Naming Things is Hard
I start a lot of projects, and while some I actually “finish”, the majority get dropped. Why not finish them all? Typically after a few hours of due diligence, I find a market I don’t want to compete in, a market that doesn’t (or won’t exist), or find the technical solution is out of my skill set.
Let’s bring this back to naming. With so much activity, I no longer invest effort in naming nascent projects that in all likelihood won’t see the light of day. If I thought out a semi-plausible name and the project does stick around then I end up anchoring on the name. Code, copy, and other items refer to this. Then when it comes time to make this identity stick, I run into the age old namespace problem – all the .coms are taken!
My solution to this is to start off each new project with a generic code name. I started my list with “Alpha” and continue iterating through the NATO phonetic alphabet with each new effort.
What ultimately became Calenzen started life off as “Project Lima”. Graduating from Lima to Calenzen was quite a journey. It was more than technical and more than qualifying the market. I invested a lot in the name itself. After all, I’ve learned quite a few lessons from other ventures and there’s no way I’m going to repeat those mistakes!
What follows is a quick review of my thought process and the actual strategy I’ve used to name Calenzen.
Looking Back – My Success Using a Generic Name
The venture that eventually became Email-Format.com took mere minutes to name.
What is the purpose of the site? To define and share the different standard formats every company uses for their employee email addresses. Consider a few common examples:
I started the project because I wanted to follow up with someone that I didn’t get a business card from. I needed to find the format for his email address. Given my contact’s name, all I needed to find her email address should have been the standard format used by the company. Seems simple – and it was! So why not build a project to make this available for everyone?
I started this email address format venture with a quick .com search and found that while emailformat.com was taken, email-format.com was available. I quickly registered the .com and have had a ton of success. And while I’ll say that I never checked nor reserved any related social names (eg., Twitter), even now I have no regrets since that doesn’t seem like a high value outlet for the venture.
Over 80% of all traffic to the site is directly referred by organic search engine results. Now while I know Google and the other major search engines no longer give SEO credit to keywords within the domain, there’s more to it.
I think visitors continue to use the domain name itself as a piece of metadata to better gauge how well the link aligns to their search intent. In all likelihood, this behavior won’t continue to hold out for long. There are so many sites that use this strategy, but clicking on their links ultimately leads to nothing but an ad-filled landing page with no valuable content. If you review the industry trends, you’ll see that I’m not alone in becoming weary of clicking on many search result links.
It turns out that almost no visitors to my email-format.com site are literally searching to reach my specific site. What I do have to my advantage is the power of long tail content. The site contains tens of millions of pages – one for each domain actively tracked with high value data. So given a typical search like “example.com email format,” my site nearly always ranks as the number one search result in an otherwise very short list.
For a mere $9 investment, email-format.com brings all the visitors the venture needs for success. But can I repeat it in another space?
Still Looking Back – My Failure Using a Generic Name
Years after email-format.com, it was once again time to bring a new idea out of incubation – this time known as “Project Delta.” I started the old search process once again and ultimately landed on Appointment.one.
What is the purpose of this Appointment.one? To simplify scheduling meetings. By making your calendar available and allowing single click appointment scheduling, it took the friction out of aligning meetings by eliminating all the email- and phone-tag.
The name seemed ideal. Every customer gets their own personal URL they can direct colleagues to (e.g. appointment.one/keith). This has worked quite well, since just one look at the link makes it immediately clear what will happen when you click on it.
The problem lies in the different customer profile. Rather than profiting from the effect of long tail search results like with email-format.com, this venture relies heavily on name recognition and a viral affect to encourage new customer acquisition.
The cost of customer acquisition is sufficiently high that much of my economic model was pinned on new customers discovering the service through positive interactions with existing customers. Consider a scenario where you are scheduling a meeting with me – this is your initial introduction to Appointment.one. But after using the tool just once or twice, you decide it makes sense to share your calendar through Appointment.one too. This is the start of the flywheel effect that drives most adoption.
Unfortunately, with such a generic name, search results and name recognition are a challenge:
And where results do show, using a non-standard top-level domain (in this case .one) often leads to some initial confusion. I’ve heard from a number of customers that the .one domain is totally foreign to them. After learning this, I did register an additional set of domains – appointmentone.com – to lessen this particular leak in my customer funnel.
One final note, I once again did not take the global social namespace into account when selecting the name Appointment.one.
