Introduction to Brandable Names
Every domain is inherently brandable. A generic domain like Loans.com can easily be turned into a strong brand, as can short domains like XYZ.com. Even numeric domains can become brands, as is common in the Chinese marketplace. So why do brandable domains deserve their own section?
From the domain investors perspective, a brandable domain name is one that has strong branding potential but may not fit under another category like generic domains.
All the most valuable brandable domain names are in the .com extension so investors should focus here. The market in other extensions is extremely limited and best avoided.
Some brandable names combine two generic words, for example BurgerKing.com and DomainGraduate.com. Other brandable domains take slight variations on a single word. For example Google.com is a variation of ‘googol’, and Epik.com is a variation on ‘epic’.
This can be a very enticing category of domains for new investors because there is potential to dream up thousands of different combinations and variations of domains. A lot of these domains are openly available to register, and with the right buyer they can sell for 5 and often 6 figure sums.
Unfortunately, this can be a bit of a trap. Many an investor has been caught out by the potential return on investment in this category, without first understanding the principles of good branding.
If you were to look at brandable domain marketplaces like BrandBucket ,it’s easy to believe that you can create a valuable domain by putting together two random words together. Or putting a random character somewhere in a dictionary word.
A truly valuable brandable domain is anything but random. If your potential buyer needs to browse a marketplace to find your name then it is most likely not valuable. It’s critical that your buyer or their agency can come up with the name by themselves.
Imagine you have ten branding agencies and you give them all the same pitch. The pitch is to name your financial training course where you teach individuals and families how to become masters of their money. When they come back with the results, six of the agencies have come up with the same idea: MoneyMasters.com
This is the essence of a brandable domain name. If multiple other people would create your domain in a branding workshop, then you have the beginnings of a brandable domain.
Characteristics of good brandable names
Now you understand the logic behind a brandable domain, it’s time to look at the inside workings of a branding agency. How do they decide what makes a domain brandable?
Before we proceed, it’s worth mentioning that this guide covers brand naming in the English language. Interestingly when it comes to branding what works in one language may not work in another. That’s an important consideration in its own right, but for now just take note that the following tips are most suited to English brand names. The vast majority of domain sales are for English language domains anyways so as an investor it’s a sensible place to focus.
The first characteristic to review is phonetics; how things are said and understood. A name needs to not only be easy to say, but also easy to spell.
Let’s look at some camera brands to understand. Old brand Agfa is quite difficult to say. Why is that? Well G and F aren’t commonly found together in English words so it’s a little difficult to pronounce. Fortunately it’s so unusual that it’s reasonably easily to spell once you hear it.
On the other hand Kodak is nice and simple to pronounce. But the K sound is a little confusing to interpret in English. C, K, CK, even Q can all sound like K in English. On first hearing this, you might think it would be spelled Codack. Of course with enough money spent on brand awareness we now know to spell it Kodak. But new brands don’t always want to spend money on awareness so they like to avoid confusing letters and sounds. Another example is PH and F. In general be wary of letters and sounds that can be confusing in domains, because branding agencies are wary of this.
There are exceptions to this of course. Epik for example has this complexity with the K. Any four-letter domain name that is only a small variation away from a clear dictionary word like ‘epic’ will have value. But even at five letters you should think carefully about using variations.
While we are on the topic, the length of a brandable name is a factor. It’s not as easy as defining a max length because strong names can leverage other factors to be memorable. But the rule of thumb for domains in general is shorter is better.
Moving back to camera brands we have GoPro. This five-letter domain would be a slam dunk for a brandable, both in its phonetics and most other factors. It’s short, easily said, and there is no confusion in the spelling.
Phonetics also connects into how good a name sounds on the ear. As humans we’re programmed to like some words and phrases more than others. Certain letters are easier to say, some syllables are smoother than others. How good a name feels to say and hear is an important branding factor.
Alliteration is one way to make things sound nice. PayPal and BlackBerry are examples of alliteration. Rhyming is also very soothing for our brains. Think about GoPro again. Multiple studies have shown that using alliteration and rhyming helps us to remember things. Do you think branding agencies make use of this science to come up with good brand names? Of course they do.
