It's a wild, wild Web. With the registration of domain names in the midst of shifting from the government-run InterNIC to the privately-organized nonprofit ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), it's more confusing than ever for entrepreneurs to know where to register that much-coveted and business-critical URL.
Most people don't know there's no reason to pay more than $70 for the first two years and then $35 for each consecutive year to own their own domain name. With the doors swung open on a free market for domain name registrars, it's easy to miss the best deal. Resellers looking to profit in this new open market abound, and you can save a few dollars by knowing your needs and doing a little comparison shopping.
Some resellers, such as Domain Namereserve, charge the $70 Network Solutions fee, plus an additional $59 start-up fee and $28 a year for miscellaneous services you may not need or may already receive from your host ISP but just haven't used (such as e-mail forwarding and tech support).
Companies like Network Solutions don't charge you additional fees if you register your domain yourself. If you want to hire a service to do the registration paperwork for you, there are many reputable brokers (such as Register.com) that don't charge additional fees-but make their money by trying to sell you additional services. ICANN has recently assembled a list of accredited domain name vendors that don't charge additional registration fees. Visit them at www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html.
Webgeek Karen Solomon (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes about technology and e-business for a number of publications, including Wired and Business 2.0.
Is there still such a thing as an original idea? Once upon a time, entrepreneurs launching a new business only had to worry about someone stealing their patent or brand name. E-businesses share these concerns, plus one: If someone has usurped your first choice for a good URL, it could be a real stumbling block for the fledgling storefront.
A name isn't just a name online; it's an identity. More important, though, your domain name is your address. A bad domain name can be the equivalent of opening a brick-and-mortar business on a remote street no one can find. With more than six million domains already registered, it's increasingly difficult to find that catchy, memorable name, but it's not impossible. Before you settle for second best, consider these creative tips for finding a name that's worth more than a thousand words:
- Don't get stuck in the ".com" mindset-".net" is perfectly respectable. And if you're doing business outside the United States, you can use a country code such as ".ca" (Canada) or ".uk" (United Kingdom). Avoid ".edu" and ".org"-these are reserved for educational institutions and nonprofit organizations, respectively.
- Make a mad dash for the dash and dot. If "topnews.com" is taken, for example, you may have better luck with "top.news.com" or "top-news.com."
- Mix it up with alphabet soup. The latest trend is to put an "e" or an "i" in front of a word, such as ISyndicate.com. And, of course, you can always add digits to a name.
- Drop the dubdubdub. A domain name need not start with www. Sometimes http://yourdomain.com can land you a hard-to-find word.
- Don't be so serious. Instead of choosing a name that describes what you do or what you sell, go with something quirky and memorable.
- Pay for the convenience. If you've been bashing your head up against the writer's block, think about hiring a naming company to get creative for you, like Comspring.com or Nametrade.com. Give them plenty of information regarding your company.
Getting a good URL doesn't have to feel like winning the lottery-a little creative twisting opens up plenty of possibilities.