There are 2 extremes to choosing how to brand your product. You can either use plain-speak to describe it or make up a mystical brand name that may have little to do with the product itself. There are trade-offs to each approach, especially when SEO is concerned.

1. Use plain-speak to describe it.

This extreme probably has the lowest amount of friction. You have a chance to describe the product in the customer’s language. People tend to like hearing things in language that they can understand.

The downside is that you may come across as bland or unoriginal.

2. Make up a mystical brand name that may have little to do with the product itself.

As Seth Godin puts it, you get to own a term that describes your product. Google, Yahoo!, and countless others did this just fine.

The downside is that no one’s going to be typing your brand name into Google if they don’t know who you are. That part will depend even more on your promotional skills if you take this route.

Looking at this through an SEO lens

If you’re brand new and want to reach out to people with less effort, then option #1 is probably the way to go.

Consider this scenario for portal software that I’m working on building. Right now, the project is code-named Administrivia. Kind of catchy in a way but perhaps too much of a mouth full. And the name doesn’t really describe what the software does.

What happens if I keep that name when I release it into the wild?

  1. People will tweet about it, calling it Administrivia.
  2. People will blog about it, calling it Administrivia.
  3. People will link to it, calling it Administrivia.
  4. My product will start ranking very well for the term “administrivia” in Google.
  5. The buzz will wear down when people move on to the next fad (as they do in the tech world).
  6. My product will be stuck with a great ranking for “administrivia.” This could be good or bad depending on how well I can get the word out, but I get no second chances.

Consider step 4. The word “administrivia” has an actual meaning:

administrivia (plural administrivia)

  1. Administrative details that must be dealt with in order to do more interesting work.
    Administrivia take up two hours of every day.
    Administrivia takes up two hours of every day.

So people will be typing that word into Google looking for the meaning of the word as well. Wasted traffic from people who aren’t even looking for my product.

A SEO-friendly approach

If I look up a few search words in the AdWords Keyword Tool, I end up finding this interesting set of words:

What I’m building is described by some of these words, like enterprise portal, portal software, and portal system.

So what if I name my product Enterprise Portal?

  1. People will tweet about it, calling it Enterprise Portal.
  2. People will blog about it, calling it Enterprise Portal.
  3. People will link to it, calling it Enterprise Portal.
  4. My product’s page will start ranking very well for the term “enterprise portal” in Google.
  5. The buzz will wear down when people move on to the next fad (as they do especially in the tech world).
  6. My product will be stuck with a great ranking for “enterprise portal.” People will continue to search for this generic phrase, whether they know about my product or not.

The important part here is that the product name assists natural linking behavior. Bloggers and industry analysts are more likely to link to your product with the name of the product as the link text. If your product has a weird name, that’s what you’re going to rank for in Google.

You can fight this by trying to get links with link text that’s different than your product name. But this is an uphill battle. It’s a lot of work getting other sites to link to yours with text that you want. Many SEOs fight this battle day after day, and the smart ones secretly wish this were an easier task.

A compromise: mixing the two

Another way of looking at this: what if I name it Administrivia Enterprise Portal? This is a compromise. I’d venture to guess that linkers will sometimes call it “Administrivia Enterprise Portal,” but I’m guessing that some or most will still refer to it as “Administrivia” alone. Tweets only allow 140 characters, and people tend to be lazy when writing, so they will find shortcuts.

It’s still your choice

Of course, this is all still your choice. Nobody is twisting your arm to brand your product one way or the other.

Sometimes worrying about search rankings and SEO can be quite maddening. But it is another tool in your toolkit. Being found by your customers is important, and many of them turn to Google first. So you may as well squeeze every little bit of value out of your product name that you can.