What is a brandable domain? In a nutshell, this describes a made-up word or phrase...
First, there are four main categories of names – brandables, exact match domains (EMDs), acronyms and misc.
All types can provide an effective and valuable foundation for a prestige destination on the web. Broadly speaking, good names in all categories are finite in number, their availability is depleting and they are usually expensive to acquire. This is currently even more so for EMDs and acronyms.
So when a significant domain like Snap.com is sold, it will almost certainly never be sold as a domain again (it will only change hands as an integrated digital asset of a company when it itself is sold).
On the other hand, it is still possible to "invent" a new brandable domain and obtain it for registration fee. But even that is getting harder. The low-hanging fruit is gone. Brandables are also depleting, but with creativity, you may be able to defy the tide.
For example, you might be able to think up a name like PurplePineapple.com – but finding a great one that is short and catchy is a formidable challenge.
It should be noted here that the new general top level domains (nGTLDs) also offer low budget options for naming companies, with promising new extensions like .online and .link recently launched. However, the global gold standard will always be the .com extension.
The problem with not having the .com of your name is that it signals weakness. Unless you're so big that your reputation precedes you, a marginal domain suggests you're a marginal company.
Of course, country code names work very effectively within borders, like .ca for Canada for example.
The definitions of these categories are fluid and can overlap. For example, "Apple" is an EMD (for selling apples) but is of course actually used as a brandable to sell technologies. However, Apple.com is not a brandable domain.
Or a word with a real meaning in one language might be used as a brandable in another. "Casa" which means "home" in Spanish could be used as a catchy brandable in English (if only it was affordable). Or an actual word like "Dim" could be used instead as an acronym for a company called Digital Image Media.
To sum up, premium domains in all four categories can provide the blueprint for a million dollar business. The boundaries between the categories can be intangible, but nevertheless valuable to consider.
In the final analysis, in the challenging quest for the perfect domain, cost will be a defining factor for most start-ups.
1. Brandable Domains
A brandable domain is an invented or uncommon "word" or word combo that is memorable, catchy and pronouncable so that the meaning and personality of a brand can be assigned to it. There are two main categories:
1. A made up name (like ZIMMO). This can be comprised of a cool spelling variation of a real word (like LITTEL or Thinkly) or just be short and catchy. The best ones are easy to remember and often sub-consciously evoke something positive, corporate or fun. Or hint at what you do. The famous brand BRILLO is a great example – it radiates an instant impression of brilliance, brightness and prestige.
2. Two words joined together that don't usually go together. (like MIGHTYMORTGAGE or GREENWALRUS). So by definition, HomeMortage is not a brandable domain, but MightyMortgage is. The same principles apply; they should sound "catchy", be memorable, be reasonably short and give a sort of sub-conscious impression of something like happiness, health or success.
Brandables can also be created by adding a "prefix" or "suffix" to a word to create a name. Ideally, this will sound as though it should be in the dictionary, but isn't. Like "brandable" or "interbrand".
A brandable can be so effective that over time it can become like a kind of virtual EMD or virtual word, like "Google" for example.
Brandables have one great advantage – they can typically be trademarked. On the other hand, they may initially have zero natural traffic and search queries, until such time as you have built a significant website in your chosen category. It's worth the time to compare the pros and cons of options like Google.com and Search.com.
“We’re surprised at how many names we can make up that sound like they should be in the dictionary, even if they’re not,” says Athol Foden, founder of Brighter Naming, a corporate naming consultancy. He’s also impressed by how many really good names come out of creative combinations of common nouns and verbs.
“The Bizarre Naming Trends That Modern Startups Follow”
Some Brandable Domain Definitions
Brandable domain names are simple, catchy words or phrases that businesses use to build their online identity around. Most of the time they are made-up words like Zynga, Google, Flickr and Orkut.
Brandable domain names can also be made-up phrases like StumbleUpon, NetVibes, Linkedin and Netflix.
'Brandable' is used to describe a domain name that's been created and registered, but is not yet used to name and brand a company. In other words, they're business names waiting to be adopted by a business. (As far as we can tell, the word brandable came about because nobody knew what else to call them.)
When a domainer is speaking of a ‘Brandable Domain Name’, they’re generally referring to a made-up / invented word that they’ve coined themselves. A popular practice is to morph two simple words together, or tack on an ending to an existing word (e.g. bookpedia.com).
My definition of a brandable: any made up word or non-definite string of words.
(NamePros is the world's number one domain name forum with more than one million members.)
2. Exact Match Domains
This refers to a domain which closely describes your company's product or service. So names like Loans.com or LondonFlowers.co.uk are defined as EMDs. These names are highly effective and command excellent authority in the marketplace. They can also have excellent traction in search. Organic type-in traffic can be massively valuable.
One major drawback is that they may not be future-proof. Suppose you called your company MissouriOil back in 1992, but you are now transitioning to solar farms – the name is now tranforming from a tailwind into a headwind. Another drawback is that trademarking an EMD can be challenging, though it can be possible for a mark to include the ".com" at the end. On the other hand, great EMDs possess the advantage of generating valuable instant traffic. Brandables have to put in the hours and investment to match this.
What Is More Important Than Keywords? Choosing A Brandable Domain
Having a domain name that matches your target keyword(s) does offer some benefits, but there is a bigger factor you should consider: the brandability of the domain.
Your brand is important, and your domain name is the foundation upon which your online brand will be built.
If it is memorable and prestigious, people will use your domain name as the primary way to find and share your company name in search and social. The same illuminating article in Search Engine Journal warns that EMDs are significantly declining in relevance in Google searches, notably since Google's "EMD Update".
Short acronym domains (like ABC or CNN) are also highly effective and prestigious. They are easy to remember and fast to key in. They are the fastest to type on a small screen mobile. Short names are highly trusted – spammers and fraudsters can't afford them and usually operate from cheap, awful and long $10 names which are often not genuine dot coms. The general public now seems to be savvy enough to associate brevity with prestige, authority and authenticity.
Visitors don't even necessarily have to know what the letters represent, the acronym itself can become the brand. (Numbers, which are highly sought after and valuable in China, can be included in this definition, such as 678.com.) Because they are more rare, short numerical names are generally even more valuable than their alphabetical counterparts.
This category is for everything else! For example, aspirational or "call to action" domains are very popular, though they are often used as secondary domains to reinforce the power of a company's main name. For example, a domain like StriveToWin.com or WorldsTastiestBeer.com would be valuable supplementary assets for a sportswear company or a brewer.
Finally, there is not complete agreement among domainers (domain investors) about these definitions, so you may wish to do further research.