What's in a name?

Choosing a witty name for your Web site? Fine, but don't focus on a word that's been used by thousands of others, warns Janet Robson
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When setting up a newsletter about business on the Internet, we thought long and hard about a name and came up with Net Profit - a gentle pun that, we thought, would appeal to the non-technical business types we were after.

What we failed to consider was its suitability from the Web's point of view, and we have been regretting that ever since. Though the newsletter was to be published on paper, we naturally wanted a Web site to help market it. The brother-in-law was engaged to design it, and we paid a specialist company to host the site. Next, we needed a domain name. We quickly discovered that the obvious name, www.netprofit.co.uk, was already taken - as was the more international-sounding www. netprofit.com. So we settled on www.netprofit. co.uk, which we thought would be fine; we hoped to get www.net-profit.com later.

The brother-in-law set up the site, and we registered it with as many search engines as we could, using a special "submitting" site called submitit (www.submit-it.com).

That was when we realised we had not been so clever. Even though we included various hidden "key words" in the submitting forms, the search engines studiously avoided them. The problem was (and is) that "net" and "profit", along with other keywords such as "British", "Internet" and "business" are just too common: a search under those names produces thousands of company reports and little else.

Had we succeeded in grabbing "netprofit", we would probably have been fine: users would naturally have tried this when looking for us. But how many would think to put a hyphen in? In retrospect, we realise we should have included an element to make the name more findable: Net Profit Iguana might have baffled readers, but search engines would have homed in on it like a speeding bullet.

This, however, was just the first name-related problem to confront us. An online newsletter called net-profit has since appeared at www.net-profit.com - the name we failed to register when we started. For a sake of a penny, a pound has been lost - or, to put it another way, you can never act too soon in the fast-forward Internet world.

Another potential complication has now manifested itself with proposals for new, top-level domain names - the bit at the end of an Internet address. The wonderfully named International Ad Hoc Committee, in the United States, has come up with suggestions that Willie Black, managing director of the UK's domain allocation body Nominet UK, calls "a recipe for chaos".

Some of the proposals are sensible. American companies with no international activities will be encouraged to use .co.us rather than .com. That should take pressure off the hopelessly overused .com domain. But it is unclear what will happen to current. com users, and what pressure can be used to force a switch. Most confusingly, the IAHC has proposed a raft of new domains, including .store and .firm. Dr Black says this could cause a good deal of worry and expense to companies already on the Net that may have to register another name to protect themselves against "pirates".

For example Harrods, which fought hard in law for the right to use www.harrods.com (registered by an individual) may now find someone else has grabbed www.harrods.store. If the new proposals are accepted, there will undoubtedly be a rush to register new names - profitable for the allocation companies (they can charge $100 a name), but just another source of bother for small companies like ours that want to get on with their business.

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