  • Unique - A name that is unique, so that you aren't competing with other services for a simple search of your name.
  • Defensible - Meaning little competition in search for the name, have the .com (and other TLDs) and the trademark.
  • Memorable - A name that is memorable and somehow either related to what the service does or the field it is in.

Uniqueness

The easiest way to come up with a name that possibly has the .com domain available is to concatenate two words. eg. 'image' and 'barn', 'farm', 'place', etc. Take a primary word that is related to your field, and a secondary word which you iterate on by using a thesaurus. Try the various combinations until you hit a name that is available.

Do a Google search for the name and find if there is an existing product or company with the same name in your space ('space' as defined by the USPTO - see 'tools' below). You can gauge the strength of the current top result by searching for link:domain.com replacing domain.com with the domain name of the top result or the full URL of the top result. If it only has a dozen or so inbound links, you should be able to take the top spot with little effort (especially if the product name is not mentioned in the page title).

The best result would be that a search for your product name returns very little, and that Google or Bing struggle to find relevant or related pages.

There are a number of sites that can generate a name using the above technique. If you google for 'product OR company name generator' you will find a bunch more:

Defensible

This means a trademark, and/or the top domain name(s). Find links to do a trademark search below in 'tools'.

MarkMonitor is a commercial organization that handles trademarks and domain names for large organizations across the whole world. They have a near-monopoly on this service at the top end, and clients include Apple and Microsoft. If you are a large global org (or plan to be) and can justify the cost, they are a one-stop shop for name protection.

Social Media

It is expected that your new company and product will have a presence on the usual mob of social networking sites - namely, Twitter, Facebook et al. There are tools available that will check your prospective name against each of these social networks and find if it is available.

These tools allow you to check all the social media sites:

  • Knowem - Checks 400 (!) sites
  • Namechk - Checks a bunch of sites (I found some bugs with short names)
  • Usernamecheck - Checks the top 20 sites

Domain Name

The following tools will help you find a domain name (more in 'tools' below):

For registering a domain, GoDaddy is the cheapest but you have to put up with their upsell (I once accidentally purchased hosting) and terrible management interface. The best combination for domain registration and then DNS hosting is joker.com and EasyDNS. I have been using the two of them for over ten years now, and couldn't be happier:

  • Joker - Domain registration. Simple interface and pricing in multiple currencies
  • EasyDNS - Pricey, but excellent DNS hosting with wildcard support, email forwarding, and more.

Buying vs Registering

There are pro's and con's in purchasing vs registering. It is cheaper to register, but you are penalized by the search engines since the domain is an unknown quantity.

Search engines will trust domains that have been registered for longer. New domain registrations are placed in the Google sandbox for up to 12 months, which means it could be impossible to find your website if you search for related keywords (there are ways out of this, mainly to open an adwords account and to spend money).

The problem with purchasing a domain may be that it has a poor history, which we will go over below. If you purchase a new name, it is important to quickly establish the domain as a trusted site by gaining relevant inbound links.

Buying

If you find a domain name that is already registered but it only contains ads on it (ie. is dormant) and wish to approach the owner, the easiest way is to visit the domain and look for a for sale link. The next step is to perform a whois lookup and to find a contact email (go to whois.sc/ eg. http://whois.sc/thedomain.com).

If there is more than one email address on the record, send your email to all of them. Even though many domain hoarders keep their domains registered privately, the response rate to emails is high. Your email to the domain owner should be as simple as:

Hi, I notice that you own the domain domainiwant.com. I found this email address contact in the whois record. I am currently working on a new product and think that the domain would be perfect for it - would you be interested in selling it to me? I am not funded but I could offer a few hundred dollars. Please let me know if you are interested. Regards, Me

You can leave out the line about a few hundred dollars, but a generic word plus word domain with no inbound links or SEO history is usually worth up to $500. A lot of domain owners are delusional and think their domains are worth 5-figures or more because it has the word 'web' in it, or something similar - just move on from these people an find an alternate - some will even come around.

If the name is a very short single-word, you can negotiate the option of the domain owner either leasing the domain to you or taking stock or options in exchange for the name. I believe mint.com did the later. In either case put together a contract via a lawyer or by finding one online in one of the many repositories of generic contracts. A leasing rate should be the value of the domain divided by 60 or 48 (5 years or 4 years, in months). A stock option rate should be at a markup, but not too much. 1.5-4% is reasonable (for 4% it should be a good single-word generic name, such as mint.com).

Domain SEO and Safety

Once you have a name that is either available or that you are going to purchase from somebody, you need to make certain that it has not been blacklisted by Google or other services. You can also check the current SEO status. Starting with no ranking is fine, but starting with a negative ranking is an impediment that could be difficult to move out of.

To check if a domain has been blacklisted on Google, use the Google Blacklist Checker. Plug the domain name in, fill in the verification and you get a simple yes/no. Vebtools.com provide a number of other excellent tools that you can use to check the existing page rank of the site, inbound links, etc.

Use the wayback machine at archive.org to check what the previous content on the domain was. If you find porn, affiliate links or anything that looks like spam, there is a chance that the site may be on other blacklists.

Check indexing status by searching Google for site:domainname.com

There are a number of blacklists in use by browsers to check if a domain name is safe for visitors (these are different to the email blacklists and are used for actual sites). Getting a site listed on these blacklists is easy, getting them off is not. Google maintains a blacklist used in Chrome, but there are a number of others (mostly run by the anti-virus companies). Search the Google safe browsing list using:

http://www.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=http://domain.com/

Replace domain.com in the URL with the domain you want to search.

You should also check the domain against the following databases of bad domains:

Note: I can't believe there isn't a service that scans all 12+ major malware DB's at once, if you know of one let me know (the exploit kits have blacklist lookups). There are also a lot of discrepencies between lists

Tools

  • Tess - USPTO trademark search
  • EuroDNS search - search every TLD for a name
  • Instant Domain Search - Search the three major TLDs instantly to find an available domain
  • Nxdom - Find available domain names that begin or end with a word
  • Moniker - search obscure TLDs
  • NameBoy - Generate a name and check TLDs
  • Thesaurus.com - Find an alternate word to use
  • Domaintools - Lookup a domain, find owner, email them (you can just type whois.sc/ into your address bar for a quick lookup).
  • Sedo - Probably the largest domain aftermarket.
  • NameJet - Another domain aftermarket.
  • Name Generator - name generator.
  • web 2.0 name generator
  • VebTools - Check the pagerank, indexing and a hundred other variables about a site or domain

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