7 Essential Things to Consider When Naming your Startup

Casey Botticello

Anyone who’s ever formed a company can understand how difficult it can be to create company names that are descriptive, yet unique. Startups often face additional challenges because they lack the money, time, and experience that help facilitate the selection of an excellent company name.

1. Domain Availability


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One of the first things that should be investigated, when considering a company’s name is the availability of the .com domain

If being found on the web is a necessity for your business (and it should be), a recent study by Searchmetrics found only 11% of the web is actually visible. They analyzed over 100,000 domain names, and 75% go back to .com, which are by far the most visible TLD in a keyword search.

One of the primary reasons behind the advantageous visibility of the .com TLD in relation to others is the fact that it’s been the default domain since 1985. Given its rich history, it’s the most memorable, and the most recognized by the general public. Because it’s established, the extension also has a distinct reputation, so search engines tend to trust them more.

“…when we’re big, we’ll buy the official domain.”

I have heard “when we’re big, we’ll buy the official domain” more times than I can count. Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works.

It comes down to this ugly paradox: As consumers become more aware of you, you’ll be able to raise more money, but the owner of the official variant of your domain (e.g. GetDropBox.com) will also become increasingly aware of your growth. He or she will then hold out for a bigger payday. After all, they have nothing to lose: They know there is a slim chance that you would ever change your established name and that you will — in all likelihood — come crawling back to them.

What exactly makes the Get[NAME].com workaround a bad idea?

  • Inefficiency: Be prepared for lost emails, which will have been sent to the official variant of your domain name. You can imagine how destructive this could be.
  • Frustration: Many customers will be annoyed when they’re unable to intuitively reach your site (they’ll be visiting [NAME].com expecting to see you).
  • Annoyance: When you approach investors or fellow entrepreneurs about your company, you’ll often get nagged with, “So, how are talks going with that domain owner?” Don’t underestimate the annoyance of being continuously bugged about a problem you can’t afford to solve.
  • Ineffectiveness: Your marketing campaigns will be less impactful (you will lose potential traffic) because your audience won’t fully grasp or recall your domain name like they would your actual company name. Remember: The mind looks for anchors, and that anchor will simply be your name.

Each of these factors will likely exist for the entirety of your company’s lifespan. So, before going down this route, try coming up with a name for which you can acquire the exact-match domain.

2. Social Media Handles

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Social media handles are an extension of your brand, your online identity and a tool to drive customer loyalty and sales. So it makes sense to give consideration to your social media handle.

In a perfect world, your company name, domain name, and social media handles would match. This can be extremely difficult in practice, due to the rise of cyber-squatting and increased use of the internet, but it should still be the goal.

So, if your company is called “Tasty Shrimp,” has a website at www.tastyshrimp.com, and @tastyshrimp is available on key social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Linkedin, Google+, Snapchat, Pinterest), then snap it up before someone else does.

Namechk is a great resource as a social media handle checker. While the results are not perfectly accurate — this tool can save you a lot of time examining the availability of various social media handles.

3. Pronunciation, Spelling, and Length

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When it comes to choosing a name for your startup, pronunciation, spelling, and length are all important factors to consider.

Make your business name is one that customers can pronounce and remember easily. Skip the acronyms, which mean nothing to most people. When choosing an identity for a company, simple, straightforward names, that are easily pronounceable, are typically the best and most cost effective in the long run.

When creating a name, stay with words that can easily be spelled by customers. Some startup founders try unusual word spellings to make their business stand out, but this can be trouble when customers search for your business online or try to refer you to others.

It is also important to consider the length of a company name. Generally, the shorter in length, the better. Limit the number of syllables. Avoid using hyphens and other special characters.

4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Considerations

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Unless you can hire a major SEO firm, the best and most immediate way to be found on the search engines is to rank high (hopefully first) for your own company name. Obvious as that may sound, many companies go for superlatives such as “superior,” “premier,” or “advanced,” in their name, only to have to compete with thousands of others similarly named companies. Remember, you are not only competing with others in your industry, you are competing with everyone who shares your name. This especially holds true if you use an acronym in your name. How many “ABC” companies are out there? Web design firm NIC Media rebranded as One Lily, and quickly shot to number one for their name. As a quick check, Google your name choices to see how many results are returned. If the results number in the tens of thousands, think again.

It is also important to think about keywords when naming your startup. Rather than stuff your company name with generic industry terms, use them in your tag line and web copy instead. If you use keywords in your company name, you will be forever stuck in that category, you will sound generic, and you may not rank for the term anyway. Wholesale Landscape Supply rebranded as Big Earth and soon after gained first page ranking for their company name. “Landscape Supply” then became the industry descriptor phrase under their name, giving them the best of both worlds — immediate brand name recognition and potential keyword ranking. Keyword brand names are expensive, create little differentiation and still require money to promote. Hotels.com and Cars.com depend on traditional advertising to supplement their natural type in traffic.

5. Trademark, Patents and Legal Restrictions

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Maybe you have a name for your company in mind that is so secret (and amazing) you’re afraid to tell everyone lest somebody else beats you to the punch in using it. Or worse, if you decide to go ahead and use the name and it turns out similar names are out there like it and you’re up in arms on a trademark infringement case.

Conduct a business name check first and then reserve the name online if it’s available before you begin the incorporation process. To check for availability, check the site’s Trademark Electronic Search System (“TESS”) database to make sure another company hasn’t already registered an identical or similar mark for the same categories of goods or services you offer.

Registering a trademark for a company name is pretty straightforward. Many businesses can file an application online in less than 90 minutes, without a lawyer’s help. The simplest way to register is on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Web site, www.uspto.gov.

6. Consult family, friends, and potential investors

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It can be difficult to assess the appeal of your startups potential name when you are one of the founders. You may have been working on the project for a long time and it is good to get the perspective of friends, family, and even investors.

Startup founders are typically excellent when it comes to product design or streamlining services — but many are not experts when it comes to the importance of marketing and branding.

Although this is an extreme example — I worked at one startup where the founders were offered a $1 million investment, at generous investment terms — with the sole stipulation that the company change its name. The company name was bad enough that this had already been suggested many times by family and friends of the early employees, so this was obviously a huge mistake. But even if the name had been something amazing, it would have been worth considering the offer as a sign of respect to the potential investor.

7. Make Sure Your Name Does Not Alienate People

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Steve Jobs began working on a line of personal computers in the 1970s during a time when computers were hardly for everyone and too huge and seemingly complicated to figure out. The name “Apple” came about as a means to attract people from all walks of life — universally inviting all around. Don’t try to complicate the name of your business or you might wind up alienating some of your audience.

Remember — you can always integrate specifically branded verticals of products or services to your parent company at a later date, if you are trying to reach a niche audience.

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I am a digital marketing consultant, entrepreneur, and private equity investor.

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