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How to drive traffic with domain names

In my consulting practice, I teach my clients about the tremendous importance of communicating credibility. In an overcommunicated, overmarketed society, credibility has become increasingly vital. To a prospect that is receiving your marketing materials for the first time, your company may have little or no believability because you may well be totally unknown to your prospect. Along with the growth of online scams, the hypercompetitive nature of the Internet will make credibility an even more important issue.

One of John Naisbitt's "Megatrends" in his book of the same name is the fact that our society is edging towards what he calls the "high-tech/high-touch." In other words, the fact that we are advancing technologically and the business process is fast becoming almost entirely automated will parallel the need for a more human approach in the business process.

Today, we see that need being filled more and more through niche marketing, personalized services, customer relationship management (or "CRM") and specialization. And due to the lack of human interaction on the Internet, building relationships with your prospects will, as time goes on, become an element of greater importance in the success of any online business.

Brand Your Domain

There are numerous ways to build credibility, namely through the use of testimonials, guarantees and other techniques. These may be the final steps in convincing your prospects that you are credible. But the very first step is sometimes the most obvious -- and that's the image you project, for it is the first thing that is perceived by your prospects and the first step in building relationships with them. Although your goal may be to automate your business, you must remember that you are dealing with real people. There are many fly-by-night businesses and get-rich-quick schemes on the Internet, so anything new will likely be questionable in the very least.

Therefore, your marketing strategy must also include branding your website, which is just as important as branding your company or product. When I started online three years ago, I began with a free host and email account. I didn't see the need to invest in my own domain, having an already profitable offline business at the time. But little did I know however that the lack of credibility they projected was to a great extent the reason for many lost sales.

The reason for this is manifold. In today's world, we are constantly inundated with marketing messages. In his new book "The New Positioning," Jack Trout states that a child in the UK will have seen over 140,000 television commercials by the time he or she reaches 18 years of age -- and according to Trout, the US is "just warming up." The Internet is surely no different. It's literally filled with sites that range from sheer ads to others that are sponsored by them (leading to a phenomena called "Banner Blindness"). Everywhere we turn it seems we are faced with some form of online promotional propaganda.

Our job as consumers has therefore become so immensely challenging that choosing a business from which to buy has become a dizzying process. For a web business to survive and thrive in today's hypercompetitive marketplace, it takes more than mere advertising (the kind that says "I'm open for business") to make a web site successful. As marketing guru Dan Kennedy once said, "Institutional marketing is high-risk marketing," for the message needs to be continuously repeatedly advertised in order to work -- if it ever does.

Become a Traffic Magnet

Although advertising is the lifeblood of any business, today's message must therefore stand out among the commercial quagmire. And it must also do so in such a way that it creates not only traffic but also a need for what it offers. In other words, a company's advertising message must go from being "in" business to being "the" business of choice. Where people used to ask "why should I buy" or "why should I buy this product or service," today that question has changed to "why should I buy this product or service from your site?"

Simply put, today's consumer will choose one company over another because the perceived value in their choice is greater. People are given an increasing multitude of choices on the Internet. Moreover, they no longer have the time to sift through all that is thrown at them -- let alone the time to shop around for the best product from the best company at the best price. So how can a site communicate that its site is "the" site of choice? How can it heighten the perceived value in what they have to offer and stand above the competition?

Ellis Verdi, the once president of the National Retail Advertisers Council, coined the term "top of mind awareness" as the most effectively provocative form of marketing available. The idea is to create, within the subconscious mind, a psychological anchor that causes people to choose when a need presents itself a company over another instantaneously. The goal is to market one's site in specific ways so that it stays active in the minds of visitors.

In other words, since people no longer have the time or energy to shop around, when they do have a certain need they will go to or search for the site that happens to be at the top of their minds at that very moment. They will inevitably choose the site that sticks out the most, especially from all the marketing messages that are so desperately fighting for their attention.

Consequently, effectively creating top-of-mind awareness on the web begins with branding the most important element of a website: The domain name.

Elements of a Good Domain Name

First, top-level domain names have the ability to stick in the mind more effectively. The mind hates confusion. Simplicity is of colossal importance since long or obscure URLs can be easily forgotten. Rather than a name such as http://www.domain.com/subdomain/yourname/~subfolder or http://www.just-too-many-hyphens.com, you should get a simple yourname.com. In fact, more and more companies are dropping the "www."

