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Can a name change help a website?

John D. Sutter, CNN
MSNBC.com changed its name on Monday to NBCNews.com following a split from Microsoft.
MSNBC.com changed its name on Monday to NBCNews.com following a split from Microsoft.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • MSNBC.com changes its name to NBCNews.com
  • URL changes are incredibly rare on the Internet
  • Still, there are examples of successful companies changing their Web addresses
  • Facebook, of course, used to be thefacebook.com

(CNN) -- Conventional webmaster wisdom holds that changing the name of a website leads to a drop in its popularity.

"You are going to lose traffic," a SearchEngineLand blogger warned would-be name changers in 2009. "That is a fact. Even if you only perform a domain change and preserve the exact same site structure and content, you will lose some traffic."

If that's true, it spells bad news for MSNBC.com, which on Monday changed its name and URL to NBCNews.com following a split from Microsoft, the technology giant that had partnered with the U.S. news network to produce the website.

But maybe that assumption is outdated?

NBC, for its part, said it doesn't expect the move to affect traffic. All existing URLs, including those linked on social media sites, will still work or will redirect to the new NBCNews.com URL, Vivian Schiller, NBC News chief digital officer, said in a conference call with reporters Monday. (The MSNBC cable channel will launch a new website in 2013 as an extension of its on-air brand, NBC News said.)

If you take a look at a few of the sites that have changed their names -- it's really rare for a site to do so, by the way -- you see that many of them not only survive a name change but are able to thrive after it. Or maybe because of it.

Here's a look at a few that have come out better on the other end of a URL switch:

Facebook: If you're under 30, or if you saw "The Social Network," you probably know that Facebook used to be called thefacebook.com. The company officially dropped the "the" in August 2005. That's universally regarded as a good move, but it's worth pointing out that the switch occurred before Facebook was a household name.

IMDB: The Internet Movie Database, now super popular and owned by Amazon, started in 1990 as a USENET group with the domain rec.arts.movies. The site then was hosted by Cardiff University before it migrated to IMDB.com, according to a feature in Total Film.

PerezHilton: The pop culture and gay news blog started out as PageSixSixSix.com, a reference to the New York Post's gossip column. Now pretty much no one (except a friend from HLN's website, who sent this reference) remembers the previous blog.

Overstock.com: The Internet retailer changed its name to O.co in 2011, but switched it back, as CNET reports, because of brand confusion. Consider this the warning for NBCNews.com, although NBC is already a recognizable brand in the United States. O.co, by the way, still redirects to Overstock's site.

PayPal: Elon Musk founded a site called X.com in 1999. The next year, it would merge with Confinity to become PayPal, the well-known online payment system. According to PayPal's official blog, the "X" was a reference to that "universally recognized programming variable" -- a reference to innovation and creation. This may be the only example of a site's URL actually getting less cool because of a change.

Twitter: The micro-blogging site launched in 2006 as Twttr because a "bird enthusiast" already owned the URL for Twitter.com, according to CNNMoney. Six months later, the company had enough money to buy some vowels.

Ask.com: Remember that fashionable digital butler from the '90s? Ask.com began in 1996 as AskJeeves.com but fired Jeeves in 2005 to become Ask.com.

Can you think of any others? Do you have thoughts on the MSNBC.com name change? If so, please let us know in the comments section.

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