Choosing a name for your art website is a lot like choosing a business name, and it’s a decision that needs careful consideration.
I get asked about this a lot, and not just by artists; I get asked by all manner of business people, so this conversation is one I’ve had many, many times, and in many different industries.
I’ll explain the broader concepts, and how I applied choosing a name for my art website, as well as the times I’ve chosen to break the rules.
First, the the terminology
A website’s name is called it’s “domain name”, or “URL”. For example, my domain name is “pencilneck.com”.
The domain name/URL is ‘the name of the website’ that’s typed into the address bar of your web browser.
The web browser is the program you use to get onto the internet – Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc., are all web browsers, which are used to “browse” the web (get it?) 😉
Say What It Is
I’m a big believer that when choosing a name for your art website – or company for that matter – to the greatest extent possible, that the name should also explain what they do.
Is there any question about what business they’re in at DiscountCruises.com, or PestControl.com? I don’t know if these are real websites or not, but if I was in each of those businesses, make sure to check out if these names were available.
The problem a lot of artists have when they embrace their businesses is that they feel they have to show the maximum amount of creativity in every possible situation.
Unfortunately, what happens most often is that things get too fancy, or tricky, or complicated for their own good. So going after a website such as energy.com because your art deals with healing or chakras might make sense to you, someone else might be looking for alternative energy sources, or information on jobs in the oil industry.
You should also consider that, to a certain extent, the name of your website may help your search rankings in Google, though this isn’t as important as it used to be.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
The Pencilneck ®
If possible, it’s nice if your domain name is YOUR name.
In my case however, people always misspell it, so using my name as my web address would actually be an impediment to have people get there. It’s not that my name is hard to spell, it’s just a variation on the most common spelling.
A lot of non-Anglo names have the same problem.
Here’s an example: I’ve had the same mother-in-law for something like 200 years, and her family is from Poland. Her maiden name is so crammed packed with consonants from the latter portion of the alphabet that I find it impossible to spell. Not that anyone in her family are artists, but as an example, the name KonnieKondraczynski.com as a website is perhaps more of a hurdle than one would prefer when trying to get people to visit one’s website.
I’m not suggesting anyone change their name (though for 25 bucks down the courthouse, it remains a bureaucratic bargain) and it could be pointed out that Arnold Schwarzenegger did well for himself with an unlikely name. Even so, due to branding and positioning, his last name was minimized. If someone was to come to you and say “I just saw Arnold getting into a limousine!”, you’d know exactly whom they were speaking about.
And Arnold’s website? Arnold.com
An easy fix…
and the one I recommend to anyone using their own name, is to also register the common misspellings of their names, and have them automatically redirect people to the correct site. For instance, BrianJohnstone.com should also have BrianJohnson.com redirect to BrianJohnstone.com.
Registering names are cheap; typically less than $10 a year.
Too Common is also a Problem
Your name can also be a problem on the other side; if you have a relatively common name. At last count, I know four Brian Johnson’s, and two Brian Johnstone’s. I’m the only Owen Garratt I can find, but there are two Owen Garrett’s in the UK, one of whom seems to have gone to jail (eep!).
The Best Bet for Most Artists
Often, a good solution may be to combine your name with your artistic vocation: BrianJohnsonSculpture, BrianJohnsonPhotography, BrianJohnsonGlassworks, etc.
For most artists, combining your name with what you do (difficult spelling notwithstanding) is likely the best and safest bet.
For most artists, combining your name with what you do (difficult spelling notwithstanding) is likely the best and safest bet.Click to tweet
A quick note: I don’t recommend you use hyphens to separate words in a URL. Some people will tell you that by separating the words with hyphens, Google can identify the individual words better, and is able to reward you with higher rankings because it can connect those words with what people are searching for, but this is not as important as it was in the past.
Also, it makes it just that little bit more difficult for people to type in, and it invites errors.
When you go to Go Daddy, or wherever, to search the availability of a name, they will suggest hyphenated alternatives, but I rarely recommend that option.
Because if it’s hyphenated that mean somebody likely already owns the non-hyphenated version, and people trying to get to your site, but forgetting the hyphens, will end up on someone else’s site!
It goes without saying, but this should be avoided…
Some suggest hyphens because it can make the web address is easier to read, which may be true, but what I recommend is what is called “camel case”. This means you capitalize the 1st letter of each word in the URL, as in MarketingToolsForArtists.com, and should be how the URL is shown in text on business cards, brochures, etc.
Of course, use common sense and look at the URL beforehand to make sure the camel case works in your situation, and you should also avoid URLs with the letter “A” as a word, or short words like “in”, “to”, “at”, etc., or initials in your name, as it can get a little funny looking.
