treeline - 5:39 pm on Jun 18, 2013 (gmt 0)
How to brand a domain? I'm not the authority, but here is what I did:
1. Found something there was a need for in a niche that no one else had done yet. This will start as a classic niche directory. It will evolve over time.
2. Following months of putting the site together, a week before launch someone in Europe published something extremely similar. Necessitates last minute change in tagline, long term devotion to doing it better. [after about 6 years, they gave up]
3. Asking lots of people what they wanted. Finding and adding more of it. Showing the site to lots of people, looking over their shoulder, making adjustments based on how they acted, not just what they said. Most people are too polite when reviewing a site. Some are just the opposite...
4. Chose a term I could own for the domain name instead of keywordwidget.com. This was a tough choice. For years it seemed like a mistake. It eventually paid off bigtime. A decade ago, this was Brett Tabke's advice on the subject:
from [webmasterworld.com ]
B) Domain name:
Easily brandable. You want "google.com" and not "mykeyword.com". Keyword domains are out - branding and name recognition are in - big time in. The value of keywords in a domain name have never been less to se's. Learn the lesson of "goto.com" becomes "Overture.com" and why they did it. It's one of the most powerful gut check calls I've ever seen on the internet. That took serious resolve and nerve to blow away several years of branding. (that is a whole 'nother article, but learn the lesson as it applies to all of us).
5. Every time someone emailed me about the site (who had a website), in my response I added a bit about would they consider linking to my site? Many did.
6. Had colorful business cards printed with the site logo and key features listed. Passed them out aggressively at events.
7. Watched email listserves and forums for what was going on in the industry, anything interesting I added something to the site about. Expanding completeness.
8. When someone asked where they could find something, was always quick to offer a link to one of my spot-on pages that answered the question. Made useful posts and announcements on listserves with the website in the signature. Bounce in visits followed.
9. Became a speaker for many industry seminars. At first got asked to speak on brutal subjects like legal requirements. Managed to make it interesting. More invites. Eventually the website reached the status I was asked to be a speaker about it at national events.
10. Active in my state association, then in leadership, then active in the national association, then president of it. The domain name goes everywhere, the business cards get in a lot of hands. You meet a ton of great people, they want to help you, or be associated with you, or just become aware of what you're doing.
11. Recognize a need for access to better data by average industry participants, and that it's now available online for free. The catch: very hard to use formats on government sites spread across way to many pages. Write a simple script that gathers all the info on one easy to read page, translates all the codes into plain English. Simple and easy to use. Huge success. Link bait? Perhaps. It's bookmarked on almost very computer, bookmarked on most smartphones. I'm harassed constantly to write an app. People love it.
12. Government manuals and legal guides start including references (and links) to the site as a result.
13. Asked to be a speaker at national conventions about how the website works, what's underneath the hood. [It's not complicated, an elance programmer could program it for a few grand.] [If they had the industry insight to realize what combination of data would work.]
14. Based on this success add two more tools that process data. More links, visitors.
15. Most importantly at this point, you're recognized as someone who actually makes things happen, so people bring you all their crazy ideas of what they really want. Be polite to all of them, say you'll think about it. Most actually are crazy, or wildly unrealistic. A few are going to be your next big hit.
16. I'm not really a programmer, just a dabbler. As a test project, hire an elance programmer for $1,000 to build the next visual data tool. Successful experience, another hit.
17. Started writing a monthly column on a different subject [same industry] that's more exciting for the national magazine. Did I mention I hate deadlines? The editor insists on using the domain name without the dotcom as the column title, wants a link to the website to show authority. You've become a brand....
18. Everything is designed so that I don't need to be involved day-to-day. It's automated. I have a day job and can't always check in. So forums haven't been an option.
19. Be nice to people. They will help you in unexpected ways. If you get as involved as I did, some people are going to hate you and others you are going to intensely dislike thanks to how rotten they can be. You don't have to tell them how you feel. They have friends too, who may help you if you haven't been a jerk.
20. I'm still aggressively handing those big-logo business cards out. People used to laugh at me, literally, when they saw what I chose for a domain name. Now they stop in their tracks. They didn't realize one person was behind that site. It's too much a part of the industry. At events when decisions have to be made, people ask "what does domainname say?" If I'm there they blame anything bad in the data on me, in good fun.
21. I've never done any paid advertising. It probably would have made things happen faster, but maybe I'd never have tried as hard as a result. Now it's not necessary.
22. Always kept users in mind with clean simple design, uncluttered, fast loading.
23. Used Brett's 26 steps (linked above) as a sort of spiritual guide. Sorted and rearranged the document into more of an action plan. Sure a bunch has changed at Google in the last eleven years, but the core concepts still hold power.
24. Take every opportunity to teach people how your site can help them.
Summary: Do something different, or better. Choose a memorable name. Be involved. Promote that name everywhere: online/offline/in person/at events. Meet lots of people, tell them what you're doing, ask for help, listen to what they want. Act on their ideas. Be involved.