Navigating the world of domain names can be a daunting task if you're not up to speed on how to get one. With countless caveats and hosting companies out there, it's easy to be overwhelmed or worse, make a mistake that could ultimately cripple your business.
Consider these do's and don'ts from small-business owners and experts to help secure your company's domain name.
Do: Include a location or keywords in your domain name, if you can.
If your business focuses on a geographic region, try to put the location into the name of your domain, says Jean Bedord, a Silicon Valley-based search consultant and author of the book I've Got a Domain Name--Now What??? When Mikalai Krivenko needed a domain for his painting business in Hoboken, N.J., in 2009, his son Yuriy, a Jersey City, N.J.-based search-optimization specialist, suggested he put "Hoboken" in the name. For $11, Krivenko bought hobokenpainter.com, which shows up at the top of keyword searches that include "Hoboken" and "painter." Whether it's location, or what your company does, Krivenko advises: "Put the most important keyword for your industry in the domain name."
Do: Register yourself as the owner of the domain name.
Some business owners make the mistake of not checking to ensure whoever registers their domain name does so under the business owner's name. It's very important to be sure you are the domain owner and administrative contact, says Bedord. "It's just like a piece of property. If you don't own the property, you can't sell an existing business," she says.
It's an obvious, yet common, mistake made by business owners. Three years after Graham Hunt, 44, started his real estate firm Valencia Property in Spain in 2000, the two-person web design team he hired to build his site split and he had to choose between them. Hunt soon discovered the partner he didn't choose had registered himself as the owner and administrative contact for the domain name, so Hunt didn't own his own website. It took three years and he ended up paying the disgruntled partner nearly $6,000 in sales commission fees to get back ownership of the domain, which originally cost just $15.
Do: Remember to renew your domain name registration.
When Nick Hoffmann, 32, missed the renewal of his networking company's domain name inetguru.com in 2000, it was a crippling business blow. The name got bought by someone else and without email access through the site, Hoffmann lost contact with clients. Eventually, he folded the company. Now working as chief operating officer for an aftermarket marketplace for domains, Hoffmann suggests buying a registration for five or 10 years upfront, or setting up an annual auto-renew payment. Just make sure the credit card on file doesn't expire, another common mistake that might lead to losing a domain name. "The whole aftermarket industry is based on names that drop off," he says. "It happens every day."
Don't: Use dashes, abbreviations or numbers in your domain name.
Instead, come up with a catchy name that's easy to remember and captures your business. Fan Bi, co-founder of Blank Label, a Boston-based online custom dress shirt company learned that lesson when settling on a domain in 2008. At the time, blanklabel.com was out of his price range at $15,000. Bi chose blank-label.com for a much cheaper $250. But as the business grew, he realized the hyphenated name was far from the best choice. "You get much more word-of-mouth if it's a name you can easily say without having to spell out," Bi says. Last year, after months of negotiation with the domain owner, he was able to purchase blanklabel.com for $6,000. Just three months after the change, website traffic shot up 25%.
Don't: Waste money on extensions other than .com.
When you register your domain name, you'll be bombarded with offers to purchase other versions like .net and .co. For most small businesses, that's not needed. Investing in other extensions becomes important when patenting something or protecting a trademark, says Bedord. If you think a competitor might want the .net version of your domain name, for example, consider taking it first. "The reality is you have to pay for every one of those," Bedord says. "The value is really in the .com."
Don't: Buy a domain without checking into its past.
Even available domains can be exposed to legal trouble if the name is too similar to another company's trademark. Nearly a year after launching New York-based LEEDTeacher in 2009, Zachary Rose learned the domain LEEDTeacher.com infringed on the registered trademark of a massive nonprofit. Rose, now 29, received a cease-and-desist letter demanding he change the name of his green jobs training firm, and shut down the website. He ultimately paid $2,000 in lawyer fees, renamed the company Green Education Services and switched the domain to GreenEDU.com.
Aside from consulting a lawyer, check www.whois.net, which lists registered domain names, for other possible legal landmines, suggests Rose. The site also includes expired domains up for grabs, and you can learn what problems a name comes with. For example, if a previous domain owner violated a Google term and was banned from Google searches, you'll want to know before investing in the name, Rose says.