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Finding and Securing a Domain Name

First, you've got to try to find the best name for your business. Then it's time to protect your investment.

The first step in choosing a name is obviously to try to register the name of your business with a .com at 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, the name you want 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 like .biz, .info and .us are also available but not used as widely. 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. Many business owners can get a reasonable facsimile of their name by adding prefixes and suffixes like "e," "i," "cyber," "online," and "the" or using hyphens. When Shannon Rubio of Spring, Texas, found that SmileBox.com was already registered, she registered TheSmileBox.com for her goodie-filled gift box company.

To check what's available and what's not, visit Network Solutions. Other businesses now offer domain registration, but this place was the first, and it has the technology down pat.

The drill is simple: You try a name, and Network Solutions tells you if it's available. When you strike out--that is, the names you want are taken--Network Solutions will provide alternative suggestions. You can also use their brainstorming tools on their Domain Name page: Enter keywords and you'll get possibilities that are available for registration. Find a name that suits you, and the charge is currently $25 a year when you register the name for three years.

Trademarking Your Domain
Because your domain is such a big part of your e-commerce business, you'll want to be sure to protect it. The best way to do that is through trademark law. A trademark is a word or symbol used to identify the source of goods or services to consumers.

You may apply for registration of a trademark or service mark, word, phrase or image after you use the mark to identify a product sold or service performed "in commerce," which means that you've used it for advertising and/or sale to customers. Your online business name can be a service (for trademark purposes) if it provides any kind of service to consumers: information access, ticket booking, online dating and so on. If your site sells the goods you manufacture, then your product names would be goods for trademark purposes. Trademark rights arise upon use in commerce--with or without national registration--of the name of the good or service. However, national registration expands and protects your trademark rights, giving your company a presumption of first use of the mark in association with particular goods or services.

The trademark office will not register a domain name that does not also meet the requirements of being a trademark; a domain name by itself is considered merely an address. Having trademark rights allows you to protect your domain name against others who might allege that it infringes on their trademark and try to have it legally taken from you, and also allows you to enforce your trademark rights against others who use domain names similar to yours to try to divert your customers.

Trademarks are complex, so make sure you read more about them or consult an attorney for your particular situation. You can learn more at www.uspto.gov.

Activating Your Domain
No matter what hosting solution you select, the process of activating your TLD is the same. The host will assign your domain name an IP (Internet Protocol) address, which consists of four numbers separated by full stops, log the IP number onto the host's primary and secondary DNS (domain name services) servers and broadcast to the Internet. The DNS servers will have hostnames and their own IP addresses. This information is required to modify your domain name profile kept by your registrar. Your profile can be modified by either you or your host. The name servers specified in your domain name profile will be the primary destination routers on the Internet used to resolve requests for your domain name or unique IP address.

Once you have a host, most of this maintenance will be done for you. You can provide permission for your host to update your domain name profile, and their technicians will take care of updating the DNS servers so your domain name can be resolved through its unique IP address.

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