What’s in a(n online) name?

Juliet famously asked Romeo: “What’s in a name?”

Juliet to Romeo: “What’s in a name?”
Image Credit: Romeo and Juliet by Frank Dicksee

Shakespeare’s Juliet famously asked “What’s in a name?” My answer is: if you’re trying to build an online startup or personal brand: a lot!

Take my own online brand as a case study. I started this blog in April 2012. Like many people starting a new online presence, I agonized over what to call my new creation. I knew I wanted to write about technology and travel. I naturally wanted a name that reflected those topics. However, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted,

“With about 252 million domain names currently registered across the Internet, the short, recognizable dot-com Web addresses, or URLs, have long been taken.”

I’ve previously written how I tried out several different names for my blog, eventually settling on TCTReview.com because

“…it was available, reasonably short and could be flexible in meaning. Initially, TCT serves as a mnemonic for Technology and Travel. As a bonus, my initials are TC, so people might also remember the domain name as a mnemonic for “Thomas Crook’s Tech Review” or “Thomas Crook’s Travel Review.”

Unfortunately, the flexible meaning of my first serious branding attempt was also its weakness. TCTReview could be about anything, from The Coroner’s Toolkit to Tri-State Christian Television. The ambiguity of the name reflected my own ambiguous vision; I couldn’t decide if I was a tech blogger who also wrote about travel or a travel blogger with an emphasis on tech.

I had an epiphany on the subject after attending Seattle Travel Massive with intrepid traveler Joel Oleson (TravelingEpic.com). On our drive home from Travel Massive, Joel and I brainstormed how to take our respective online travel efforts to the next level. I recognized that with a family and a fulfilling career driving development work at Expedia, I didn’t want to try to compete with bloggers whose travels range from many trips per year to non-stop traveling (e.g., the estimable Gary Arndt of Everything-Everywhere.com). Working for a travel company, I travel more often than the average person and I enjoy visiting far-flung destinations, but I don’t foresee myself joining the league of elite travel-experience bloggers anytime soon. My competitive advantage lies in my understanding of the science and technologies that have revolutionized modern travel. Among other areas, I have worked in aerospace, software engineering, marketing science, ecommerce and online services. As a blogger, there isn’t nearly as much competition in writing about the technology of travel and its impact on travelers as there is in writing about the experience of travel. As far as my earlier ambiguity around travel versus tech blogging, I recognized that the market for tech blogs is saturated, making it hard to have an impact. My own analytics bear that out—my traveltech posts almost always draw more traffic than my pure tech posts.

With this new clarity of vision, I set out to create a new, cooler, compelling brand that would clearly communicate my traveltech identity and expertise. I thought up several possible domain names that incorporated travel and tech terms and checked their internet domain availability. I persisted in this exercise until inspiration struck and I thought of the name TravelTekker.com. It was just unusual enough to not have been registered, yet it clearly expresses my identity. To me at least, it sounds kind of cool; I like the unambiguous relation of Tekker to technology and the parallelism of Tekker and trekker (dictionary definition: person who journeys, vagabond).

I immediately registered the new domain name and set about changing my online brand. First I changed my blog name and headers. Following the principle of consistent branding, I changed my Twitter and Instagram account names to TravelTekker and changed all other significant online references and links with my brand that I could think of. I have to admit to being a bit pedantic about it—I even changed my custom Bitly short domain from tct.re to tvt.kr despite the fact that the .kr domain name is costing me $60 per year versus the $15 I was paying for tct.re. Ah well, symmetry in all things…

This work took a fair amount of time and between it and increased demands at my day job, I ended up putting my blog on hiatus for a few weeks while carrying out the rebranding. Was it worth it? I think so. I haven’t posted new blog posts lately on which to observe statistics, so my best measurement of the success of the rebranding is the speed with which I am picking up new Twitter followers. I haven’t changed the frequency of my Twitter posts since the rebranding—if anything I’ve posted less frequently—yet my number of Twitter followers is growing more than four times as fast as before the rebranding. I’ve also heard anecdotally that people like the new handle.

If you’re online brand is not giving you the results that you want, consider changing it like I did.

Let me know what you think of “TravelTekker” in the comments section below. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you have ideas or questions around your own brand that you would like to discuss.

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