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Get a good name on the web
Category: Domain Names
WHEN Stephen Phillips decided to buy a website address for his market-research firm, Spring Research, he made a big mistake. On the advice of his business partner he decided to buy only Springresearch.co.uk and did not bother to buy Spring research.com, too, even though it was still available.
“My business partner said I needed to advertise myself as a UK-based company so it was really important that I bought the .co.uk name. Which was fair enough, but I should have got the .com name as well. It was just sitting there,” he said.
Within a month Phillips realised he had been foolish not to acquire the .com name, but by then the name had been snapped up by someone else. It took four years and much haggling to buy the name and it ended up costing £700 instead of the few pounds it would have cost in the first place.
With websites becoming an increasingly important part of modern commerce, small businesses such as Spring Research are learning - sometimes the hard way - that website addresses, or domain names, are not just an optional extra but an essential part of their business.
Most small-business owners understand the concept, but they are often unsure how to find and keep a domain name.
Susan Hallam is the founder of Hallam Communications, an internet-marketing consultancy. She said: “It’s very rare these days to find a business that doesn’t understand it needs the internet. What many have trouble with, is that they don’t know the first step they need to take.”
In many ways Phillips was extremely lucky to have got the .com name he wanted – and to have paid so little for it.
However, if the domain name you want has already gone, do not despair. A lot have been bought up speculatively with a view to selling them on at a higher price rather than to use them for a business, so you may still be able to buy the one you want provided you are prepared to pay.
Several websites act as brokers for domain names. If you go on to one of these sites, you can browse the domain names that are for sale or put in a request for the name you want if it ever comes up for sale. Brokers include Pool.com, Sedo.co.uk, Snapnames.com and Dotpound. com. Some will also give a free valuation of any unwanted domain names you own.
Hallam said: “There’s a huge market for domain names and lots of organisations that do nothing but broker them. They match up buyers and sellers. The value of a domain name is purely a function of the demand for it.”
Approaching the owner of the website name you want can also yield results. You can find out who owns which website at Whois.org. Hallam said: “A lot of people bought domain names speculatively because they thought they would be able to sell them at a profit some day and now they are sitting on thousands of them. So they might be happy to shift some. A small business may be able to acquire a domain name for a couple of hundred pounds.”
Acquiring the right domain name is very important, though, if you want the name to enhance your business.
Hallam said that to be able to choose a good domain name, it was vital that small-business owners got to grips with the way that internet search engines, notably Google, worked.
Research shows that when people are searching the web, hardly anyone bothers to look beyond the first page of results even though the search often produces hundreds of them. So, to get your company noticed, you need to give your website name enough pointers for it to be automatically placed on the first page.
“A domain name needs to be memorable, consistent and coherent with your brand,” said Hallam. “And it needs to be search-engine friendly. If, for example, you are a florist in Lincolnshire, it might be worth buying the domain name Lincoln shireflowers.co.uk, for example.” Hugh Boyle is the head of digital for Europe, Middle East and Asia at Ogilvy Action, a marketing communications agency. He said that when choosing a domain name small businesses should think about being a bit more creative than simply getting their business name and adding .com to it.
“People relate well to firms that don’t necessarily put their brand in the domain name,” he said. “And it is good to be clever or funky with them. It’s an area where you can be creative.”
Boyle himself, for example, has already speculatively bought the domain name Youarenot goingoutlikethat.com, which he thinks would be ideal for a teen fashion brand, and Fridayafternoon.com, which would work as a weekend events website.
One of the best examples of this, he said, was the DIY chain B&Q’s decision to buy and use the domain name DIY.com. “It’s brilliant,” he said. “What it is saying is, B&Q is DIY. It’s a clear statement of market leadership and of confidence.”
Prime domain names can also earn you big money if you decide not to use them yourself. Boyle cited a friend who bought a domain name for a few pounds and then sold it for £20,000.
Whatever name you came up with, he said, it was vital to get both the .com and the .co.uk versions. “If you can’t buy the .com and .co.uk, then think of another name,” he said. “Domain name endings such as .net, .uk.com, .ltd.com, .biz and .tv don’t resonate. And you won’t get many English companies using .eu.
“Also don’t have any hyphens. If people are going to the wrong site when they are looking for you, then unless they really need your product or service, they won’t bother to look again.”
You should also try to avoid confusion with another business with the same name. “Look at a different characteristic of your company and use that instead,” said Boyle. “If you are a plumber and you have the same name as a bookshop, don’t mess around with hyphens and .orgs because it just frustrates people. Choose something smart such as Leaky pipes.com.”
Once you have bought the name for your business, think about what proxy domains you need to buy. Proxy domains are website addresses that you don’t actually use but that link to your main site through vital keywords that will be picked up by a search engine such as Google.
Finally, once you have acquired a domain name that works for your business, you must renew it every two years. If you don’t, the consequences could be devastating. Hallam said: “Remember that you do not own a domain name, you only rent it. I’ve seen a lot of small firms get their fingers burnt because they forgot to renew their domain name. There’s a whole industry out there engaged in ‘sniping’.
“They sit there and see that your domain name is going to expire on March 4 at 5pm, and the second your domain name expires they have an automated piece of software to swoop in and buy it. Once they have it, you have no right to it. It’s a nightmare.”
HOW TO CHOOSE A DOMAIN NAME
-Get both the .com and .co.uk versions. Don’t bother with anything else
-Don’t put hyphens or underscores in the name – they only confuse people
-Choose something memorable and easy to type
-Buy proxy domain names rich in relevant keywords to direct people to your site
Remember to renew the name every two years