Hold your horses on assembling keywords into a domain name and looking it up for availability. We will eventually get there anyway. For non-marketers, I have developed an actionable guide on how to invent a working and livelong brand name for an eCommerce business featuring tools and techniques. If you’re seeking out a working eCommerce brand name, follow the steps below.
- Collect all the building blocks for your brand name
- Differentiate from competitors
- Select and combine
- Run brandability audit
- Check for availability
- Rehash and recycle, or go back to the drawing board
- Get a tagline
For a start, all you need is a clean slate – а free mind and a blank sheet.
1. Trust Your Gut: Brainstorm Unrestricted
Put down the first few words that spring to mind. Write down everything: words, non-words, phrases, character sequences, or syllables that just sound good to you. Meaningful or meaningless.
Zynga was named after the founder’s beloved bulldog. Apple made sense to Steve Jobs: “It sounded fun, spirited, and not too intimidating.” At this stage, it only needs to resonate with you.
Self-censorship like, “this is too long” or “this is surely taken” or “doesn’t look like an eCommerce brand name”, gets in the way of the stream of consciousness. Have fun for 40 minutes – this is the only time throughout the whole process when you face no restrictions. Have them written down and come back to this list later.
2. Differentiate From Your Competition
List competitors’ names and try to figure out what they convey. It’s a valuable exercise especially if you have missed out on your brand’s market positioning and got ahead of yourself by jumping straight to naming.
Look into their approach to branding to see how you can stand out. If most of them are keyword-heavy, take the other street and go with an unrelated name. If your main competitor goes by its founder’s name – differentiate by exploring evocative names.
Conversely, when your newcomer brand echoes the industry’s leading name, it might be beneficial to your trajectory in a crowded market. If you want to compete with Apple, be Orange. ‘Second best’ is a completely legitimate positioning strategy to eliminate the competitors standing between you and Number 1 on the market. A smart approach to naming can help climb the ladder faster.
3. Employ a Bit of Structure to Your Longlist
Get practical. Brand names broadly fall into two main types:
- Descriptive. Describing what the company does or sell, or by whom – Booking.com, OurHarvest, Dell.
- Abstract. Evocative, out-of-context, made-up, completely random – Sprint, Apple, Verizon, Zalando.
These two intermix in at least 10 different categories for a good reason: most words with meaning happen to be non-trademarkable, copyrighted, or registered as domain names.
This is why you need to collect more distinctive building blocks for your brand name.
Try to come up with descriptive names, abstract names and anything in between.
Dig deeper. A brand name reflects your brand personality, resonates with the consumers and differentiate from competitors. To get there, list terms that evoke a powerful image.
What is your brand personality?
Is it bold or cute or wise? Bold brand personalities happen to bear the name of the goddess of Victory, call to Just do it, be promoted by winning athletes, to speak confidently…
List all words, phrases, persons, animals and other avatars that represent your brand personality. If it were a person, what type of a person? Bold as Delivery Hero or friendly as FoodPanda?
Push the emotional button, think beyond the matter-of-fact kidsshoes.com. Can you come up with something related to shoes but evoking a positive emotion? Like ‘Happy Little Feet’ – positive, juvenile, and cute.
How do your customers benefit from your products?
Is it comfort they seek or affordability or swiftness? If it’s speed, what evokes speed? Wind, quick animals, wind-blown hair; a bullet, a rocket, verbs like rush, sprint; phrases like ‘in the nick of time’, etc.
Meal delivery services thrive on our reluctance to cook. SkipTheDishes clearly identified a consumer benefit to translate it into a call-to-action phrase that produced a distinctive brand.
What does your differentiator associate best with?
You probably offer something your competition doesn’t. Think of an image, a fictional character, an anecdote, or words that relate to your company’s competitive advantage.
If your differentiator is a customizable product, start with the obvious tailor-made, build-your-own, then move to concierge, express yourself – any analogy or metaphor you can think of that makes sense to your customers.
4. Select and Combine
- Single out those who can work on their own, both descriptive and abstract.
- Assemble blocks into powerful combinations.
Get them on a spreadsheet, we’d have to run them through a brandability checklist: are they brand-worthy?
5. Brand-Audit Your Longlist
You may ask why not run all suggestions through the availability check, what’s the point in a brandability audit if a name is unavailable?