In essence, the simpler it is the better.

The importance of having your own domain name goes without explanation -- it is the same as branding your business or product. But also realize that a good domain name that effectively sticks in the mind requires more than simply using a fictitious vanity name. There are three key elements that go into an good domain name: Mnemonics, credibility, and positioning.

Instead of going through the inconvenience of numerous search engine results, most people will attempt to skip the process and go to your site directly. They usually do so by guessing your domain name and typing a plausible URL in their browsers. How many times have you done that? Mnemonics are words (or a combination of words) that are easy to remember. A repeatedly visited web site is one whose URL, for example, sticks in the mind. Even if the URL is bookmarked, the site can be easily retrieved and will be visited often. "Yahoo!" (yahoo.com), "HotBot" (hotbot.com) and "Time Magazine" (time.com) are perfect examples of mnemonics.

People often associate long URLs with free sites or those of lesser quality. People have a natural tendency to make what I call UPAs (unconscious paralleled assumptions) where, if people notice that your site is hosted by a free or cheap provider, they will unconsciously assume that a parallel exists (i.e., that your product or service is just as cheap). Your domain name is like the cover of a book and people will likely judge your book by its cover.

Always remember that perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself. A top-level vanity name, especially if it's short and simple, will heighten the perception of the web site's value. As such, the UPA visitors will often make with a short domain name will often be one in which they conclude that the quality of the web site will be as good as the name implies.

Finally, the third element is the actual positioning process. If your domain name reflects your site's nature, result, or core benefit, and if it instantly communicates how different you are from others, your URL will be positioned above the competition in the minds of your market. Since this element is the most important of the three, let's deal with it a little further.

Benefit-Based Domain Names

People usually make a buying decision based on the kind of information that instantly communicates a specific benefit -- one in which there is an implicit added value in making the purchase. So does your domain name intrinsically reflect the benefit or at least the nature of that which you provide and does so in an instant? It should. I am astounded to see many domain names that are still called by ordinary or blatantly unappealing names, such as with hard-to-spell words, numbers, abbreviations or acronyms like "mgf.com."

Let's take the example of two different web sites that promote similar products: Investments. One's address is "wealthwise.com" while the other is "smith-brokerage.com." Now, with all things being equal and when placed side-by-side, which site will be the one more likely to be chosen first? Your domain name must be able to drive traffic to your site on its very own. It must communicate how different and unique your site is, even before it is visited.

Nevertheless, if people do have to resort to an engine, their search will be greatly simplified and vastly more efficient if your domain name intrinsically reflects the core benefit if not the nature of your site. Remember that most searches are conducted by topics or themes and not by names. Therefore, if your site's most popular keyword or benefit is within the domain name itself, that URL has greater chances of being in the top search engine results.

Play a word association game with your web site. Look for the word or group of words that would instantly pop up in the minds of people when a need presents itself, a need that your site likely fills. For example, stock-tips.com, art.com, free-stuff.com, allergy-relief.com, morebusiness.com and fastcar.com are great benefit-based domain names that effectively create more top-of-mind awareness (and consequently more traffic).

Domain Names That Drive Traffic

If the name you want is taken, then you can use the name of your product or service, or your company or product's tagline (or part of it) as a domain name. A tagline is that small sentence that follows your business name, such as "You deserve a break today," "Roaches check in but they don't check out," and "It takes a licking but keeps on ticking." Great examples include:

  • alwayscoke.com (Coca-Cola),
  • cavities.com (Crest toothpaste)
  • And, of course, start.com (Microsoft).

Ultimately, choose a name that people can remember quickly and effectively so that, when you advertise among a thousand of your competitors, your URL stands out and sticks in the mind. It is also good practice to register variations of your name, including different spellings. One of the reasons is to ensure that these unused domain names don't end up falling in the hands of your competitors. But more important, when people enter a variation of your domain name, they will still end up with your site as a result.

It all boils down to the fact that your domain name is a fundamental marketing system in itself. Be short, simple and memorable, and you'll see traffic soar.

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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