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The Domain Game

Your domain name is what? Here's how to get a name they'll remember.

It's a sad, sad thing when homebased business owners have domains like www.aol.com/members/~myhomebiz0912.html and e-mail addresses like myhomebiz6417@juno.com.

Such tortured addresses are hard to say and hard to remember, and show that you rank your online presence somewhere between emptying the trash and watching reruns of Seinfeld. Take it from Debbie Williams, owner of OrganizedU.com, a online resource center for professional organizers and people who want to get organized, in Houston. When she was interviewed for a local radio show, she fielded questions like a pro. But when it came time to read her former URL on the air, "I rattled off a loooong URL, and the deejay promptly told me off the air that we couldn't do that again!" Williams recalls. "What began as a wonderful marketing opportunity turned into a fiasco because I couldn't tell listeners how to find me and buy my products and services."

Now that you've been duly warned, here are some tips for finding and registering a domain name that works:

  • The first step obviously is to try to register the name of your business with a .com on the end. Unfortunately, this isn't as cut-and-dried as it sounds because all the good names are most likely taken-including allthegoodnamesaretaken.com. By the time you read this, your name will most likely have been snatched up by someone else.
  • Now it's time to wheedle and whine to the holder of your desired domain until he coughs it up. Becca Williams, owner of Wallnutz, a Portland, Oregon-based homebased business that offers paint-by-number mural kits for kids' rooms, got Wallnutz.com from the original registrant by dishing up that world-class motivator: money.
  • If the .com version of your name is gone and you can't buy it off the owner, try .net or .org. New domain names-.biz, .info and .name-will become available this year as well. (The other names approved last November by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, .pro, .aero, .museum and .coop, will be restricted to companies in certain industries).

If even those are taken, you can register your name in one of the more than 100 non-U.S. top level domains (TLDs) like .cc and .nu. The drawback is that these don't have the recognition of .com-and your prospects will automatically slap on a .com if your domain name hasn't imprinted itself on their noggins. The results can be hilarious: Let me just say whitehouse.com does not lead to the Web site of our president's new digs. If you're older than 18, check it out and imagine a customer stumbling upon that site instead of yours.

  • If you're still stuck without a domain at this point, it's time to get creative. The recent decision on the part of the Internet gods to allow URLs as long as 64 characters is a great help. Many business owners can get a reasonable facsimile of their name by adding prefixes and suffixes like "e," "i," "cyber," "online," and "the." When Shannon Rubio of Spring, Texas, found that SmileBox.com was already registered, she registered TheSmileBox.com for her goodie-filled gift box company. Here's hope for the creativity-impaired: If you check the availability of your chosen name at the registry Network Solutions, it'll automatically come up with some creative variations for you.

So you finally found a name that's descriptive, memorable and, most important, available. Now get over there and register it before someone else does! C'mon, move it! Go, go, go!


Linda Formichelli has written for more than 70 magazines, including Entrepreneur's StartUps, Redbook, Woman's Day and Psychology Today. You can visit her online at www.twowriters.net. She also runs a site that's against intrusive advertising at www.badads.org.

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