Observations and Insights

When the Domain Name You Wanted is Already Gone

Chuck Bankoff - Monday, June 02, 2014

You have the business concept, you’ve got the finances in place, now you’re pulling it all together; your business plan, your unique value proposition and your branding. You have the business name, but what are you going to call the website? In a perfect world, you would just stick a “www” in front of your business name, throw a “dot-com” on the end, and your all set.

Only one problem…. Your dream name… you know, the one that conveniently sounds like your business? It’s already taken.  

It’s not that hard to figure out who owns YOUR domain name, and often they don’t appear to be doing anything with it. If it isn’t already for sale, you can approach them to see if they would like to sell…. Just don’t expect any bargains.

Let’s assume that your first choice is out of reach
It’s time to get creative. The problem is that there is more to consider than you might think. After all, once you choose a domain name and start using it, it sets off an entire chain of commitment; collateral material, brand recognition, moving the existing website… better to invest the time and do it right the first time. Over the years I’ve developed some very strong opinions on domain name selection. There is a certain hierarchy of considerations and compromises:

Is a good “Dot-Com” available? (Probably not)
Generally, dot-Com is better than Dot-Net, Dot-Biz, etc. Unless you are in one of the specialty industries that the TLD (Top Level Domain) designation was designed for, such as Dot-EDU (schools and Universities), Dot-GOV (Government Agencies), your Dot-anything-but-Com will most likely be perceived as the red headed step child….leftovers…a second choice. In some cases Dot-org, or Dot-info might even be better choices, but in general, a good Dot-com domain is usually most desirable.

Shorter is better than Longer:
Shorter is easier to type, easier to remember and fits better on collateral material.

Make a Sentence:
If you can’t get a good short domain, try to make it easy to remember. Stringing additional words together that form a sentence (not a paragraph) may make it easier to remember, and have some additional search engine advantages (if your domain name is a popular search phrase). Keep it as short as possible. 

Easy to spell:
Face it, some words are just harder to spell than others. Unless someone is clicking on a link, they have to be able to type it in. Hard to spell domains leave a lot of room for error. Perhaps even sending your customer to someone else’s website. 

Avoid Abbreviations and Special Characters:
Did you know that SCVMA.org is the Southern California Veterinarian Association? Neither does anyone else. Using special characters like dashes and hyphens also make it harder to remember, and in my case it even taxes my typing skills.

Make it Memorable:
At the end of the day, a memorable domain name trumps everything else.  That’s exactly why everything above is a factor in the first place.

A few Tips:

  • Exact Match Domains (EMDs) are domain names that match a popular search phrase. This used to be a huge advantage in getting top ranking for that particular key word in the search results. It’s no longer the silver bullet, but it still carries some weight providing it is attached to a good website with worthwhile content.
  • Slight Modifications*: If you primary domain is taken, try adding a word, or an abbreviation to the end. For example, is long gone, but www.DigitalMarketingOC.com will do nicely if you happen to be located in Orange County CA like we are. Note that people read from left to right, and by putting the abbreviation on the end, we are able to take advantage of a process called “stemming” where we as human beings can visually pick out the full words and compensate for the abbreviation at the end. Also, OC has some cachet and recognition in our local area.     
  • Geo-Target: www.GeneratorRental.com may be gone,but what about www.GeneratorRentalHouston.com, www.GeneratorRentalPhoenix.com,etc.?

*Some Legal Considerations:
Some slight modifications could inadvertently result in copyright issues. You may want to check out this article by NOLO.com.

Care and Feeding of Your Domain:

Keep track of ownership:
Often a business assigns the domain registration to an employee who eventually leaves the company and no one has the registration information to make changes, or even to renew it. This is surprisingly common. The domain should be assigned to standard alias like (info@...) and the records should be kept along with all the other important company info. If you have an IT department, it should be their responsibility. 

Buying for Defense:
There is always a lot of debate about buying all the variations and combinations of your domain name. The rule of thumb is; if you can afford it…buy it! Why? Because anyone who is likely to buy a similar domain name as yours is likely to be a competitor of sorts. If you buy it first, you just took it off the market and gained a competitive advantage.   

Register for multiple years:
When a domain name is purchased, it goes into a database that is easily accessible to Google and the other search engines. Buying a domain name for one-year is a signal that you only have a temporary use for the domain, or that it may be for some spam like activity. Conversely buying a domain for 5 or 10 years shows long term commitment and weighs in your favor when search engines evaluate your website for placement in the search results.

Aged domains:
Domains that have been around a while with an untarnished history, or even better, a track record of good search results have an advantage. These would be the type of “used” domains that you would want to purchase if you didn’t start from scratch.

Toxic domains:
Some domain names are forever tarnished. They may have been associated with bad content (Porn or hate sites). More recently these include websites that have a history of “Black Hat” SEO practices that are counter to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

At the end of the day, your domain name is the center of your company’s digital identity. Your Social presence, your corporate branding and your company email all come back to your domain selection. It’s worth spending some time on because it can be expensive to undo later.

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