My Ideal Name
So here I am, older and wiser. It turns out that different customer acquisition strategies drive different requirements very early in a venture’s journey. Without the right name, growth may be stunted, or worse.
My analysis showed that “Project Lima” required:
- A unique name rather than a generic name on which to build a brand
- Expected spelling for easier discovery (no dropping vowels or spelling “calendar” with a ‘k’)
- Name that instantly connects with the problem statement
- Clean social namespace
Finding something that meets these four requirements would definitely be challenging.
Before long, I was ready to begin my search. I started with a list of keywords that felt right: dial, meeting, appointment, calendar, location, and others. After adding a few suffixes I was at a good starting point.
Within minutes, I’d run through my initial name list and had zero results. Not a great start. I spent several days brainstorming and searching as I’d iterate through names. Each time I’d attack a stack using different keywords. Despite the ongoing disappointment of not getting a hit, this was a surprisingly good way to solidify my initial marketing strategy – what keywords do I want to be associated with?
The first suite of results all centered on using “dial” as a keyword. At the time I was focussed on changing the dialing experience to make it cleaner, smarter, and easier. The top results from this line of searching included:
- Clean: trimdial.com, tidydial.com, smartdial.co, tidycalendr.com
- Smart: sagedial.com,
- Generic adjective: sweetdial.com, limedial.com
- Other: dializer.io, smartdial.io, dialinator.com
After further consideration, and running the short list past a number of mentors, I nixed the whole lot of them. Besides breaking some of those four primary rules, some comments I took note of included:
Generic adjectives just don’t make sense, also the social namespace for these was unavailable
dializer and dialinator can easily be confused for telemarketing or some other kind of outbound dialing robot
In general, aren’t you trying to do more than just dial?
Back to the drawing board, where the process continued with new keywords, this time focusing on location. The top results this time included:
None of these felt right either. Once again, this venture is about more than just defining the best “location” field in a meeting invitation. Also of note, when “location” is taken in isolation there’s no obvious connection to what we’re doing, which involves a calendar appointment or meeting.
For my third attempt, I was far more abstract and began investigating keywords outside of the English language. Maybe mashing up these two keywords in Latin, Hawaiian, or a number of other languages would be available, have the expected spelling, and still have the easy sound I’d been looking for.
This list was too short and dead ended just like the others.
In frustration, I turned to a final set of keywords, this time exploring calendar. Though the namespace was quite full, I felt it was worth a solid effort in order to surface something viable. That’s where calenzen came from.
- I love the keyword itself – calendar is a spot-on description of the problem scope
- While most of us wouldn’t go so far as to use “zen” in the same sentence as our job, it is the exact opposite of zen that we feel when our iPhone can’t one-touch dial the number and there’s no easy way to connect to that meeting
Theory Meets Reality, the Tools I Used
Throughout the process I took advantage of a number of great tools. That said, I wished individual tools had better coverage so I could take advantage of a more unified process to build on related base words using the target characteristics.
Panabee was my favorite name generation tool out there. It displayed a lot of options by applying a set of rules to the names I provided then checked each for domain availability. I do wish they had additional functionality, such as:
- Favorites button to track a short list of preferred options
- Disable this rule button, to stop suggesting new domain permutations based on a specific rule (e.g. never use the ‘k’ to replace for ‘c’ consonant usage)
- Filter out domains that have already been registered, although at least the site allows sorting by new vs. registered domains with each new search
This name generation and domain checker had the most potential. It includes a number of tunables to define the domains to search for and includes the ability to customize the letter substitution rules when generating alternate names. That said, the results I got from the site typically varied by using uncommon TLDs (top-level domain names) rather than really mixing up the keyword letters.
As I went deeper into my second and third session name search, I finally located this resource. It helped me find a lot of adjectives based on word length and even specific patterns within the word.
I used this to verify social availability for the target domains. The tool doesn’t include any stemming or discovery functionality so it was always used as the final step to qualify or disqualify a name. I found that well over 70% of all available domain names were regrettably already reserved in the common social sites. I did expand my searches by adding additional text, like “goappname” instead of just “appname”.
I purchased the domain and related SSL certificates through Name.com. As I already have a number of easy to use services through them, this was the obvious choice. Their included DNS management and API are top notch. My only concern with them was related to a previous purchase – for Appointment.one – since they were unable to sell into the .one TLD.