Is Your Domain Name Spellable and Pronounceable?

Posted Sunday, November 7th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

A good domain name should have the following features:

  1. When someone says it to you, you know how to spell it. This means that if my friend wants to tell me about your site at a party or a club or out on the street somewhere, she doesn’t have to spell it out for me. She can just say your site’s name, and I immediately know how to type it into my browser.
  2. When you see it written, you immediately know how to pronounce it. This is the other side of the coin, and it matters when I read about your site in print and then want to tell a friend about it. In fact, if your site’s name is sufficiently opaque, I could read about it, visit it, sign up, and use your service for months… and still not know how to tell a friend about it without having to say awkward things like, “Ummm… Zip-tick? something like that? I don’t really know how to pronounce it, I just know it’s spelled X-Y-P-T-I-Q.”

Marc Hedlund writes about Why Wesabe Lost to Mint, and manages to miss part of this point:

Mint was a better name and had a better design – both of these things are true, but I don’t believe they were primary causes for our company to fail and for Mint to be acquired. Mint’s CEO likes to talk about how ridiculous our name was relative to theirs, but I think the examples of Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google, and plenty of others make it plain that even ludicrous names (as all of those were thought to be when the companies launched) can go on to be great brands. (emphasis in original)

He cites “Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google” as examples of “ludicrous” names, but he misses the fact that all of them meet both of the requirements above — and Wesabe doesn’t. I’m assuming it’s pronounced “wee-SOB-ay”, but it could just as easily be read as “wee-SAYB” (rhymes with “babe”) — and I’m guessing it’s a mash-up between wasabi and “we sabe“, where sabe is the Spanish word for “to know”, and the basis for the English verb “to savvy”.

But that’s just a guess.

Of course, you already know how to spell it, but imagine someone told you about “a new site called /wee-SOB-ay/”… how would you guess it might be spelled? Ideas that come to my mind are: wiisabe, weesabay, weesobbe (possibly with accent on the E in the site’s logo); and “Just tell me how it’s spelled, already!”

Note that Google got its name from the mathematical concept of a googol: 10100, a very large number. But they deliberately changed the spelling, so people would be more able to tell each other about it, and more able to correctly type in what they’d heard.

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