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What makes a good search engine name?

The Magazine answers...

We've got Google, Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves and Dogpile, among others. Now Microsoft has re-launched its search engine as So, what makes a good search engine name? search engine
Bing will compete with Google and Yahoo!

A new kid has arrived on the search engine block.

Microsoft's Bing has joined the web's big-hitters, Google and Yahoo!, in their mission to help internet users navigate the web's resources.

The computer giant hopes the new search, which updates its old MSN search, will help it gain a bigger share of the search market - with Google currently taking 64%, Yahoo! 20% and Microsoft, despite being the biggest player in the software market, a paltry 8.2%.

Among the crop of more recent search enterprises is Wolfram Alpha, a computation knowledge engine named after its creator, Cuil, from the Gaelic for knowledge, and hazel (that's a lowercase "h"). So what makes a successful search engine name?

Brevity and catchiness, and a word without existing connotations all help.

Those in the web branding and marketing industry say in the age of Web 2.0 - a term referring to a more interactive, second generation of the internet - short and catchy is key.

A short, catchy word that is easy to remember
Something that can take on its own meaning or has positive connotations

"When you look historically, the names that succeed are those that are easy to remember. There are three main search engines that people know - Google, Yahoo! and MSN. All are similarly short words," says Josh Krichefski, of digital media agency BLM Quantum.

Part of the beauty of Google as a name is that it has no real meaning, he argues.

"When Google started it was not a universally known word, but it is now a universally known term and is even a verb - to Google. As soon as you try to make it [a name] functional it is less interesting - less memorable."

In fact, Google derives from a functional term, googol - 10 raised to the hundredth power - but this had the benefit of being so little known it didn't confuse the masses.

'Sounds fast'

Bing is easy to remember, says Mr Krichefski, but also has the added benefit of giving users a sense of speed.

"It sounds fast - I think that has value. If you think about it, search engines are not content providers they are facilitators. You use them as a fast way of getting you what you need.

"In that way Bing is probably successful."

In contrast to the positive images Bing evokes, Dogpile - which started in 1996 - brings with it "negative connotations", says Mr Krichefski. And Wolfram Alpha does not work well either because it is not memorable.

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Andy Nicol, managing director of Sputnik digital design and marketing, agrees that the key to a successful search engine name is the punchy sound of a word.

"You want something short and catchy," he says. "Anything longer just sounds a bit tacky."

It might explain the rebranding of Ask Jeeves, several years ago, to Although not entirely. reverted to its original name earlier this year, and brought back its iconic butler character, after research revealed that users missed his "friendly, human touch".

But with pithy dotcom domain names in short supply - most have already been bought up - any budding search engine creator also needs to think practically about whether a suitable name is available to be bought, he explains.

Of course, a snappy name isn't everything - there's also the technology that sits behind it. The CBS-owned must surely lay claim to the best search name ever, but have you ever used it?

So, taking all these factors into account, is Bing a good brand name?

"It doesn't come out and hit me, but I see why they have done it. It doesn't say a great deal, but then nor does Google," Mr Nicol adds.

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