Tuesday 4th August, 2020

What’s in a (domain) name?

Choosing your domain name for your project can be a tricky business

No matter what your project, business, or idea for world domination, it’s likely that at least some element of it is going to exist online, whether it’s a basic website for promotional purposes, or your entire enterprise.

Often a domain name is an afterthought. We’re going to give you some reasons why you should be thinking about your domain name from the very beginning of your project.

Sometimes it’s straightforward. If you already have a name for your business, project or app, and the domain name you want is available, then go for it. The worst that can happen here is probably an unfortunate combination of words that create an unexpected meaning. I can thoroughly recommend a quick Google search for bad domain names which brings up such excellent examples as dicksonweb.com (Dickson Web) and penisland.net (Pen Island).  I’m not obsessed with penises (honestly!): they were just the funniest examples.

One of the questions we ask our clients in our initial meeting is “Do you have a domain name yet?” If not, we normally offer some guidance. Recently we’ve had to go through this process ourselves, so here’s a walkthrough of how we decided on a name for one of our latest bits of tech wizardry. 

Case Study: A new name for a new way of teaching

Poli is a brand new, interactive, education platform for teaching creative arts in the classroom. It’s a collaboration with Bombastic and an application we created entirely from scratch. It’s fun, engaging, interactive, and educational – and we needed a name to reflect this. So we had to consider the name from both a branding perspective (does it reflect the brand image?) and also from a domain name point of view (does it make sense as a URL?)

So how did we end up with the name Poli in the first place? We had a pool of names that we liked, and a lot of them got eliminated (for some of the reasons we will go into).  Meaning-wise, we liked the idea of a chatty parrot (Polly) helping out with a lesson. Poli (when spelled Poly) means multi. The platform is designed to be used by multiple users simultaneously, with an interface that updates on different screens in real time. Poli was a good fit. 

For us it was also important that the name wasn’t tied to English. This might not be important to everyone, but the platform will be used in Welsh schools, and potentially, internationally. We needed something that didn’t sound weird when pronounced in Welsh, and didn’t mean anything rude in another language. There are websites that can help you with this, like naming-tools.com.

We wanted something that was simple and short. Apart from the obvious reason that a short domain name is easier for everyone to remember or type into their browser or search bar, a significant proportion of our users are young children, so reallyamazingonlineeducationwebinterface.co.uk wasn’t ideal – the shorter and snappier the better.

We needed something that wouldn’t be strongly contested in terms of other/similar domains. If Poli was a super popular brand of crisps in the US, that’s what’s going to be top of the search rankings. Not a huge problem if you know what you’re looking for (unless the other company’s legal team is anything like Hugo Boss’). but if there’s an online educational tool with the same name, that puts us in a pickle. 

Once we’d settled on Poli, next came the (extremely annoying) domain name availability check to shoot down all our favourite options.

Although we found no other companies or brands called Poli, the domain names poli.com and poli.co.uk were already taken. A search online seemed to indicate that no one else is actively using them. Maybe whoever owned them had plans to use them one day, or maybe they were hoping to sell them. There’s a whole industry where people buy up domain names with the hope of making a profit. Apparently carinsurance.com sold for $49,700,000! Proper Design might be a ruthless billionaire megacorp but we ain’t paying 50 million bucks for some letters.

Sometimes you can have the domain name you want, but not the suffix or TLD (Top Level Domain) in tech speak. So poli.com wasn’t available, but we could have poli.ninja, or poli.cymru. There are a huge range of suffixes now available. The suffix .com is often considered the gold standard – seen as official, genuine, or original, but in a lot of cases it’s difficult to get hold of – either in use or expensive. So if your preferred suffix isn’t available, what are the options?

  • You can purchase the domain off the ‘squatter’ who bought a load of random domain names with the hope of selling them back to the people who might need them one day
  • You could play with  what’s called the ‘hostname’ – the bit before .com, .co.uk etc. Something that describes what it is or does. So meetpoli, playpoli or polischool might be available with that coveted .com suffix. 
  • You could use a cleverly chosen suffix to make a whole word or phrase (sometimes called a domain hack). An incredibly cool example of this is Properdesign.rs. 
  • You could add a hyphen in there somewhere (there’s no way Marc would have agreed to this so we didn’t even consider it).

So where did we end up? After a few polite(ish) in-house debates, and some interesting discoveries (did you know Gopoli is a town in the Ukraine?) here are some of the available  domains that we shortlisted:

  • okpoli.app
  • getpoli.app
  • mypoli.app
  • joinpoli.app
  • poli.zone
  • learnpoli.com
  • learnpoli.app
  • poli.run

What did we go with? Well you can find out here. Are we happy with it? We’re not sure. Could you do better? Have a go. Domain names can always be changed, and this project is still in Beta. We’re open to suggestions. You can check out available domain names on. https://www.uk2.net/domain-names/  Leave your name suggestions, or any other comments on our Facebook page. (But don’t even think about trying to sell them to us for $50,000,000)