You know that your product (or service) name is critically important to your marketing, online and offline. If you’re new to the game of product naming, check out Wikipedia and Rhymer to get some background. For deeper information, you might subscribe to the Name Wire blog, to become more expert at naming.

But even if you are a savvy veteran of the name game, the Internet poses new dilemmas you may not have seen before. If you want to ensure that your product names are an asset to your Internet marketing, rather than a hindrance, read on.

Emphasize Searchability

The Web has spawned a whole new way of marketing—search marketing. Time was that a customer heard about your product and asked your sales person about it. Or called you up to request a brochure. No more. Customers must be able to find the information themselves on your Web site—which usually means they will Google a name and see what comes up. Can customers find your product through search?

Are you thinking through these tasks before you name a product?

  • Make it unique. If possible, a unique name is best. If no one (in any industry) is using your name, then it is far easier for you to be found in search. But when you use the same name as several different products in unrelated industries, then you’re sentencing yourself to seeing those other products shown for searches for your brand name, because it is their brand name, too. “Delta” could be an airline or a water faucet—the search engine will show both whereas “JetBlue” brings back just an airline. Similarly, your name might contain no really unique words, such as “The Limited”—that makes good search rankings an uphill battle. (The Limited was already well known, but your new name will struggle with the same approach.) Try searching for your proposed product name and see what companies come up already. Can you easily rise above them with your product?
  • Make it memorable. I know that your convention is to always start with the name of your company and then name the product, but can anyone remember your name? It’s one thing if you are managing “Microsoft Word” and quite another if you are marketing “Acme Enterprise Content Management Server.” God bless the customer who can remember that content-free name—don’t be surprised if they try “Content Management Enterprise Server” or “Enterprise Management Content Server” and come up dry.
  • Check your spelling. Can customers spell the name of your product? Your product name might consist of everyday words but if part of your market can’t spell one of those words correctly, it reduces the number of searchers who find you. Dell can name its computers “Latitude” and HP can call theirs “Pavilion” but many customers just don’t know how to spell those words. It’s scary to have your whole marketing campaign built on Google’s “Did you mean” algorithm. I’d rather be selling “MacBook” or “ThinkPad.” Likewise, your product might contain a cute-sy misspelling, such as Motorola’s RAZR phone, but if people don’t remember that, it makes it a bit harder for you to be found.

These tips apply to customers looking for you in search, of course, but unique, memorable, easy-to-spell names enhance the viral nature of your message, too. People pass along messages associated with catchy names, which is why Squidoo has a lot more buzz than if it had been named Lens Central.

Think Global

Many local business find that the Internet opens up new global marketing opportunities. Along with those opportunities come new challenges in product naming.

  • Check all trademarks. You may be accustomed to checking your native country’s trademarks to ensure that you are using a name no one else has protected. But are you thinking about checking trademarks in every country you wish to do business in? Is your trademark attorney up to this challenge?
  • Think through language implications. Sure, that name might seem catchy in your language, but how will it sound (or translate) into other languages in your target markets? Tales abound of missteps like Chevy naming its car “Nova” which sounds like “doesn’t go” in Spanish. It’s important that you work with savvy native speakers in each language you’ll market in. They’ll help you choose a name that stands up.
  • Consider each country. Trademarks are not the only things that must be checked country by country. All the search tips listed above must be repeated for each country you intend to do business in. Any international product name requires attention paid in every country within your target market.

If you’ve already got names for your products, don’t despair if they aren’t perfect. They never are. You should follow these tips for new products, yes, but think carefully before changing the name of a product that has already built up name recognition and brand equity in your target market. Sometimes a name change is worth the pain, but often it’s not. Use these tips when they make sense and ignore them when they are more trouble than they are worth—just as with any advice you receive. And let me know if you have more advice that I omitted here—I’d love to hear from you.

Want more tips to raise your Web marketing success? Check out Search Engine Marketing, Inc., which contains a complete step-by-step program for successful search marketing for your business. For more ways to improve your overall Internet marketing, take a look at Do It Wrong Quickly, an indispensable guide to the new ways of marketing.