Chapter 5

Preparing web app foundations

It’s a good idea to lay solid foundations for your app and stake out your piece of the web before you start in earnest.

Spending a little time now will help secure the online property you need to successfully launch your project later and will generate early interest in the app. Perhaps more importantly, it can be fun and motivational.

Naming your app

No strategy, no interface, no product: isn’t it a bit early to think of a name? That may be the case in any other industry, but the web is unique. Names are used not only to label the product but also to locate them via their domain name.

Competition for great domain names and web app names is high. The sooner you acquire yours, the better. Jack Trout, co-author of Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind1, said recently of brand names, “the availability of names is today’s № 1 problem”2.

With that said, don’t fixate on researching the perfect name: a great name won’t save a bad product, and a bad name won’t sink a great app. Nevertheless, with a little consideration you can make future marketing easier and avoid the common pitfalls that lose some customers.



As former Radio Shack president Lewis Kornfeld asserts in the title of his book, To Catch a Mouse, Make a Noise like a Cheese3. If people can instantly identify with your product name and glean some understanding of what it does, you’ve already started to sell them your idea.

A positive side effect of application names containing relevant keywords is that they usually rank higher in search results for those same relevant search terms. For example, an app named PhotoDeck may have an advantage in searches that include the word ‘photo’ over competition that may include Picasa and Flickr.



A potential customer may become aware of your web app but not need to use it until a later date. Search engines can help them discover your app, but there’s a chance that your app will be hidden beneath the competition, or that the user doesn’t type the relevant keywords to bring your app to the surface. A memorable name alleviates this issue, as your app is more likely to be found through a search for its name.

Apart from being relevant, a memorable name should also be pronounceable. If a person is unsure how to pronounce a word, even if just with their inner voice as they read it, they are less likely to remember it. Similarly, a memorable name should possess as foolproof and straightforward a spelling as possible. If someone can remember the sound of your name but can’t spell it correctly, the name isn’t memorable. Take Qoop4, for example: is it Kwoop? Koop? Co-op? It has to be spelled out on the app’s about page. And why was this spelling chosen if it makes the name more difficult to say?

The name should also be as distinct as possible, rather than imitating existing product names or using relevant generic words, such as UsedCarSeller or OnlineChat.

Finally, the sound of the name itself should be considered. Research5 confirms that our memory prefers rhyming sounds, repetitive sounds, and words beginning with hard-sounding consonants, for example P, S or T rather than F, V or X. These rhymes, repetitions and consonants don’t necessarily need to be in separate words, but can occur in a portmanteau word or even within a single word.



The application’s name doesn’t necessarily need to suggest positive values and benefits, but it should at least avoid the inference of negative feelings or distasteful words (e.g. iStalkr).


You’ll want to avoid the embarrassment of Microsoft’s Bing search application: among the several meanings of the syllable in Chinese are illness and disease.

If you choose a simple sounding name, it may translate to a different word in a foreign language. Run the name through an online translation engine to check that it doesn’t have a negative meaning in any of the most commonly spoken languages. The easiest way to do this is to type in your app name, let the translation app auto-detect the language to translate from, and set it to translate into English.


You should also search for the proposed name on Twitter to double-check that it isn’t being used as a derogatory slang term.

Domain availability

Your chosen web app name will ideally be available as a .com domain name. If the .com isn’t available, you have four main options:

If the .com is available, it’s also worth checking the availability of the other popular TLDs, especially .net and .org. Ideally these will also be available but, if not, you should double-check that any registered variations don’t feature content or services that are embarrassing or could have a negative effect on your name by association.

Once you have decided on a web app name, register the domain name as soon as possible: some search engines use the age of the domain name and the duration of the domain in their index among the many positive ranking factors in their results.

Social media username availability

In addition to a unique domain name, most modern web apps are expected to have a presence outside their main website on a growing number of social media services. These are an essential part of your strategy for marketing your service and interacting with your customers.

A number of applications are available that automatically check the availability of your proposed app name/username. A Google search for ‘check social media usernames’ will return plenty of options.

