The Basics of Domain Names for Your Business From choosing a registrar to maintaining your site, expert advice on how to keep your online business presence running, trouble-free.

By Lindsay LaVine

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


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.

Related: When Business Names Confuse Consumers: The Basics of Trademark Law

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.

Related: 3 Simple Tools for Building a Website Fast

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.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Webmaster

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).

Wavy Line

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has worked for NBC and CNN.

Editor's Pick

'Catastrophic': Here's What You Should Know About the Debt Ceiling Crisis — And How a Default Could Impact Your Business
I Helped Grow 4 Unicorns Over 10 Years That Generated $18 Billion in Online Revenues. Here's What I've Learned.
Want to Break Bad Habits and Supercharge Your Business? Use This Technique.
Don't Have Any Clients But Need Customer Testimonials? Follow These 3 Tricks To Boost Your Rep.
Why Are Some Wines More Expensive Than Others? A Top Winemaker Gives a Full-Bodied Explanation.

Related Topics


3 Negative Stories Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves (and How to Reframe Them)

Rewriting destructive narratives helps clarify thinking, facilitate growth and improve leadership.

Business News

Did the FBI Bust or Botch a Massive Chicago Stock Scam?

On this episode of 'Dirty Money,' we find out how the sausage was made in a legendary Chicago trading scandal.

Business News

7 of the 10 Most Expensive Cities to Live in the U.S. Are in One State

A new report by U.S. News found that San Diego is the most expensive city to live in for 2023-2024, followed by Los Angeles. New York City didn't even rank in the top 10.

Business News

More Americans Are Retiring Abroad, Without a Massive Nest Egg — Here's How They Made the Leap

About 450,000 people received their social security benefits outside the U.S. at the end of 2021, up from 307,000 in 2008, according to the Social Security Administration.

Money & Finance

3 Ways to Create Multiple (Big) Streams of Income

Here are three ways to create multiple streams of income. These strategies require effort and resources but offer significant financial potential.

Business News

'Devastated': Man Falls Overboard on Cruise in Bahamas, Fiancé Speaks Out

The man has been identified as 35-year-old Ronnie Lee Peale Jr.