To stay competitive businesses have to have an online presence. But if you aren't web savvy, navigating all the ins and outs of creating a website can be confusing. How do you choose a domain name? What must you do to maintain it? And what happens if your domain name expires?
We spoke with Paul McGrady, a trademark and domain name lawyer in Winston & Strawn LLP’s Chicago office about what business owners can do to keep their sites running smoothly, here's his advice:
1. Choose a registrar with good customer service.
Small businesses might not have their own IT departments and need help getting their sites up and running smoothly. Choosing a domain registrar with comprehensive customer service can help you resolve problems quickly, McGrady says. He suggests services like Godaddy, eNom, 1&1 and Dotster.
2. Be aware of others' trademark rights.
Businesses should be careful when selecting a domain name not to use another business' trademark. The Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) provides for damages ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 if a party registers a domain in bad faith with the intent to profit from a brand's goodwill.
However, bad faith isn't required for trademark infringement. If another business' name is substantially similar to yours, you may face trademark issues. Conducting a search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website can alert you to federally protected trademarks, and a search of your state's trademark database (typically found on the Secretary of State's website) can alert you to marks registered in your state.
3. Consider an alternative domain extension.
A .com domain name extension is the default setting for business sites, just like .org is linked to charities and non-profits, McGrady says. But, the .com space is crowded, and a business owner may have to add additional terms to the domain like the city or type of business to find a name that hasn't already been taken.
Right now, only a dozen or so domain name extensions are available for registration, but according to McGrady, a sea change is coming, as 1900 new domain name extensions will roll out later this year and in 2014. Soon, extensions like .store, .shop, .financial and .nyc may be available for registration. So, if the name you want isn't available as a .com, you may be able to register it as .store.
4. Keep your domain names up to date.
Some businesses have multiple domain names with different expiration dates. McGrady suggests business owners set up a calendar with these deadlines and check in once a quarter to make sure the auto-renew option has been selected for each domain and your credit card information is up-to-date.
If you fail to extend the domain before the renewal date, there's usually a grace period before the domain becomes available to the public, however, the website's content and e-mail could be taken down the day it expires, meaning you could lose communication with customers.
If your domain lapses and someone purchases it, you can contact them and try to negotiate to get it back or, if it's a strong trademark and you can prove strong rights and bad faith, you may be able to dispute it through the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP).