Creating Your Internet Presence: Domain Names
The Internet has transformed the ways in which small business owners get things done. Some use it for advertising, similar to how people use traditional print and broadcast media. Others use the Internet to conduct e-commerce, running a business in the virtual environment of the worldwide web. Instant communication and long-lasting storage are still more uses. More revolutionary functions are invented every year.
But no matter what you're doing online, it all starts with the domain name--your unique address on the Internet. At best, a domain name identifies you and your business, and attracts customers. In some cases, it is the first impression a visitor gets of your business. But, with millions of websites competing for attention online, picking a domain name can be difficult.
"In today's competitive online marketplace, having a memorable and relevant domain name can mean the difference between succeeding and failing," said Doug Shuman, head of marketing for register.com, a well-known domain registrar. "Your domain affects everything from how your business builds its brand to how you rank in search engine results."
Many of the "best" domain names are taken. You won't find any three-letter domain names available. ABC.com (and Go.com) are owned by a television network. XYZ.com is owned by a programmer who devotes his home page to telling people that the domain name is NOT for sale. Enter your last name as a URL, and you may find someone already owns it. Pick a catchy phrase, Sunsetride.com, for example, and you'll find someone owns it (in this case, a charter boat skipper in Fort Myers, Florida).
So, how do you find a domain name that's suitable for your business and also available? A good domain name has the following characteristics:
- Not confusing/conflicting with similar names or businesses
While many people use search engines (Google leading the pack) to find web sites of interest, many others just type in a URL with the expectation that they'll reach the right site. Consider www.ford.com, or www.suzuki.com. These companies had the foresight to grab their own corporate names before someone else did. But look at www.campbell.com. It's a consulting company. The URLs www.campbells.com and www.campbellsoup.com take you to the soup maker's site, but the company didn't get www.campbell.com.
Similarly, www.toolkit.com and www.businessownerstoolkit.com bring you to this site, but www.toolkits.com takes you to a page parked at Network Solutions. And, www.toolkit.org takes you to an online advertising site maintained by a company called Marchex, while www.toolkit.net is another parked site. Finally, consider www.permaseal.com and www.permaseal.net. One is an asphalt and paving company in Illinois and Indiana; the other waterproofs basements in the same geographic area.
Consider the following issues as you decide on the domain name for your business.
- Get multiple domain names. They aren't expensive. Here's an example: www.mats.com, www.weathertech.com, www.macneil.com, and www.macneilautomotive.com. If you're looking for floor mats or other automotive accessories, they all take you to the same site. Multiple names can enhance your visibility in the search engines, increasing the likelihood that a potential customer finds you, and not your competitors.
- Get your own name. In addition to your business name, see if you can get your own name, if you want it to be associated with your business. The URL www.smith.com is taken, as is www.johnsmith.com and www.fredsmith.com. But what about www.jjjsmith.com? Assuming it is available, John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith can get a short and memorable domain name.
- Extensions. Always buy at least the three main extensions. Again, it doesn't cost much, and it prevents others from competing for site visitors/customers by using your company name. At a minimum, get domain_name.com, .org and .net. Consider the other extensions, such as .info, .us, .tv, and .mobi (a recent addition aimed at the people who surf the net on their cell phones). There are also country-specific extensions, such as .ca (Canada).
- Consider multiple sites. While looking for a new futon couch recently, it became apparent that a couple of "competing" sites were actually the same company (same address in suburban Chicago). However, the prices for identical goods were different. The opportunity to have differential pricing is a powerful online marketing tool. We also found multiple sites offering identical table fans at different price points, also at a single physical address.
For example, a talented local artist wanted to use the Internet as an alternative outlet to sell her paintings of trains, primarily older locomotives. She purchased four domain names: trainsbycrane.com, and StacyCrane.com, .net, and .org. The domain name registrar was offering a deal for purchasing multiple domain names, so the cost was actually less than it would have been 10 years ago to purchase a single domain name. The Internet service provider hosting the content doesn't charge anything extra to point multiple names at the same content. Because it seemed unlikely that there would be another artist with the same name specializing in train paintings, she didn't purchase trainsbycrane.net or .org. But because her name is relatively common, she did grab all three primary extensions for her name.
Remember, like most commodities, domain names can be bought and sold. If the name you want is already registered, but not in use, it may well be for sale.
To research domain names and test some ideas, go to one of the organizations that register domain names, such as register.com or other similar companies. You might also consider www.arin.net--the American Registry for Internet Numbers. They provide information regarding whether a particular name is available, and information on the ownership of already registered domain names.
The old saying about real estate is just as true with the Internet: location, location, location. Have you registered your domain name yet?