Your username on other services should reflect as much as possible your web app name. If the name contains multiple words, the best option for a social media username, which is usually limited to a single word without spaces, is to join the words together without underscores or dashes. Social media services are increasingly accessed on mobile devices on which non-alphanumeric characters can be awkward to type.

Industry availability

Finally, remember to perform some due diligence on who else is using a similar name. You don’t want to invest years in a brand name only to be forced into changing it by a previously established, similarly named competitor. Some simple Google and Twitter searches for the name should uncover any major similarities. If you’ve got the money you might want to consider formally registering the company name in advance as long-term protection.

Creating a teaser website

Once you’ve chosen a web app name and registered the domain, the next step is to create a simple ‘coming soon’ website. A good teaser page will pique the interest of visitors by deftly describing your app in just enough detail.


The teaser website for Nizo (June 2011)

It needn’t take weeks to plan and develop. A simple teaser page can be created in less than a day and will deliver a number of tangible benefits. First, it allows you to market your brand and benefits, even if passively to begin with. If you decide to talk publicly about your future web app, for example in podcast interviews, you can refer the listeners or readers to the teaser URL.

Search engines will be able to index your domain. It can take weeks for a new domain name/website to appear in some search engines, so an early teaser page can start this process while the app is developed. Furthermore, if the page looks beautiful and the web app sounds appealing, people will link to you from their websites, which is great news for the app’s future search engine rankings.

The teaser site can help you build a database of interested potential customers. These can be notified when the app is launched, which guarantees you some initial interest and early feedback. If they have granted you permission, you can also survey them during the application development, perhaps to ask whether a particular feature would be valuable to them. Similarly, you can recruit a group of your mailing list users to beta test your app to improve it before launch. Moreover, if you do decide to involve your potential customers early, whether by survey, beta test or some other means, this will enhance their loyalty to your app.

Given the purpose and desirable benefits of the teaser page, you should consider the following elements.


The logo, colour scheme and tone of voice should preferably reflect those to be used in the web app, although it’s not crucial that they match the final version.


The app should be described concisely, in one paragraph or less. Focus on the benefits or the problem addressed, rather than features or technology. For example, “Can’t keep up with everything on the web? FillerFilter helps you find content that interests you and removes the stuff you don’t care about”, is much more user-focused than “FillerFilter uses the Twitter API to scan your followers, categorise their tweets, and then filters your RSS feed accordingly.”


The main purpose of the page is to generate interest but, like a good trailer for a Hollywood movie, don’t give too much away, just whet the appetite. Don’t let potential competitors know exactly what features you’ll offer or how you’ll achieve them.


Provide a simple form that allows the visitor to register their email address. Reassure them that you won’t spam or resell their details, and they’ll receive an email when the app launches. If you want to contact them for surveys or beta tests, provide checkboxes to opt in.

An alternative approach is to collect emails under the guise of request an invitation. The perceived scarce availability can often generate additional interest and excitement in the app. On the surface, this is a similar process to registration for launch notification: the user submits their email address through a form. If you take this approach, the user will expect to receive a personal invite to use the application before launch, which you can use to your advantage as a beta test phase.


Why should a visitor to your teaser page register their interest? Consider offering an incentive for handing over personal details, which might also influence them to tell their friends and spread the word about your app. Incentives might include early access to the system or a discount on the price at launch.

Contact details

Include your email address or an alternative contact method so that the media, bloggers and other interested parties can ask you questions.


Consider writing a microblog that features on the teaser page: short updates that cover interesting aspects of the app development. This will generate interest in the app and is straightforward to set up with services like Tumblr6 or Posterous7.

Social media links

Include links to the Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts for the web app, along with an RSS feed for the blog, if one exists.

Social media feeds

You could also display the content from your social media accounts, perhaps the latest entries from the Twitter stream. If the web app name is unique, you could also display social media interest with an automatically updated feed of who is mentioning your web app name on Twitter (using the Twitter Search RSS feed) or on blogs (using the Google Blog Search RSS feed), though you then run the risk of amplifying negative commentary.


This one’s a little thorny and can certainly cause more stress than it should. As you approach the end of development and the end is in sight, adding a countdown to launch to the teaser page can generate some excitement.


A domain name and teaser website make a practical small commitment to start your journey.

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