I once worked for a company that had acquired hundreds of very targeted product-specific domain names. URLs like Elliptical-Machine-Superstore.com or Espresso-Machines-Direct.com. For each of these domains, the company built a product-specific store, usually with a tagline at the top that said something like “We’re the leaders in [Insert Name of Product].” The theory behind this massive domain-name strategy was that consumers would naturally assume that a company with the name of the product in its URL was likely a category leader and therefore a good place from which to purchase.

The same theory is often the justification for the huge sums paid for ‘premium domains’ like insure.com ($16 million) and sex.com ($12 million). Surely the combination of positive consumer perception and great SEO results is the ticket to massive profitability, right? Well, from what I can tell, the answer is surprising: in most cases, your domain name is at best a neutral influence on your success and a worst a detriment.

Here’s a thought exercise to prove my point that domains names generally don’t drive business success. First, let’s look at the top 10 most popular Web sites in the US. According to Alexa, these are:

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. YouTube
  4. Yahoo
  5. Amazon
  6. Wikipedia
  7. Twitter
  8. eBay
  9. Blogger
  10. Craigslist

What do all of these names have in common? All of them, with the possible exception of Blogger.com, are totally meaningless domain names that have little to do with the actual product or service being sold. “eBay” is, I think, a reference to “The East Bay”; Amazon should really be selling trips to Brazil; Google is a misspelling of a mathematical concept; Yahoo is either a reference to a character from Gulliver’s Travels or an acronym, depending on who you ask. The bottom line is this: the most successful companies online typically do not have intuitive domain names.

Success online comes from great service, great products, savvy marketing, and a little bit of luck. So does this mean that domain names don’t matter? Of course not; indeed, the wrong domain name can spell disaster for your business. Here are a few truisms I’ve picked up over the years when it comes to domains:

1. Don’t buy a name that can be easily misspelled or misheard. While it might seem clever to buy a URL like KhrazeeTshirtz.com, no one will remember how to get to your site.

2. Avoid domains that might end up limiting the growth of your business. Had Amazon chosen Books.com as their domain, they might not have been successful selling the millions of non-book products they sell today.

3. Try to get a dot com instead of a dot net or dot biz. Most web users are used to going to .coms and will likely enter your domain name as such

4. Don’t be afraid to change names. My agency initially started as AffiliatePPC.com, then switched to PPCAdBuying.com before eventually settling (for now) on PPCAssociates.com. Listen to feedback from friends and co-workers – if your domain doesn’t really reflect the nature of your business or Web site, change it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a domain expert (shameless plug: I will, however, be speaking at DOMAINfest next year, so come see me talk about PPC . . .), but I’ve had my share of million-dollar dreams regarding domain names I’ve purchased (the best ones were, drumroll: ejewz.com, backstreetboyssuck.com, and freetrial.pro). Pick a domain name you love; just don’t expect to rocket to the top of your industry as a result of your choice.

David Rodnitzky, CEO
– Questions? Comments? Email us at blog at ppcassociates dot com.

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.