How much we like words and names depends on our emotions also. Names that have positive connotations are more well liked than negative ones. Good brandable names are usually connected with positive feelings and emotions. Customers can be very picky in branding and even having words like ‘down’ in the middle of the name can cause it to be rejected.
Some of the best brandable names even directly tell customers how to feel. Think of Almond Joy. You’re not going to have a bad time when you’re eating something with ‘joy’ in the name.
Imagery is another key factor in branding. When a customer brief says they want their brand name to be ‘strong’, you can be sure the agency will start considering words to do with rocks and stones and other objects humans perceive to be strong. Think about imagery and feeling when you are assessing brands. How does a name make you feel and what does it make you think of? These are actual questions that branding agencies will use in surveys to test whether their name concepts are valid.
Types of brandable names
Once you know what characteristics are desirable in brandable names, you can start to consider the different types of domains. There are all sorts of systems and formulas for coming up with great brandable domains from scratch, but what you really need to know as a domain investor is how to recognise one when you see it. In reality most of the domains with true branding potential are going to be expiring domains.
When investing in any domain you always need to consider the buyer first. Even a perfect brandable domain in the photography niche might not be as valuable as an average brandable in the financial niche. A local photographer running a sole trader business does not have the same capacity or willingness to invest in a domain compared to say a venture backed startup.
Think about the industries and businesses that are willing to spend big on domains and focus your energy on finding brandable domains in that industry. The more you know about an industry, the easier it will be to discover good names.
The first type of brandable domain names are single word names such as Epik and Google. They can be quite risky for investors as they will often not meet the appropriate phonetic characteristics, and they are more likely to overlap with existing brands.
With that in mind the best type for domain investors to focus on are two-word names. It literally can be as easy as putting together two nice words.
The key is knowing what words to put together. You will notice across any industry that some words are more popular than others. Keep a list of the most popular and desirable words and then use that as a starting point when you’re assessing expiring inventory.
Using the earlier example of BurgerKing.com, it is clear that there are some generic words that could be suitable across all industries. Short and strong words like King and Hero can make for good brands when paired correctly, but each two-word combination should be considered for its overall branding characteristics, and the budget of the potential buyer.
Alongside combining two words you can also create non-dictionary words by combining different parts of words. The result might not be a common word, but it should still be clearly understood and have meaning.
For example we could take the suffix ‘ative’ from a word like ‘talkative’, and add it to a keyword in our niche. If we choose something business related like ‘work’, we could create ‘workative’. This has quite a clear meaning from our understanding of English; it’s somebody that likes to work a lot. But actually this word is not in the Oxford dictionary (although it is considered a word in some more flexible dictionaries).
It’s easy to get off track with non-dictionary terms so as a general rule if there is no clearly discernible meaning from the English language, it’s probably not a good brandable name.
Another common source of inspiration for brand naming agencies are foreign languages. This can be a treasure trove, but also a never-ending abyss. It’s best avoided by beginners, but there are resources like Wiktionary that can help to discover otherwise unknown words that would make good brands.
If a word or name stands out from an expiring list as having brandable potential, then you might want to check it in Wiktionary. If you find it matches a foreign word with a powerful and positive meaning then you probably have a good reason to believe a branding agency could come up with that name on their own.
Before we move on from this category of domains, a short word on domain modifiers. These are words that sit either side of the core brand name. For example MyEmma.com for Emma and TryShift.com for Shift. You will see this a lot in the wild, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re valuable. Domain modifiers are only for the end users to help them find available domain names. No business will pay to upgrade to a modified domain, so aim to only invest in core brand names.
Regardless of the type of brandable name you are looking at, always remember that if a branding agency couldn’t come up with your domain name using their own logic, then nobody is going to come knocking to buy it. In summary, a good brandable name has no confusion over the way it is said or spelled. It should be short. Where possible it will make use of linguistic tricks like alliteration and rhyming. It should also provoke a visual idea or emotional response.