Making of a Web App: Choose a Name, Part 1

In this, the sixth entry in the Making of a Web App series, we take a look at choosing a name. There are two steps: pick criteria and then pick a name that meets those criteria. In this entry we look at the first step: what makes a good web application name. Key points:

  • Descriptive names are a wasted opportunity to be different and memorable.
  • Emotive names rock.
  • The first choice of name probably will not work, because:
  • you need the .com.
  • A chance to verbally repeat the name to someone is ok.

Everyone will have their own criteria for what makes a good web app name, depending on industry, target audience, and personal preferences. Here are the criteria I used for Synap Software’s sales process app.

A good web application product name is:

  • short
  • available as a .com
  • associative
  • emotive
  • unique
  • not functionally descriptive
  • memorable
  • ok to repeat
  • one that you like and like to say

Let’s look at each of these criteria in more detail.

Short

One or two syllables is best, and three is ok. A shorter name is easier to remember, harder to misspell, and less likely to be mistyped into a web browser.

The WebWare100 is CNET’S “user-generated awards program for Web 2.0 sites and services”. In other words, it’s a popularity contest for web apps. I don’t know if a web application’s name contributes to it’s success, but let’s take a look anyway. Excepting those apps with billion-dollar brand names (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo); most names are two syllables, some are three and very few have more than three.

Available as a .com

There will be times when the application name is given in print or verbally, yet the url is not. Or, if the url is given, people will forget what it was and only remember the product name. Now, in these days of search-based navigation, users will eventually find the application’s url. But why make them go through that step?

Campfire at campfirenow.com and other 37signals apps show that an application can be successful without owning appname.com. But there is no reason to have the url be different than the product name. There is no name good enough to warrant it.

A final note on this topic: .net, .biz, .org are also not recommended because it is the habit of many to simply type or assume .com for the site name.

Associative

Associative means that the name and the application make sense together. The name is not descriptive, yet when taken in context the name makes sense to users. An associative name reinforces the application’s purpose and makes it easier to remember.

Be careful with this one though. Associations differ. For instance, an expensive naming firm picked “landslide” for the name of a sales force application. To them it meant “landslide victory”. To me, living in Colorado, landslides destroy homes, cars, roads, and trails when giant boulders come roaring down the mountainside.

Emotive

Similarly, an emotive name gives a hint as to how users should feel about the application. The name helps set user experience expectations and should match the actual user experience.

Unique

We are in a search-driven world now. People use search for everything, including navigating around the web – even to places they’ve been before and even if they know they url.

I like product names that, when typed into Google, return zero results (prior to your picking the name, of course).

When people search for you online, why have the possibility of your potential customers getting sidetracked by something else. A non-unique name like “Clear View Accounting” leaves searchers sorting through listings for accountants when they search the web for your tax accounting software. A unique name prevents this.

Not Functionally Descriptive

Similarly, a name that describes your applications functions only invites people to happen upon your competition on the way to see you. Also, in using a descriptive name you lose the chance to leverage the other purposes of a good name.

In an earlier article I said competition is a good thing. And it is. Yet there is no reason to make it easy on them. A non-descriptive name means they will not happen upon “Better Accounting” when looking for you at “Best Accounting”.

The product name will rarely be used out of something that gives it descriptive context. Let the context that it came up in be the descriptive component. Use the two or three syllables you have for a name do the work of making the product different and memorable.

Some people like descriptive names as a way to improve search result hits. For example, if I produce accounting software, wouldn’t it be great if Google searches for “accounting software” brought everyone to my product – AccoutingSoftware.com? Well, the truth is:

it doesn’t work that way.

AccountingSoftware.com does not show up in the top 100 results for “accounting software”. Same with “lead management”, “lawn service”, “candy shop” or many other descriptive searches. For most product descriptions, a product named after the category does not show up in the first page of Google results.

Again, drive search traffic to the site by other methods and let the product name do identity work for which it is ideally suited.

Memorable

The most memorable names are short, distintive, and emotive. So a name that meets the other criteria – it turns out – is more likely to be remembered by your target market.

It’s OK to Repeat Yourself

I love to verbally repeat my product names any chance I get. Why not? A name that bears repeating for clarification (not for initial understanding) gives you an excuse to repeat it. Here are two verbal scenarios:

“Visit us at blueday.com. That’s blueday.com”. or,

“Visit us at igetit.com. That’s the letter i, getit.com”.

The second statement gives you a chance to repeat the name without sounding like you are simply drilling it into folks. It also helps people remember the name because they are building a mental image of the word, not just hearing it repeated.

One that you like and like to say

You’ll be repeating the product name all day, every day. So even if a name seems textbook perfect, but you just cringe for some unknown reason when you hear it or say it – then it’s not the right name. It just has to feel right.

Next

Now that we have decided on criteria for a good web application name, let’s find one. Picking a name that meets these criteria is the topic of the next article.

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