The Brandable Insider: The Keywords of Y Combinator Startups

When selecting brandable domains for purchase and resale it’s important to know our target market. One technique is to buy names similar to the ones listed at our favorite brandable marketplace. This is a good initial strategy but in order to take our skills to the next level we need to stay in tune with the startup industry’s values and trends.

Last month James Iles wrote a great article analyzing the 1100 domain names of past and present members of the start-up accelerator, Y Combinator (YC). He wrote about the dominance of the dot-com extension, the tendency for short brands and the popularity of individual letters. It’s an enjoyable read and I downloaded the file of 1100 domains using the link at the bottom of the article.

For the purpose of further analysis and discussion I compiled the most popular keywords used by YC companies at the start of their domain name. I divided these keywords into three categories based on my personal assessment of each one’s value.

Strong keywords
Air, app, blue, boost, care, chat, click, cloud, code, coin, crowd, data, drive, fit, get, go, hero,
med, insta, job, lend, micro, news, pay, screen, social, sound, stack, standard, style, work, ride,
talk, tap, team, think, trans, true, up and zen.

Medium level keywords
Bit, hacker, hack, hello, flex, hey, give, info, message, new, next, one, open, op, pad, page, paper,
snap, plate, pop, jump, kick, mix, high, rent, send, shift, play, post, rescue, thread and git.

Weak keywords
Every, flight, flutter, frame, future, hi, hip, ink, lets, made, magic, matter, meet, mine, snip, vaycay, vid, we, women, you, zero, any, clever, event, block, break, fabric and five.

Based on these admittedly subjective and arbitrary categories I created a hierarchy of possible keyword combinations, from best to worst, as follows:

  • Using two strong keywords ie. MicroBit, GoSocial and DataHero
  • Combining strong and medium keywords ie JobShift, DataFlex and RentCrowd
  • Combining strong and weak keywords ie BlueFrame, CareMagic and StyleEvent
  • Combining medium and weak keywords ie HelloVaycay, HighFlight and MagicMessage
  • Using two weak keywords ie EveryEvent, FutureFlight and CleverMagic

It’s easy to see how the strength of the keywords in a brandable domain play a huge role in its perceived value and desirability. EveryEvent, FutureFlight and CleverMagic have lots of things going for them including alliteration and synergy. However, as desirable brands, they hardly get off the ground because their fundamental building blocks are weak.

Speaking of synergy, its an equally important aspect of a good brandable domain which I wrote about in a previous article. Pairings of strong keywords like AirCare, TransLend and MicroBlue fall flat because their synergy is weak. On the other hand, brands with two strong keywords and strong synergy create really great names like: ClickPay, StyleCloud and InstaLend.

To further illustrate my points, here are some aftermarket sales from the past few days: ($1401) – White (strong) + Moon (weak) with stellar synergy ($963) – Print (strong) + Guru (medium) with OK synergy ($301) – Two strong keywords in the wrong order. FamilyDay would be a much more powerful brand. ($80) – Two medium to strong keywords with a good level of synergy. Had this domain been auctioned on GoDaddy it likely would have sold for more than double this price. ($106) – Two weak keywords with little synergy ($582) – Armor (medium) + Shop (strong) and weak synergy ($385) – Loud (weak) + Monkey (strong) with good synergy ($370) – Epic (medium) + Guide (medium) with good synergy ($154) – Astro (medium) + Hobby (weak) with OK synergy ($102) – Studio (strong) + Flex (medium) with poor synergy

Keep in mind that keyword strength is subjective and my categorizations are by no means definitive. You likely have your own opinions about keyword strength based on your own domaining experience. But either way I think this kind of analysis is helpful in refining our name selection skills.

Meanwhile here are some interesting brandables coming up for sale at NameJet this week:

Keith deBoer

Keith DeBoer is a domain writer, investor and host of the Brandable Insider podcast.

10 thoughts on “The Brandable Insider: The Keywords of Y Combinator Startups

  1. Thanks Keith for compiling this list. Don’t know that Style is also a strong keyword. LeanDomainSearch puts it at 64 in its popularity index. Well, this info is quite good to understand and acquire two keywords domain

  2. It’s always good to look at things from different angles and the LD search tool gives some valuable objective info. It’s also good to keep in mind that LD search ranks a keyword’s popularity based on domain count and doesn’t factor in market trends and the values in specific industry niches such as brandables. Estibot, which is often maligned, can give a general sense of value based on stats in the same way as LD and other tools can. Thanks for the insights!

  3. BTW just for fun I just now did a bulk search for all the domain names I made up to illustrate various points. All of them are already registered with the exception of HelloVaycay 🙂

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