Amazon.com. Apple.com. Tesla.com.
These three domain names all have something in common: they don’t describe the products the websites sell.
You can’t buy tours of the Amazon rainforest at Amazon.com. There is no fruit for sale at Apple.com. And ‘tesla’ is the physics term for a standard unit of magnetic flux density (as well as the name of scientific genius Nikola Tesla).
These three domain names are called brandable domains. They’re names that don’t describe the products the sites sell. Before Amazon became an ecommerce giant, you didn’t think about buying books or video games from something called Amazon. The company branded the term so that you’d associate it with what the company is.
Many companies choose to use brandable domains for their business because these domains offer flexibility and the ability to distinguish the companies from their competitors.
Brandable vs. Descriptive
When choosing a company name and domain name, the choice often comes down to either brandable or descriptive.
A descriptive domain name describes what the website offers. For example, it’s a safe bet that Shoes.com offers shoes for sale. (That’s a descriptive domain name owned by Wal-Mart.)
Another choice is a brandable+descriptive combination. If your name is Rick and you own a dry cleaners, calling the business “Rick’s Dry Cleaners” includes both a distinguishing brand and a descriptor.
The Problem with Descriptive Domain Names
There’s a lot to love about descriptive domain names. People understand what your website is about before they even visit. These domains can also help (to some degree) with search engine optimization.
A big problem with descriptive domains is that they are inherently limiting.
Think about what would have happened if Amazon.com chose Books.com as its name when it launched in the 1990s. The domain would have made sense because the company just sold books.
The name wouldn’t have grown with the company, however. It started selling tools, toys and housewares that don’t make sense for a company called Books.com. (Books.com is owned by Barnes & Noble and forwards to the company’s website.)
A descriptive domain is great when you’re sure your company will only offer products and services that match the descriptor. It presents a problem when you want to expand.
Brandables Offer Other Benefits
Creating a unique brand can also help a company stand out from the competition. A company can market itself around the brand. Companies can also get trademark rights.
Apple can’t stop someone from referring to a fruit as an apple, but it does have trademarks for the term ‘apple’ for products like computers and watches. Most governmental trademark offices will reject trademark applications for terms that are merely descriptive of the products or services sold. Apple can’t get a trademark for computer as it relates to its computers.
A brandable name can also help when listing your company on sites like Yelp and selling products on Amazon. Yelp does not let you list a business as a domain name; example.com becomes merely ‘example’. Amazon seller names can’t be domain names.
A Few Examples of Brandable Domains
Many common terms can be turned into a brand, and the term doesn’t have to be completely unrelated to company, either. It’s great if the word conjures up a meaning. The Amazon is big, and so is the selection of what Amazon.com sells.
Here are some example domain names that contain common words not directly describing what the business offers.
- Blend.com – No blenders for sale here. Blend is a lending company that combined the words “better lending” to create its brand name.
- Grasshopper.com – This is an example of a company that outgrew its domain name and changed brands. Grasshopper.com started as a virtual business voicemail company under the name GotVMail. As it expanded it needed a new name and a new way to differentiate itself. It selected Grasshopper.com, a safe name that makes you think about something quick and nimble.
- Calm.com – Calm.com is somewhat descriptive but not limiting. Users of its mindfulness app certainly feel calmer. But there are many ways beyond what Calm currently offers that the company can bring calm to your life. Investors recently valued the company at $1 billion.
- Soothe.com – Much like Calm.com, Soothe.com creates a great image of how you’ll feel if you use the companies services—on demand massage therapy.
- Ring.com – Connected products company Ring was originally called Doorbot. That was OK for a company selling internet-connected doorbells. Now it sells lighting, cameras, alarms systems and more. Ring is a relevant word for a doorbell, but it didn’t preclude the company from expanding into other products. Imagine if the company would have called itself Doorbells.com!
This brings up an interesting point: descriptive words in their singular form can also be brandable. Doorbell.com could be used for many purposes (think introductions to jobs, contractors etc.) but doorbells.com is basically limited to selling doorbells.
- Tesla.com – Tesla was the initial brand, but TeslaMotors.com was the domain. That was a problem when the company expanded from cars into battery packs, solar, etc. It spent $11 million to change its name to Tesla.com!
Most of the examples in this post are valuable one-word domain names that cost a lot of money—But brandable domains don’t have to be expensive. They can be more than one word, or even a made-up word.
Consider a type of flower. An animal. A nursery rhyme character.
There are actually marketplaces dedicated solely to selling brandable domain names. The biggest is called BrandBucket. (BrandBucket lets people buy and sell domain names, but you can still keep your domains at Namecheap if you use their service.) Take a look at the site to get an idea for what a brandable name can be.
Right now you’ll find Vigoli.com on BrandBucket. That conjures up the image “vigorous”. Pateno.com suggests something related to patents but could be about innovation or legal services.
PixelCrisp.com and CenterCanvas.com are brandable names that would be good for a web designer or photography business.
Even more specific domains can have an element of branding that doesn’t pigeon hole a company. FoodBloom.com is ideal for food, but it has a generic and good connotation that doesn’t limit a business to selling one type of food.
What’s Right for You?
Brandable domain names aren’t right for every business. Many businesses do just fine—and even flourish—with a descriptive domain name. I’ve personally used descriptive domain names for many websites.
Think about your long-term plans and how they might change. Then think about if a brandable or descriptive domain is best for you.