Chances are you may stumble at the first hurdle: your top of the list name returns ‘taken’. When browsing close alternatives you still have to keep brandability criteria in mind. You don’t want to be swimming in circles, do you? From experience: having enough building blocks produce the best names even if you have to tweak, chop and change them later.
Does it feel like a brand name?
A brand name is unique. Avoid full or partial match to another operation’s name, or resemblance to trademarks in the same or related industries. Not only is it bad for brand recognition – this could end up in court. If in doubt, hire a lawyer.
Is it memorable? Is it easy to pronounce, unambiguous in typing?
Watch out for unfortunate character sequences in your name that impede readability and pronunciation or make it ambiguous. Kidsexchange went viral for all the wrong reasons.
Is it short enough?
The shorter, the better – a name of 2 to 9 characters works a charm, but don’t get too hard on your favorite entries if they are long. Comparethemarkets.com contains a whopping 17 characters, 5 syllables for an eCommerce business, and still kills it in their niche! Long names also work fine provided they have unambiguous meaning and are easy to recall. Over 20 characters though, would make it impractical and look spammy. Keep abstract, non-concrete stuff under 12 characters.
Guilty of keyword stuffing?
Search engines deprioritized keyword-heavy root domains. You can still benefit from a keyword or two in your brand name but subtlety is key here. A sequence of search terms doesn’t make it a brand. With Google’s efforts to level the playing field for brands, keywords strings are not as influential as they used to be.
Does it hint at what you do or sell?
When it does it’s better for brand recognition, and memorability. Just remember, outstanding beats informative in the long-run. Gumtree and Zillow do not shout ‘classifieds’ or ‘rents’, do they? A subtle hint to your products or industry makes for a classy brand name.
Is your name bigger than your product?
Where do you see yourself 5 years from nows? Job interviews are probably behind you if you’re reading this page. Yet, how big are your ambitions both in terms of a product offering and its geography?
- Your business specializes in children’s shoes but one day might seize the opportunity to expand to apparel and toys, or start offering shoes to adults.
- Austin Florists may be a great name for a local flower delivery business but how relevant is it after setting foot in Houston or for marketing in neighboring Oklahoma?
Consider possible verticals and horizontals and think of names that allow for business expansion and product extensions. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos showed ambition by naming the world’s largest bookshop after the world’s largest river:
“There’s nothing about our model that can’t be copied over time. But you know, McDonald’s got copied. And it’s still built a huge, multibillion-dollar company. A lot of it comes down to the brand name. Brand names are more important online than they are in the physical world.”
It certainly worked for him as today Amazon sells everything. Had he picked bookmall.com (Bezos did register this one) his business might have remained a bookstore. Your brand name should not serve as a straight jacket to your growth strategy.
6. Availability Check
Now that you have a brandability vetted shortlist open a couple of tabs in your browser.
- Check domain availability at LeanDomainSearch. It lists a lot of suggestions, structured in categories, and vetted for availability.
- Trademark research. Knowem shows a long list of available extensions and looks up the US copyright status of your desired brand name. Have the EU patent office search page open in another tab.
- Social media availability. Both Namechk and Knowem return availability with social media usernames and profiles – something to consider when your marketing strategy heavily relies on social media presence.
- Google it. See for yourself how the name chosen is being used on the internet. Too popular, too authoritative, loaded with negative connotations – these are all red flags.
Have a clear stance on a TLD
Running an eCommerce business you would probably want a .com top-level domain.
Half of all registered websites belong to .com for a reason. While Google insists its algorithm does not show preference to .com as opposed to any other generic TLD, people certainly have a trust bias toward .com.
- It’s okay to explore options beyond .com, .net, .co. Joes.pizza might be preferable to the far-fetched joespizzaonlinedelivery.com. Coffee.club, for instance, tops its category. Be wary of those gTLDs like .xyz or .ws that have long been abused with spammy behavior.
- Picking a .org is in bad taste for a commercial operation unless proceeds indeed go to charity or your organization is a co-op.
- Country-code top-level domains (ccTLD) help cut through the clutter if your target market is country-specific and you don’t plan to go global. When focused on the DACH region, it makes sense to buy identical domains in .de, .at, and .ch.
Go for .com if available. Failing that, get creative with other TLDs – just steer clear of compromised extensions.
