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Sometimes I think a big reason people have babies is because naming them is so much fun. Looking back at old family names. Picking up a book of the 1,000 most popular names in the supermarket checkout line. Making sure the initials don't spell out an embarrassing 3-letter word like DUD or YUK.

So why isn't naming your Web site just as much fun as naming a newborn? Why is finding the perfect domain name today more like having a baby than naming a baby?

"lt's a clear case of overpopulation. Network Solutions, the domain name registration service associated with the National Science Foundation, points out there are now more than 6 million Web site domains compared to just 177,000 in 1995.

"The good domain names that are short and memorable are worth their weight in diamonds," says John Osthus, interactive strategist at Osborn & Barr/Snyder Group, a technology and e-commerce planning firm that recently formed through a partnership between The Snyder Group and Osborn & Barr Communications. "Most of the words in the Webster dictionary are already taken."

That's no exaggeration either. In January, "" was auctioned off by for $3 million. It's such big business that launched a multi-city media tour in advance of the auction to increase awareness among potential bidders.

Sheree Johnson, executive vice president and director of media services at NKH&W, says, "Except for domain names tied to a company name, 80 percent to 90 percent of the good names are already taken."

When NKH&W is brainstorming names for a new Web site, they hook up a lap-top computer and check availability on the spot. They reason that most good names are already taken, and it does no good to charge ahead on a creative approach only to find out later that the name was not available.

"We just went through a naming exercise in which we developed 180 names," says Brad Lang, vice president and account group director at NKH&W. "Only 12 were available and of those 12, only four actually told a story."

Telling a story is one of the objectives NKH&W pursues when choosing a name. Lang uses "RayBan" as an example of a name that tells a story. "They ban rays," he says. The second NKH&W objective is for the name to make a promise. In essence, telegraph a benefit.

In talking to companies and agencies about name selection, it's obvious they believe strategy is as important as how the name rolls off the tongue or scrolls down the page. The word "strategist," as you may have noted, is even in Osthus' title.

"When the name is bought or registered, and before the campaigns to build awareness and site traffic begin, there are two critical factors that need to be considered," Osthus says. "What is the strategy for the dot-com? And what are the revenue models that will make that strategy successful?"

"Making a dot-com stand out is no different than any other product," Lang says. "You want to make it easy for the prospect to pay attention, then remember, and that makes the right name important."

"You want your name to be intuitive from a user standpoint because so many users try to bypass the search engine," Johnson says. "They'll try to guess at your address before using a search engine."

Here are a few ideas on how to find your winning URL.


1. Leverage a brand.

If you can leverage an existing brand name, itís faster and cheaper than starting from scratch.

2. Try combo names.

If every good word in the dictionary has been taken, then start looking for combination words. did.

3. Make up a name.

Osthus calls this the Xerox school of naming. Make something up and go with it. However, Lang cautions that nonsense names don't work if you don't have the dollars to support them.

4. Buy a name.

If you find a good name that somebody else is using or owns, buying it is a possibility. Not all names cost $3 million. has a Bargain Showcase in the $500 to $1,000 range.

5. Turn a negative into a positive.

The site for Dimension Crabgrass Preventer is named If you have a crabgrass problem, that's where you're likely to look.


This is AM

Paul Welsh is a freelance copywriter and marketing communications consultant based in Leawood, Kan.

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