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Building a Good Business Name

The stakes for selecting a business name are high. A good name can make a business a household word, and yet a bad one can make it instantly forgettable. Same rings true for developing your online, or Domain Name as well. You want to create a name that adds value to a Web site or an e-commerce product. This task has become a challenge in our world where more than 2 million domain names are already registered. Domain names are increasingly becoming part of the everyday landscape on delivery trucks and restaurant menus and movie posters.

A good domain name has to accomplish several things at once:

  • It must meet the requirements of the domain registry.

  • It must be effective - unique and memorable to its users.

  • It must avoid conflicts with other intellectual property - trademarks and service marks.

  • It should be defensible against abuse - tasteless misspellings and so on.

The Basics - Meeting the Structural Requirements
The requirements a domain name must meet depend on the agency that administers registrations. The ICANN requirements for names in the .com, .net, .org, .gov and .edu domains are minimal:

  • A name can be composed of up to 22 characters -- the 26 alphabetic characters, the 10 numerals, and the hyphen. Upper or lower case doesn't matter -- by convention, all domain names are usually represented in lower case. (Some national domains accept names that use characters specific to the national language, but such names are impossible to access without special keyboards or system software.)

  • The hyphen is the only punctuation that can be used in a domain name -- no spaces, quotation marks, dollar signs, asterisks or other marks are allowed.

  • The name cannot begin or end with a hyphen.

Beyond that, you're pretty much on your own.

Making a Good Name Great
If you've ever tried to register a domain name, you've probably had the feeling that all the good names are already taken. It's not true. But with more than 5 million names already registered in the .com domain alone, it takes some real creativity to craft a great domain name. Spend some time thinking about the purpose of the site, the audience, the associations you want the audience to make with the site, and write down possible names as you go along. Once you have compiled a list of names that you like (we would suggest 30 or 40 names), look at each name and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it unique?

  • Is it memorable?

  • Is it easy to spell?

  • Is it likely to remain unique?

  • Is it available?

The order of these questions is significant. Don't stress out over the availability of a name. Pick a quality name, and then thoroughly research its availability. Even though it's already registered, it may be available.

Conflicts with trademarks and service marks
A name may be available, but still not be available. That's not double talk. The name registration process does nothing to protect you or your company from registering and using a domain name that could be found to damage a mark owned by someone else. Before you invest money and effort in promoting any domain name, check to make sure it doesn't conflict with other forms of intellectual property, such as trademarks and service marks. Start with the "World Wide Trademarks" report for your name. If your name is available to be registered, but there are matching trademarks (they don't even have to be exact matches as long as there's the possibility of confusing similarity.

Preparing against domain name abuse
The domain has nothing to do with the President of the United States. Instead, it features pictures of women in various states of undress. The Web site sells books, but it's a typo, not, the World's Largest Online Bookstore. And if you've successfully registered you might also consider registering -- because if you don't, somebody else might.

The Web is still a wild and woolly place, and some of the people out there don't always show a lot of class. You might give some thought to protecting yourself and your domain name before somebody figures out a way to use it against you. Think about possible misspellings that could steal your traffic, for example. If your name is hard to spell, or easy to mistype, you may someday find you have unwanted close neighbors.

Hate sites are a similar problem. You can't register every possible derogatory version of your name, but you might consider how vulnerable your company would be to a site - and take action before action takes you.

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