7. Back to the Drawing Board Tools and Techniques.
So, eBay is already taken? Suggestions didn’t make sense and you don’t want to compromise with subpar alternatives. Look at your very first ideas afresh. Go back to your longlist of building blocks and rerun the process with these approaches in mind:
Add prefix/suffix to modify
Shopify, Spotify, OkCupid are successful companies. A word of caution: trendy naming conventions may get you out of jail availability-wise, but they also get out of style pretty quickly. Remember the Napster–Friendster trend? So very noughties.
Pinterest (pin + interest), Yelp (yellow pages + help), Microsoft. Portmanto is a legitimate approach to create a new word. Be very careful with it. Results most often are cringeworthy. Make sure to test it with real people to check if they get it.
This is how Flickr, Tumblr, Toggl, Reddit were born. What they make up for in brevity, matching the pronunciation with typing is somewhat problematic. Nowadays it has become a naming convention in its own right. Just don’t overdo it: change a letter, drop a vowel, add a letter. Gousto added one. Ocado dropped two. Zomato made ‘tomato’ unrecognizable by changing a letter. Just remember, kidz, old-school funky spelling is, well, outdated.
Explore foreign languages for inspiration
Load some related or relatable terms into Google Translate and you would tap into a wealth of words meaning nothing in your native tongue but making great brands. Zappos (formerly uninspiring and descriptive ShoeSite.com) was derived from zapatos – the Spanish word for shoes. To save time, try Translatr – although outdated, it translates an English word into 90+ languages with a single click.
Go for the daft stuff
When entirely desperate, take to the name generators like Worldlab or Shopify’s generator. Mind you, those are profoundly futile for sensible naming. There’s a half-chance though you may stumble upon a really daft suggestion that could ring a bell for a new direction. Keep expectations as low as possible – generators are your last resort.
Barreled names impede word of mouth (“I got those on kids-shoes-with-a-dash-dot-com”), and remind one of spam merchant techniques that both people and search engines are wary of. One hyphen might be bearable – two or more spell trouble. Why risk it to be seen as spammy-hoaxer-fake-news-peddler?
Beware of numbers
Digits can be confused with words and vice versa. Shoes4kids or Shoesforkids, which one was it? There’s nothing wrong with 247 or 101 as those may be your differentiator in your niche. Bet365 or Forever25 are doing alright, to put it mildly, but these numbers actually mean something and people are too lazy to type words. Never substitute a letter with a digit l33t-style just to get a domain name. Unless, of course, your business is cracked software and spam lists, you animal.
Part ways with rhyming names
Science says they are remembered better. True, but that’s mostly irrelevant unless you sell easy-busy cutesy-tootsy stuff like children’s or pet products. The reason why you can’t think of many big e-commerce players with a rhyming name (see, those were supposed to be memorable) is that rhyming implies something childish, very small, or very local, i.e. small-time. GrubHub proves to be an outlier name with its own inherent limitations. Normally, an eCommerce brand is doomed to remain small when it projects itself into the world as such.
Alternate with alliterations
Where rhyming fails, alliterations prove successful. Humans are conditioned to fall for the harmony of two words starting with the same sound. Marylin Monroe and Bridgit Bardot, Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, HoneyHub and LifeLock. You can’t go wrong if you trust your ears.
- Review with customers. What does your demographic make out of your brand name? Do their first associations do your eCommerce business any favors?
- Perform a survey online with a larger panel of users. Just make sure you have your names registered – in case someone is too clever to hijack the brand name you put so much effort into.
- Remember to translate your name into other languages to safeguard for inappropriate or offensive meaning on your target market.
9. Get a Great Tagline
Now is your time to finally get descriptive. Or creative, in case you’ve been keyword-happy with your brand’s name.
Earth’s biggest bookstore was Amazon’s first tagline, indicative of the company’s ambition to lead. Also, it made it clear that Bezos’ business was not rainforests but books. If you went with an abstract, out-of-context name, that’s where you nail the purpose of your brand.
- BuzzSumo: Find the most shared content and key influencers
- Nokia: Connecting people
- Dollar Shave Club: Shave time. Shave money.
- Headspace: Treat Your Head Right
See a common pattern between those? As with brand names, a tagline captures your purpose, reflects your brand personality, and resonates with the consumers.
Wrapping it up
Choosing a name for your eCommerce business may prove to be a painstaking process or a quick strike of genius. Even if you prefer to rearrange some of the steps to better fit your personality, remember you’re creating a brand, not just a root domain name.
A brand is what you make of it. Standing out, authenticity and determination beat made-up branding conventions any day of the week.