Stick to “.com”
For the same reasons, I’m also a firm believer that artists should stick with.com for their web addresses and not go with “.net”, “.org”, “.biz”, “.co”, “.info”, “.ca”, “.co.uk”, or any of the other naming conventions, if at all possible.
If “.com” is not available, choosing “.net” is usually worse than just finding another name altogether, because “.com” is so ingrained in the public conscious that most people looking for you will type in “.com” the, which means you’ll be sending people to someone else’s website.
And in a certain hard to define way, “.com” feels more legit, more permanent, and more trustworthy than the alternatives.
Why I Did What I Did…
“Okay this makes sense so far, but why did you go with pencilneck.com instead of something like: OwenGarrattPencilArt.com, or something?”
After reading Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks at Fifty“, it struck me how effective his branding was, especially how his fans refer to themselves as “Parrotheads”. I wanted a name that somehow touched on my art, my personality (specifically humor), was memorable, and that I could make identifiable in various situations.
It took 3 years, but I finally got it, and when I did, it was so obvious that I got angry I didn’t connect the dots sooner!
Pencilneck was perfect. The pencil component fitted my art, of course, and the geek connotation was offset by my 6 foot, 280 lb frame – it’s like calling the bald guy “Curly” – which touches on the humor.
No, not everybody gets it, and that’s okay…
Most importantly, Pencilneck is memorable, much more memorable than Owen Garratt, and it’s easier to spell.
So I searched pencilneck.com and found that it was taken!
Rather than buying a hyphenated or alternative to “.com”, I spent $3000 (though I would have paid much, much more) and bought the name from the chap who owned it. Then I made Pencilneck ® a registered trademark through the US patent office.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you go through the hassle and expense of buying a domain name from someone else, but I shouldn’t rule it out for anyone either.
If Your Name is Taken. Or unsuitable.
If your name is already taken, or is unsuitable, a common solution is to create a “studio name”.
Early on in my career, my business name was “Birchwood Art and Litho”, and BirchwoodArt could’ve been a domain name…except that it really doesn’t mean anything, does it?
Again, it’s pretty important that the domain name “says what it is”.
My friend Roxy Ruchert does brilliant pencil art of horses and uses the name BridlewoodArt.com, which does a nice job of the pre-positioning what her art, and her website, is about. Using the word ‘bridle’ in the domain name lets people know that horses are involved.
If I were specializing in horse art, I might try SaddleSoreArt.com! 🙂
“I’ve made some mistakes with this – how do I fix it?!”
If you already have your website up and running, it’s okay to change it – though I’d be hesitant too if you’re getting lots of traffic to your existing site).
You can use what’s called a “redirect”. A redirect means, when someone types in one domain name, you can automatically have them taken to another one – just as in the case where you register various spellings of your name.
For years my original website was ThatPencilGuy.com, and when I got Pencilneck ® rolling, I just had anyone who typed in ThatPencilGuy.com taken directly to pencilneck.com.
This means you don’t need to change your entire website if you decide to change your domain name.
If you use WordPress, here’s the plugin I use for redirects: https://wordpress.org/plugins/redirection/
This is important: under no circumstances should the name of your website/URL contain your hosting service!
What do I mean?
Your hosting service is where your website “lives”. It could be WordPress.com, it may be a site like Shopify, or Wix, or dozens of others.
So your website should NOT be: yourname.shopify.com, or yourname.wix.com, or yourname.wordpress.com, or anything else!
This screams a lack of professionalism. Having your own URL is the cheapest thing you can do for yourself, and not having your own URL announces loud and clear that you’re not a serious artist.
Harsh words, but true.
I’ll have an upcoming article on hosting, which is choosing a company or place to set up your website.
Your Action Task
In the meantime, go to either GoDaddy.com (see the camel case?) or Namecheap.com and then enter your choice of a web name in their “web checker” box and see if it’s available. Don’t be distraught if your favorite isn’t available; very few obvious ones are left. Come up with a short list of 2 or 3 in see how it goes.
Even if you don’t have a website, or aren’t quite ready to have your website, you can still go and reserve the name: you can buy it and sit on it so no one else gets it!
GoDaddy is who I use, and they are the Big Dog in the industry; somewhere around 70% of all Internet registrations go through them.
They built their name on low-cost domain names and now dominate the industry.
They also have terrific customer support, and I’ve never failed to get my questions asked and answered on the phone quickly and easily.
Namecheap is the big tough new alternative.
Easier to use, tremendous support, and overwhelmingly used by people in The Know.
The next name I register will absolutely be with Namecheap.
Now go get your name…!
P.S. A Final Tidbit: All other things being equal, the shorter URL will be more effective than a longer one!