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  • Writer's pictureEmily Garnham

There's no need to 'namesplain' in your startup business moniker

If you’ve never seen The Founder starring Michael Keaton as the businessman Ray Kroc, add it to your viewing list. The 2016 dramatised true story of McDonald's will have you shaking your head in despair and disbelief, even if it isn’t a wholly accurate portrayal of the true story.

Right at the end of the film when the founding brothers of McDonald's, Dick and Mack, are pretty much forced to sign over their beloved family business to Kroc, they ask him why he didn’t just replicate their burger restaurant, rather than manoeuvring it away from them?

Kroc replies that all other restaurants lacked that one thing that made theirs so special, “that glorious name, McDonald's”, which he describes as “wholesome” and “genuine”.

Kroc continues: “It could be, anything you want it to be. It's limitless, it's wide open. It sounds, uh... it sounds like… it sounds like America. That's compared to Kroc. What a crock. What a load of crock. Would you eat at a place named Kroc's? Kroc's has that blunt, Slavic sound. Kroc's. But McDonald's, oh boy. That's a beauty.”

Putting aside the obvious here – that unconscious and conscious bias associated with brand names affects their popularity – does the unlikable protagonist of this particular movie have a point?

Brand names (and designs) are often determined by what already exists in a sector. Kroc's could be a good kids' breakfast cereal – boxes are often emblazoned with cartoon animals – and we know it can work as a shoe brand, albeit with a different spelling.

Tech companies tend to favour solo words with two syllables, like Google, or two words pushed together – think LinkedIn – and no definite article (not The Facebook).

What's interesting is that this particular company name has no 'explainer': it is not called McDonald's Burgers, or McDonald's Fastfood.

Many business owners use their company name to summarise exactly what they do. But it dulls the impact and it restricts your choices later on if you want to do something else but keep the branding.

Interestingly, there are no longer any SEO benefits to what I shall call 'namesplaining'.

Brett Dixon, founder of award-winning digital marketing agency DPOM, and long-time speaker of sense, told me:

"From an SEO perspective, nowadays, it really doesn't make any difference. Back in the day, it was common to try and manipulate rankings by including your desired terms in your website address and company name.

"The problem with this is that while at the time it worked SEO wise, it all looked a bit crap and 'a bit crap' isn't good from a branding perspective.

"At the time we had a scenario where Dave's Furniture Store in Bognor Regis ended up ranking for, you guessed it, 'furniture store in Bognor Regis'. Soon, Dave's competitors ended up with websites that looked rather similar, such as 'Bob's Best Priced Furniture Store Bognor Regis' for example.

"Now, to search engines, this is bad. The top-ranked websites should be those that deserve to be top-ranked because they deliver what a searcher is looking for, not because they named their business around a perceived best search term. So Google killed it, with the Exact Match Domain update in 2012.

"So when you're naming your company or website address, don't do it for SEO. Marks & Spencer does pretty well online these days without being called 'top end posh food shop', yet Google knows exactly what they do and what search terms should produce their site."

So there you have it folks. Pick a word you love, for reasons you love, and to hell with search! Just make sure it's free on Companies House and that it sounds right. If in doubt, round up your mates and play a game of word association.

P.S. Tartle is an untranslatable Scots word, chosen because a) I'm mildly obsessed with untranslatable words and b) because I introduce lots of people and often tartle. My valuable top tip is to completely ignore the Urban Dictionary's (2nd) definition of your business name...

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