Using clever survey questions to quickly test the memorability, spellability and emotional response of potential domain names. Glad we did – almost picked a lousy one.
Problem: Domain Squatters
I’ve found what should be the joyous process of naming a company, quickly devolves into:
Founder A: Are you kidding with me?! How is every good domain taken!?
Founder B: Let’s make up a word. “ooFooVu.com” is availble.
Founder A: Maybe “KillerKittenKites.co?”
Founder B: TwoGirlsOneCup…dot ly is available.
Most of the time we’re left with abysmal choices and forced to argue over which one sucks the least.
Some friends and I who were building a crowdfunding aggregator wanted to avoid all that, so we came up with a way to test our company/domain names with customer data. Here’s how…
Step 1: Crowdsource Ideas
SquadHelp is 99Designs for domain names. That means you pay a couple bucks and SquadHelp users will find you some 500+ domain names, all of which are currently available. And if you don’t like any of them, you don’t pay anything.
Looking over the list of possible names for our crowdfunding aggregator, we chose our top 3:
altFunder.com was our favorite name going in to the experiment, the next step of which was deciding…
Step 2: What to Measure?
After reading up on what makes for a good company name, we decided to measure the following characteristics of each name:
- Memorability – If users can’t remember your name, they can’t tell their friends about it.
- Spellability & Hearability – If users can’t spell your domain, they could become someone else’s.
- Emotional associations – what feelings do these names evoke? For more on why this is important see Selling the Why
- Image associations – Names people automatically associate images with are more memorable.
- Competitor associations – The internet told us you want to avoid a name that gives your competition more clout. Seemed like reasonable advice.
Step 3: Design the Experiment
Here’s a video tour of the survey we designed (i.e. why you’re reading this post):
To test hear/spellability (try it):
1. Play this audio clip only once and type in the name of the website you hear:
To test memorability:
After speaking & showing the domain names, we’d ask them a bunch of “busy work” questions (e.g. demographic questions, trivial math questions, etc.) to help them forgot the less memorable names:
12. What is the 9th word of the 1st paragraph on this page?
With their minds distracted for a bit, we’d then ask:
To test Associations:
For each of the associations (e.g. emotional, image, and competitor) we asked them simple questions like:
- What images come to mind when you hear this time?
- How do you feel when you hear this name?
- What organizations come to mind when you hear this name?
Btw, we used nsurvey for this – an open source survey tool that gave us the power & flexibility we needed. With the survey designed, it was time to…
Step 4: Run the Experiment
The site was B2C, so we decided to throw our survey up on Mechanical Turk. We paid $0.10 for each respondent and we stopped after we got 50 (all told $5).
Fraud Detection: we had quality assurance questions built into the survey (e.g. what’s the 9th word in the second paragraph, what’s 16 + 32, etc.) to detect cheaters. We gave cheaters a different password than people who took the time to fill out the survey thoroughly.
Step 5: Evaluating the Results
Once the survey results were in, I threw them in a spreadsheet and scored each of the questions like so:
Hearability/Spellability: +2 points for a name each time it was spelled properly
Here are the Hear/Spellability results for our names:
Memorability: +2 points each time the name was properly recalled
Image associations: scored subjectively by me (actual responses below)
Positive (+1 point): “people protesting”, “trees, plants, soil, nature”, “tattooed girls and rock music”
Neutral (0 points): “people”, “money”, “change”, “coins”
Negative (-1 point): “a steaming pile”, “a payday loan center”, “my cluttered basement”
Positive (+1 point): “curious”, “hopeful”, “interested to know what people are starting”
Neutral (0 points): “nothing”, “innovation, kind of a cheesy name”, “mildly inspired”
Negative (-1 point): “annoyed”, “confusion, boredom”, “lame”
Positive (+1 point): “none”, “no particular companies come to mind”
Neutral (0 points): “charity”, “Kickstarter”, “red cross”
Negative (-1 point): “republican websites”, “Obama campaign”, “payday loans”
Then we weighted the score of people who we thought were most like our targeted users (e.g. responses from Facebook and Kickstarter users got bumps) and added them all up:
View/download the complete spreadsheet here: http://sdrv.ms/Z9941S
We were wrong! We were leaning towards altFunder.com because it was short & edgy (and thus we assumed more memorable).
Turns out, ThingsWeStart.com was not only more memorable, it was also easier to hear/spell and it had much more positive associations.
For a couple bucks and a couple hours, we saved ourselves thousands of $’s by not picking the crappy name and having to change it later, or trying to buy one from a squatter.
Tips & Tricks
- Before you post a survey about your domain names, be sure to purchase them all. Don’t want one of your clever respondents to snipe them from you.
- Most domain registrars offer a return policy. We bought all 3 domains we were testing, ran our test, and then got a refund for the 2 we didn’t use!
- Another great test would be to measure CTR on ads, or A/B test on a landing page. We didn’t have time for that, but I’d love to hear if you’ve run an experiment like that.
As always, comments and questions are appreciated!
If you liked this - consider sharing it so your friends don’t buy shitty domain names. You may also want to subscribe for new posts via Email or RSS. Our next article will be detailed explanation of Steve Blank & Startup Weekend’s Customer Development collaboration – SWNext – and how we think it fits into the greater startup ecosystem.
We want to Help
If you want help naming your company – you’re not alone :)There’s a group of us who are asking, and answering, questions about branding every week:
- How much does a name matter?
- How hard is it to change a name later?
- Is a name with no meaning (e.g. Google) better than a name with one?