Three Naming Rules For SEO Success

Four years ago, I wrote an article for car magazine Top Gear NZ about how cars get named. To research it, I interviewed William Lozito, who was president of a company called Strategic Name Development (bonus points if you can guess what they do). SND had done research on the connotations people have with every letter of the alphabet:

"X and Z are the holy grails of consonants," says William. "They are perceived as innovative, masculine, and complex. Whether they always had that reputation or whether they achieved it through innovative products carrying those letters, I couldn't tell you -- it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

"L, F, W and V, on the other hand, are considered to be feminine letters, which makes sense if you think about it: L for Lady, F for Female, W for Woman..." he trailed off, leaving me to wonder what V could possibly stand for.

With cars, those connotations are critical -- but online, other considerations have become even more important. I'm the chief marketing officer for a virtual world for kids called MiniMonos, and the process we went through to come up with a name is relevant to anyone creating a new online brand.

We were originally going to call the company MonkeyFun: straightforward, self-evident, and as explicit as, well, Strategic Name Development. In what seemed like a setback at the time, but what actually turned out to be a huge positive for us, the owner of refused to sell.

So we tried alternatives. I spent days on GoDaddy checking name availability: MonkeyIsland, FunMonkeys, MonkeyWorld, World'o'Monkeys, MonkeyRama, Monkeylicious... it went on and on. None of the domains we liked were available, and none of the available domains sounded interesting or exciting to us.

I'd love to tell you that an expert like William advised us about MiniMonos, but the truth is we stumbled on it; "MiniMonos" means "Little Monkeys" in Spanish. In one of our hundreds of iterations we gave it a go, it was available, we all liked it, and it stuck.

In retrospect, our choice of name proved to be an unanticipated SEO asset. Here are three lessons we learned about choosing a new brand name in a digital world:

1. Use unique strings. If you run a Google search for "monkey fun," you'll find almost 20 million results, referring to almost as many distinct topics or websites. If you do a search for "minimonos," you'll find us, plus one or two references to speakers (evidently small, or "mini", mono speakers are the opposite of large stereo speakers).

2. Use memorable strings, or own the adjacent landscape. "Google" is an easily memorable string. "Foursquare" is an easily memorable string. "Twitter" is an easily memorable string.

"MiniMonos" probably isn't quite so easy. In addition, we deal with kids, who often struggle to spell normal words. But because our chosen name wasn't close enough to any other name to create confusion, we've also managed to stake our claim on the adjacent search landscape: "mimimomo," "monimini," etc.

3. Make your name phonetic. Really, Nissan? "Qashqai"? What were you thinking? At least Volkswagen had the good grace to build their whole ad campaign over how difficult it was to pronounce "Touareg" (even the guys at Club Touareg had a hard time with it).

Nissan and VW might be big enough companies with big enough marketing budgets that they can introduce a whole new word that doesn't sound anything like it's spelled, but for the rest of us, it's best to stay hooked on phonics.

What have been your experiences coming up with new brand names? Let me know in the comments section or on @kcolbin.

7 comments about "Three Naming Rules For SEO Success ".
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  1. Carole Barrett from Howard Rice et al., July 27, 2010 at 12:03 p.m.

    Thus LEXUS should appeal to both our femine and masculine side! As a branding lawyer, love the monkey in the MiniMonos logo and the green color that reinforces the theme.

  2. Michael david Gold from Goldforest, July 27, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    I love hearing the perspective of business owners on their internal naming processes. And I couldn't agree more that names developed as primarily online properties require a different creative brief than those used for more traditional channels. This is no different from applying different criteria to the design of a logo that will be a store banner, which argues for a horizontal format and a color spec that gives sufficient contrast in a range of lighting conditions.

    We use naming guidelines like those developed by William Lozito, who you quoted, and Frank Delano (author, The Omnipowerful Brand) as a component of all our naming engagements at Goldforest. But the naming landscape has been irreversibly changed since the heyday of "naming gurus" like them, largely by the emergence of the Internet.

    Where coined names like yours (MiniMonos) once were recommended almost exclusively for large entities that could afford to make them known, they have become far more common and, even more importantly, accepted because of their potential for a more personal, "non corporate," and in MiniMonos' case, fun sound. It's not only the searchability aspect you described that helps them succeed, but also the long tail effect in action. Here's to another democratizing effect of the Internet: even if it's for something as seemingly insignificant as the coined name!

  3. Geoff Simon from Simon Search Marketing, July 27, 2010 at 12:40 p.m.

    I can remember a speaker at a conference who was talking about names and what I remember of his points was that for tangible products, things that you can touch, feel, drive for instance work better with abstract names and visually associated with abstract images. On the flipside if your selling something intangible like insurance, for instance, it's best to have a solid concrete sounding name and associate it with an image that is either an animal, person, character of some sort. This sort of rings true and I think about this strategy whenever i see the Geiko commercial with the Gecko. I wonder if there is any merit to this or not. But this article takes it even further, good read and It makes sense on the surface.

  4. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC, July 27, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.

    We chose our name largely because it's more interesting, fun and memorable than something ultra-explicit and because it sounds a little like "savvy" - which is an important equity for a brand that promises smarter marketing, smarter shopping and smarter giving. We also realized that an invented name is inherently easier to protect than a descriptive one, and that was a factor, too.

    One concern with invented names is that creating awareness of the name and awareness of the product are separate tasks. However, with audiences that are accustomed to using search tools I'm not sure that this is as difficult as it used to be. I certainly don't think it should deter marketers from considering invented names.

  5. Eric Broyles from megree, Inc., July 28, 2010 at 5:59 p.m.

    Nice article. We struggled for a long time to come up with a name for our tool which essentially proves six degrees of separation. So we played on "degree" to get "megree"--as in everyone is six degrees from "me."

  6. Alec Campbell, July 29, 2010 at 10:50 a.m.

    Unless you're marketing to a particular niche of spanish-speaking people interested in little monkeys, the name minimonos is not an SEO asset.

    Domain names that are SEO assets are those containing popular keyword terms. Having keyword terms in the domain strongly influences search engine result rankings. However, coming up with a cool, memorable name for your company while also including commonly-used keyword terms is far from easy.

    If acquiring search traffic is essential to your company's success, one strategy to consider for domain name acquisition is to purchase 2 domains - one matching your business name and one that includes the keyword terms most relevant to your business. You make the primary domain the SEO-friendly one and forward your business name domain to it. The strategy has it's downsides - principely, brand confusion.

    - Alec

  7. Sebastian Aroca from Hispanic Market Advisors, August 3, 2010 at 1:27 p.m.

    Interesting article on choosing a new brand name in a digital world. I'd only add that besides using memorable strings, folks should keep in mind (maybe even count) the number of characters of the brand name being chosen so it can serve as "username" across many social network platforms (the shorter the better). For instance, my brand name "Hispanic Market Advisors" was too long for so we had to come up with an alternative @HispanicMarkets

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