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choosing the right domain name: a marketing perspective
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book cover: choosing the right domain name

CHAPTER 3
domain name choice: getting it right

3.03 ARE GENERIC WORDS EFFECTIVE AS DOMAIN NAMES?


The answer to the question raised in the title of this section is yes. And no.

If you are looking to develop a business model around domain names, then generic names will make money (see chapter 1.09). Similarly, if you are starting a new online venture which has no established brand, then developing that brand around a generic term can work. It is also the case that generic domains can be used to generate visitor numbers to an existing business - indeed, some of the highest priced domain name sales fall in this category - loans.com, for example (more on why later). However, for an existing, or new, offline business looking to develop the role of the Internet in its marketing, a generic domain is far from ideal - and given that they cost a lot to purchase, not really a viable option.

DOMAIN NAMES IN PRACTICE :
generic terms are not always an option
Whilst many - if not most - countries allow generic words to be created on their TLD suffixes, this is not absolute. Some countries block generic words, including town and city names, in order to prevent the type of problems that have arisen over their ownership or to prevent the names becoming saleable commodities. Other registries insist that only the names of recognized entities (organizations, companies etc) can be registered.
So why can generic domain names be a good idea? The basis of the argument revolves around the practice of web users typing a domain directly into a browser with the hope that it will host a website whose content matches the domain name. For example, to mend a leaking tap, I might type in 'plumber.com'. It has to be said, however, that this practice is far more common in the USA that it is elsewhere in the world - the dominance of the .com being the reason. It is for this reason that generic names are so popular with operators of the quazi-shopping comparison sites that can make their owners a lot of money (see chapter 1.08).

However, the same principle applies to those legitimate website developers who look to provide a service whereby information on a specific subject is compiled in such a way as it is a benefit to users. Popular with the travel industry - tripadvisor.com is a good example - these sites also have a business model of earning income from clickthroughs on ads, but at least the visitor gains some benefit from the content of the site - and the publishers have to put some effort into developing that content.

Generic names can also work if an organization is inextricably linked by consumers with a product or service - something that is normally the result of brand building which pre-dates their move onto the Internet. These are in the minority however, with good examples being few and far between. In this category I would include fruits.com - the domain name of del Monte (in this case, the domain name man, he say 'yes') and UK do-it-yourself retail giant, B&Q whose site can be found on diy.com (diy.co.uk also redirects to diy.com).

Other examples of generic domains that are used by purveyors of the 'named' products include: books.com (Barnes & Noble), pc.com (Intel), loans.com (Bank of America), rentalcar.com (Enterprise) and paper.co.uk (Premier Paper Group). Note that in instances such as these I would advise the organizations to host corporate information on the 'company' domain name and use the generic domains for promotional activities.

One effective application of having the domain name of the product is where the business operates only online, with the domain name being not only the name of the company but so also the brand. A good example of this is the hotel search and comparison site, hotel.com. The company I worked with back in the day - and where I learned most of this domain name stuff up in the front line - is another example. It was called domainnames.com. You can see how I had an edge when I was pitching for domain name registration business.
DOMAIN NAMES IN PRACTICE :
cleaning up generic names
In the early days of the commercial web, consumer products giant Procter and Gamble registered a whole host of generic words that might be connected to their product ranges, including cavities.com, disinfect.com, soap.com, cleans.com, dry.com, flu.com, nails.com, scent.com, thirst.com and towels.com. As few of the names have been used on websites P&G's original motives are not clear - presumably to use on information-type websites or simply redirect them to the brand sites. Whatever their initial plans, the multi-national giant has abandoned them, announcing in July 2006 that they intended to sell many of the generic domain names registered in the previous decade.
However, any generic-domain strategy comes with inherent problems. As with the majority of online marketing, the lessons are in traditional marketing - learned over centuries of offline trading. The key problem is that a generic name promotes a category rather than a company. In the offline world few companies use generic words or phrases as a brand. For example, in the UK we have Tesco, the USA Walmart and mainland Europe Carrefore, but nowhere has 'Grocery Store'. This is the case because each company wants to develop a distinct brand identity - so differentiating it against competitors. Although a descriptive name can bring recognition in the early days of the new online business, in the long term it is can be counter productive.

Take Amazon for example. Had the original name been amazonbooks.com, the company that was to become one of the first big online brands would have had difficulty expanding to the various products and services they now offer. In the early days of the Internet, companies perceived that naming the company as a generic domain name would have advantages - a perception that has logical foundations. In the offline world, customers have numerous contextual clues to identify the company or brand. The shape of a bottle will tell you it is Coke. The fast food restaurant with the Golden Arches is McDonalds. In the virtual world, however, these contextual clues do not exist. Furthermore, the online customer searches by product or service category. A new web surfer looking for online groceries, for example, might be attracted to eGrocer rather than webvan - the latter sounding more like a website that sells vehicles. That might have been the case some years ago, but now any new surfer's search return is likely to also include the website of a brand they recognize, so curtailing the need for the domain name that matches the product category.

The dot com boom and bust is littered with generic names that failed in the same industry or market as 'proper' names that succeeded. For example:
domain name examples
So, with regard to generic-word domain names being effective there is no real answer - though if you want to make any money from domain names as the foundation of a business model, generic would be the way to go. As for buying one for your new - or existing - business, do your calculations to be sure there will be a return on any investment. It could well be that the money you pay for a suitable generic name might be better spent on promoting a lesser (but still good!) name. Note that a further consideration with regard to generic domain names is their role in search engine algorithms - see chapter 1.12.
DOMAIN NAMES IN PRACTICE :
retailer couldn't see this good domain
Sad to say, few established bricks and mortar businesses were alive to the advantages of generic domain names back in the day. I remember approaching one of the UK's leading retail opticians about their purchasing optician.com from the organization I represented at the time. I got a terse reply - from their IT dept - saying that they were 'not interested in novelty domain names'. Perhaps they were right, but I wonder how much that organization has spent on online advertising since 1997? I do not know what that figure is, but I do know how much they could have bought that prime domain name for - and it was a lot less than a single ad in a single national newspaper on a single day. I note that optician.com is now a domaining site - so someone agrees with me on this one!


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Copyright copyright 2009 Alan Charlesworth. All rights reserved.
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