DuetsBlog Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

Mastering Your Domain

Posted in Branding, Domain Names, Guest Bloggers, Trademarks

Nancy Friedman, Chief Wordworker at Wordworking; and author of Fritinancy

“All the good ones are taken!”

Without fail, that’s the lament I hear most frequently from my naming clients. They’re not complaining about legally available trademarks—they’re talking about Internet domains. They want short ones: five letters would be nice. (Uh-huh.) They want “clean” ones: no add-ons like “partners” or “company” or “systems.” Naturally, they want cheap ones. And always, always, dot-com.

But this isn’t 1997, and most of those uber-desirable names are indeed taken—by legitimate businesses and by squatters. You can whine about it. Or you can get creative.

There are least two ways to maneuver around the domain shortage. Both are clever, inexpensive, and legal. And they’re now being used by businesses and organizations of all sizes.

1: Go global

Here’s a radical suggestion: Forget dot-com. After all, there’s a world of alternatives out there. Domain hacks use country-code top-level domains—ccTLDs—not merely to create available domains but to make words.

“Domain hack” was coined in 2004 to describe an unconventional domain name that uses parts other than the second- or third-level domain to create the domain name. (In “example.com,” “example” is the second-level domain; in “example.blog.com,” “blog” is the third-level domain.) Despite the sinister overtone of “hacks,” domain hacks are completely legal alternatives to the familiar three-letter top-level domains—.com, .net, and .org.

To get a sense of the possibilities, check out the list of ccTLDs, from AD (Andorra) to ZW (Zimbabwe). At last count there were 287 of them, and many are ideally suited for creating English words. For example, the Libyan country code, .ly, can be combined with nouns or adjectives to create adverbs or mock adverbs like bit.ly (a link shortener). Blo.gs, a tool for tracking and reading (what else?) blogs, uses the ccTLD of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Italian country code turns Placehold.it, a tool for graphic designers, into an imperative. The New York Times has its own link-shortener, nyti.ms, which uses the .ms country code from Montserrat. And Pul.se, a search engine for syndicated content on the Web, uses the Swedish country code—which happens to be a mnemonic for “search engine.”

I’ve seen some inventive non-English domain hacks, too. Shockola.de, for example: It’s pronounced “shockolade,” which means “chocolate” in German; .de is the German ccTLD. Natürli, a Swiss cheese company, uses the domain naturli.ch. “Naturlich” means “naturally” in German, and .ch is the Swiss ccTLD.

To find and register your new global domain, try http://domai.nr. (The .nr in Domai.nr is the country code of Nauru, a tiny Pacific island.) Fees are higher than they are for standard .com or .net registrations, but almost invariably they’re far below the cost of buying a domain from a squatter.

2: Sloganize it.

If your heart is set on a .com domain, consider using your tagline or slogan as the domain instead of your company’s name. The big guys are doing it: See ThatsAPlus.com from United Plus Visa by Chase and BecomeAnEx.org from the National Alliance for Tobacco Cessation. (In the latter example, “ex” stands for “ex-smoker.”)

Smaller companies are also taking advantage of this alternative route to domain mastery. Blend, a design agency in Nashville, uses BlendItBetter.com; Open, a Manhattan design agency, is NotClosed.com on the Web. In Berkeley, the solar-technology company SunPower chose SeizeToday.com to reinforce its brand message: “The time for solar is now.”

Slogan-domains also work well for campaigns. Poise, a division of Kimberly-Clark that makes panty liners, kicked off its “Light Bladder Leakage” ad campaign last spring with a new website whose domain name suggests that the problem is very common: 1in3LikeMe.com. And for its “Rethink What Matters” campaign, the cosmetics company Bare Escentuals set up a RethinkWhatMatters.com site. (Now that the campaign has concluded, the URL redirects to BareEscentuals.com.)

One caveat about slogan-domains: Because the words will run together, be absolutely certain that the result won’t have an embarrassing double meaning. Two examples will suffice here: Pen Island and Who Represents.

  • Business is about trust. A random non-premium domain extension does not build trust.
    Holders of non-premium extensions find they have to spend money reinforcing customer awareness of their weak spot (a weak domain choice) rather than reaping benefits from a smart domain one.
    What appears to be a branding bargain today can turn out to be a costly pitfall tomorrow.
    In many cases, a ccTLD can thrust clients into offshore legal systems that penalize free speech and other activities that are not illegal in North America. India, for example, bans numerous forms of speech and assesses both civil and criminal penalties against violators. Their legal system may be slow, but they always get their man or woman. Americans will be disappointed if they expect to enjoy legal protections similar to what they would be afforded here.
    Axis extensions may not appear high risk now, especially for people whose horizons are limited. If the United States again attempts to decapitate the leadership of Libya, how might the holders of the .ly TLD respond?
    Slogans as brands? I don’t think so. For discrete marketing campaigns, yes. Here again, it needs to be supported by a premium TLD.
    The proposition that valuable dot-coms would be available today, for little or no cost, hints at insanity or greed. There are no low/no-cost workarounds. Deal with it.
    There is a vibrant secondary market for premium domains. All brand consultants need to be familiar with it.

  • This is a really great post. I read a lot of blogs about branding and domain names and these were all very unique ideas to getting creative with your domain name. The slogans is a great idea because (hopefully) your slogan is catchy, short, and still easy to remember.