In today's world, we are constantly inundated with marketing messages. In his new book "The New Positioning," Jack Trout states that the average person will have seen over 140,000 TV commercials by the time he or she reaches 18 years of age. The Internet is surely no different. It's literally filled with web sites that range from sheer advertisements to others that are sponsored by them. Everywhere we turn, it seems, we are faced with some form of online promotional propaganda.
Our job as consumers has therefore become so immensely challenging that choosing a business from which to buy has become a dizzying process. For an online business to survive and thrive in today's hypercompetitive marketplace, it takes more than mere advertising to make a web site successful (the kind of advertising that says "I'm open for business"). As marketing guru Dan Kennedy once said, "Institutional marketing is high-risk marketing," for the message needs to be repeatedly advertised in order to work -- if it ever does.
Become A Traffic Magnet
Although advertising is the lifeblood of any business, today's marketing message must therefore stand out among the commercial quagmire. And it must also do so in such a way that it creates not only traffic but also a need for its products or services. In other words, a company's advertising message must go from being "in" business to being "the" business of choice. Where people used to ask "Why should I buy this product or service?" today, that question has changed to "Why should I buy this product or service FROM YOUR SITE?"
Simply put, today's consumer will choose one company over another because the perceived value in their choice is greater. However, people are given an increasing multitude of choices on the Internet. Moreover, they no longer have the time to sift through all the information that is thrown at them (let alone the time to shop around for the best product from the best company at the best price). So, how can a company communicate that its web site is "the" site of choice? How can it heighten the perceived value and stand above the competition?
Ellis Verdi, once president of the National Retail Advertisers Council, coined the term "top-of-mind awareness" as the most effectively provocative form of marketing now available. The idea is to create, within the subconscious minds of prospects, a psychological "anchor" that causes people to choose, when a need presents itself, a company over another instantaneously. The goal, therefore, is to market one's site in specific ways so that it stays at the top of their minds at all times.
In other words, since people no longer have the time to shop around, when they do have a certain need they will go to (or search for) the site that happens to be at the top of their minds at that very moment; the one that sticks out the most, especially from all the marketing messages that are so desperately fighting for their attention. Consequently, top-of-mind awareness on the Internet begins with the most important element of web site marketing, which is the domain name itself.
Elements Of A Good Domain Name
First, realize that a "good" domain name that sticks in the mind requires more than simply using a fictitious vanity name. However, it is imperative to note at this point that registered names have the ability to stick in the mind more effectively. Jack Trout once wrote that "The mind hates confusion, complexity, and change." Therefore, simplicity is of colossal importance since long or obscure URLs can be easily forgotten.
For example, rather than having a name with too many words, such as http://www.domain.com/subdomain/yourname/~subfolder or http://names-with-too-many-hyphens.com, you should get a very simple http://www.yourname.com. In fact, more and more companies and commercials are dropping the "www" from their URLs. Most Internet addresses can simply use "yourname.com," which is an even better alternative. In essence, the simpler it is, the better.
The importance of having your own domain name goes without explanation. It is the same as branding your business or product. But there are 3 reasons why you need a good, simple, and memorable domain name. First, there is the mnemonic factor. Instead of going through the inconvenience of numerous search engine results to get exactly what they want, most people will attempt to go to your site directly by guessing your domain name and trying a plausible URL.
Mnemonics are words (or a combination of words) that are easy to remember. A repeatedly visited web site is one whose URL, for example, includes the use of mnemonics. If it sticks in the mind, even if the URL is bookmarked, the site can be easily retrieved and will be visited often. "Yahoo!" http://www.yahoo.com, "HotBot" http://www.hotbot.com, and Time Magazine's "Time" http://www.time.com are perfect examples.
The second element is the credibility factor. People often associate long URLs with free web sites or sites of lesser quality. People have a natural tendency to make what I call UPAs (or unconscious paralleled assumptions). In other words, if people notice that your site is hosted by a free or cheap provider, they will unconsciously assume that a parallel exists (i.e., that your product or service is just as cheap). Your domain name is like the headline of an article, and people will likely judge and visit your site according to its domain name.
Always remember that perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself. And a vanity domain name tends to heighten the perception of the web site's value. As such, the UPA visitors will make with a domain name will often be one in which they conclude that the quality of the web site will be as good as the name implies.
Finally, the third reason is the actual positioning process. If your domain name reflects your site's core benefit and instantly communicates how different you are from others, your URL will be positioned above the competition in the minds of your market. Since this element is the most important, let's deal with it a little further.
Benefit-Based Domain Names
People usually make a buying decision based on the kind of information that instantly communicates a specific benefit; one in which there is an implicit added value in making the purchase. Therefore, does your domain name intrinsically reflect the result or benefit of that which you provide and does so in an instant? It should. I am astounded to see many domain names that are still called by ordinary or blatantly unappealing names, such as with hard-to-spell words, numbers, abbreviations, or acronyms like "www.mgf.com."
Let's take the example of two different web sites that promote similar products: Investments. One's address is "wealthwise.com" while the other "mgf-investments.com." Now, with all things being equal and when placed side-by-side, which site will be the one more likely to be chosen first? In essence, your domain name must be able to attract traffic on its very own. It must also communicate how different and unique you are when compared to competitor sites, even before your site is ever visited.
As mentioned earlier, people would much rather skip the inconvenience of going through numerous search engine results. But if people do have to resort to an engine, their search will be greatly simplified and vastly more efficient if your domain name intrinsically reflects the core benefit if not the nature of your web site. Remember that most searches are conducted by major topics or themes and not by names. Therefore, if your site's most popular keyword or benefit is within the domain name itself, that URL has a greater chance of being listed near the top.
Therefore, play a word association game with your web site. Look for the word or words that would instantly pop up in the minds of people when a need presents itself, a need your site likely fills. For example, http://free-stuff.com, http://www.allergyrelief.com, http://www.morebusiness.com, and http://www.fastcar.com are great benefit-based domain names that effectively create more top-of-mind awareness (and thus more traffic).
Domain Names That Drive Traffic
If the name you want is taken, you can use your company or product's tagline (or part of it) as a domain name. A tagline is that small sentence that follows your business name, such as "You deserve a break today," "Roaches check in but they don't check out," and "It takes a licking but keeps on ticking." Great examples are http://www.alwayscocacola.com (a loyal Coca-Cola fan site), http://www.cavities.com (Crest toothpaste), and, of course, http://www.start.com from Microsoft.
You can also use the site's main theme, feature, or product, even the site's nature or main business activity (i.e., what it does). Ultimately, choose a name that people can remember quickly and effectively so that, when you advertise among a thousand of your competitors, your URL stands out and sticks in the minds of the marketplace.
It is also a good practice to register variations of your name, including different spellings, product names, taglines, and associated words. One of the reasons for this is to ensure that these unused domain names don't end up falling into the hands of competitors. But more important, when people attempt to search for your site and enter a variation of your domain name they will still end up with your site as a result.
It all boils down to the fact that your domain name is a fundamental marketing system in itself. Use it wisely and you'll see more traffic.
Originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles.
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