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Dean Marsden

Domain Name Branding: Is It Worth It?

16th Oct 2012 Brand | 2 Comments


Domain names as brands?Today, more than ever, branding is a huge factor in marketing your business. Traditionally a brand is described as a method of differentiating between similar products or services. According to every search engine’s favourite resource, Wikipedia, the first graphic use of a brand was a watermark on papers in Italy back in the 1200s.

These days a brand can be an identity, a slogan (or catchphrase), a colour, a shape, a scent, a taste or even a movement. Whether these are trademarked or not, we are used to associating brands with everything we do. Even cleaning products have a highly competitive brand presence.

So branding has existed for hundreds of years and when the dot com bubble grew and grew in the 90’s, we saw a new wave of pixelated brands emerging: Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, etc.

Old Search Engine logos

These obscure words were part of the success of the brand recognition of these online services. People were intrigued by them and they were passed around via word of mouth, after all these were the days you couldn’t Google for Google and bookmarks were written down on paper when you needed to access your favourite websites on different machines.

Web 2.0

Since then online brands have been as damaging to the English language as ‘Wassup': “what no ‘e’ in Flickr?”. We’ve all checked out those web 2.0 name generators at some point and thought it was a good idea to buy something like zlio.com. In some ways, the limited availability of standard English domain names was to blame for these crazy word creations.

One way or the other, many of these new ‘web 2.0’ brands took off; however many more failed. Their purpose? To provoke questions and attract new brand mentions and recognition, even if they were hard to spell.

Only the very biggest, like Google and Amazon, made it to the top most recognised brands in the world today.  With so many new brands appearing online each week, what option is there for those companies who have a generic name to gain a following without having to become a household name? One method I’ve been seeing more and more of lately is using ‘.com’ (or a localised extension) as part of the brand name.  It’s not only new brands adopting this tactic but also some well established offline brands using it for its marketing material.

The words ‘dot com’ have become almost as famous as website brands themselves. It’s usual to see a brand and then the website address below. What happens when you join the dot com to your complete brand identity? You get a more powerful and catchy brand name that also serves a purpose.

According to the Daily Mail, out of the top 100 brands today, only one, amazon.com, has a dot com as part of their primary branding. Smaller brands are the main organisations utilising their domain name to help give a head start on attracting increased custom via their brand.

Lets take a look at the pros and cons of deciding to use dot com as part of your brand name:

Pros

  • The obvious one: Free advertising and promotion!
    You are giving consumers a method of finding out more about you without them trying to find your website first. You’ve already provided a web address and branding in one. Wherever you advertise your brand, most people will understand how they can find out more about you.
  • Capturing more direct and search engine traffic
    By knowing your domain name beforehand, customers won’t get lost on other SEO and PPC results in the search engines, which can also increase your chances of appearing at the top of the search results. Users may also be less reliant on a search engine and know to type your domain straight into the address bar in their browsers, a direct visit.
  • Increased return visits
    As customers visit your site or are exposed to your brand more and more, the chances of them searching for your product or service becomes less. You can become synonymous with a product or service. When was the last time you searched for ‘online auction website’? You just go to eBay.com, right?
  • Peer to peer referrals
    Gives greater information to whoever shares your brand. Instead of people trying to find your brand online they remember the domain and head straight for you.  “Where did you get your car insurance deal from John?”, “I got it through Confused.com”. Not just ‘Confused’.
  • Expanding on your brand
    Although we pointed out that you can attract more visitors to your site, sometimes it’s just useful for them to learn more about what the brand does when the name of the brand doesn’t represent it’s industry or service directly. Who knew what Amazon.com was before you worked out they sold books?

Cons

  • Limiting your audience
    Despite the internet being a huge part of daily life, some people may be unlikely to understand the significance of dot com on your brand name and think they have to be some sort of techno-genius to be able to use your services.
  • Less brand searching
    As we pointed out in the Pros section, you can help reduce people getting sidetracked in search engines, but there is a disadvantage of reducing the number of ‘Googles’ for your brand: You may not become recognised as a brand as quickly by Google and therefore not be able to take advantage of the recent weight given to brands in the search results.
  • Change of domain
    Although dot com should be around for the long run, there may be an alternative domain extension that has more value for your business in future or you may be forced to use a localised domain and give up the .com for one reason or another. This would involve having to complete an expensive rebrand.
  • Expiry of domain
    It happens to the greatest of brands, one forgetful payment and you may let your all-important web address expire, allowing anyone else to grab it. This would result in having to get a new domain and embark on a rebranding exercise.

Examples

I’ve picked out some brands using their domain extension in the branding to illustrate some way they are designed and how are they read.

Brand logos with domain names

The future

Something to consider for the future is the way domain extensions are currently being created by ICANN. In recent months we’ve seen a range of new implementations and proposals by ICANN which could change the way everyone uses the web in future.

The biggest change is the availability of brand names as extensions, such as .amazon, .pepsi or .tesco. Many in the internet industry have not accepted the move as a positive one, because it adds more complication to the domain extensions available and is priced too highly for smaller brands. There are a variety of ways that brands could use their own brand domain extension to good effect, but are users really going to understand yet another domain extension? Only time will tell..

In my opinion dot com has become so famous in its own right that any other extension doesn’t and probably never will be as recognisable by web users. When the last time was someone mentioned a brand that had .net in its extension? If you’re in the UK, I believe  dot co dot uk has a certain familiarity with many users, but nowhere near as many as dot com. If you are planning on using your domain as your main brand then stick with dot com where possible.

You could always have the best of both and target each market with either just the brand or the domain name branding. This works well for many existing large brands.

Leave your thoughts or examples of any other brands using domain name branding in the comments below, I’d love to hear them!

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About the author

Dean Marsden

Dean Marsden will be keeping you up to speed with video marketing and conversion rate optimisation. Dean excels at delivering video marketing solutions for clients and specialises in converting website visitors into customers.

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