BusinessMarketing

Digital real estate

Domain names are the digital equivalent of real estate for small businesses. Just as in the bricks-and-mortar world, location is everything.

A domain name, or URL (uniform resource locator), is the address of a website. It’s what customers type into a web browser to navigate to your business’s page, and the right domain name can be worth quite a lot to some businesses. Already this year, Facebook has acquired the domain FB.com for a purported $8.5 million. Closer to home, Electricity.com.au was bought from Netfleet in the same week for $34,000. Why are people willing to spend so much on a simple address?

The primary function of any domain name is to help people find a business. This works in two ways: a domain is a touchpoint between the customer and the business, but it can also be a way of generating search traffic.

“If you’re going to run any part of your business online, you need to think about how people will find you,” says Cathie McGinn, communications director of Reading Room.

The best way of ensuring the URL is search-friendly is to choose one that accurately relates to the nature of the business’s offering. A dentist based in Macquarie Street in Sydney, for instance, would ideally register a name like MacquarieStDental.com.au.

Finding the perfect domain is rarely as simple as that. Businesses with less straightforward or interesting products might need a catchier URL. According to McGinn, every business should weigh the need for its domain to be unique and memorable against its potential to generate search traffic.

“If your business name is not descriptive of the products or services that you sell, then it might involve a lot of work in terms of search engine optimization to help people find your website,” she says.

This is a difficult decision for any business to make. On the one hand, a domain name has to reflect the value and uniqueness of the business in such a way that people can remember it to type it into a browser when they’re at a computer or on their smartphone. On the other, there are strong correlations between search and customer conversions, implying that tailoring a URL to a more generic term is the way to go.

“There’s actually a traffic benefit to getting a keyword-rich domain name,” says Brendan Tully, principal consultant at The Search Engine Shop.

“If you’re building websites from scratch, and you pick the right name that attracts a lot of search volume, you can get a lot of traffic quite easily.”

He suggests that if a business wants to achieve both things, it can simply secure a search-friendly domain as well as one that details the company name and point of difference. The search-friendly domain acts as the actual location of the site online, whereas the other can be used in advertising and marketing collateral, redirecting to its functional counterpart.

Startup businesses don’t need to go through this complex process – they have the luxury of being able to choose their domain as part of their branding strategy.

Getting it right

According to Kylie Watson, a sessional lecturer in business and marketing at the University of Canberra and owner and operator of La Bella Creations, small businesses should investigate available domain names before settling on a brand name. It is actually wise to find one that matches the values of the business, and use that as a keystone in their branding strategy, rather than matching the domain to the brand name.

If the business has already been named and branded, and the perfect domain isn’t available, the owners are faced with the unenviable choice between rebranding or making do with what’s available.

“You can have a number of domains all pointing to the same website,” suggests Reading Room’s McGinn. “You’re not committed to one domain for the rest of your life, although you need to consider whether you want to spend money on print collateral and then have to scrap it all when you move domains.”

According to The Search Engine Shop’s Tully, changing a domain is an undesirable option – especially if the site has been established for some time – as it will result in a drop in organic search listings.

While it’s best for a domain to closely interlink with a business’s brand, it can help to think laterally about how people find what they’re looking for online.

“If people have never heard of you and they’ve never done business with you, what they’re interested in is the product and service that you provide,” explains Reading Room’s McGinn.

In instances where it’s impossible to own the business name as a domain, it might be worthwhile settling for a primary domain that’s second best, and investing in a handful of other domains that could help people find the business according to its services or products.

Another advantage afforded startups are that they have the opportunity to establish a strong point of difference with their URL.

“Sometimes the quirk factor can be really successful,” says McGinn. “If you’ve got a quirky brand name, it’s perhaps better to stick to that and promote that because it’s short, it’s easy to remember.”

This is a particularly wise move in highly competitive industries. If there is a saturation of a particular type of business online, a catchy name can help a business stand out and is more likely to be available as a domain.

Securing domains

It’s best to secure as much relevant online real estate as you can.

“Could you allow a competitor to own your brand name domain if you don’t own it yourself? Owning every single space that you can for your business name would be a really smart strategy,” suggests Reading Room’s McGinn. “You’d want to protect your reputation by buying up a variety of domains that relate to your business name. You’re protecting your reputation, you’re protecting the real estate, and you’re owning as much of it as you possibly can. I’d always suggest you own the ‘.org’, ‘.com.au’ etc.,” she continues. “But the ‘.com’ is the most expensive and sometimes that can be impossible to acquire.”

While a ‘.com’ is the most familiar domain suffix, there is much to be said for securing a ‘.com.au’ if the business is based in Australia.

“If you want a ‘.com.au’, you need to be able to establish why you have a right to it,” says Nada Maltaric, associate solicitor at Wray’s Intellectual Property, “A ‘.com’ on the other hand, is free for all.”

According to Maltaric, you need either a pending or registered trademark that corresponds with the ‘.com.au’ domain name in Australia, or your name needs to relate to a particular service or product that your company sells or manufactures. There needs to be a corresponding relationship between your company and the domain name.

Subject to availability

Actually finding and securing a keyword-rich domain – or even one tailored to the name of your business – is not always going to be easy.

For already established businesses, a lack of availability can present some serious obstacles when it comes to securing the name of their choice. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room for every storefront on the internet’s high streets, no matter how much everyone tries to crowd in.

There are a number of options open to businesses that are unable to get their ideal domain, though.

La Bella Creations’ Watson named the business after her two daughters and was well on the way to establishing it as an entity when she discovered that the covetable LaBella.com was already being used by another organization.

“[Not owning] LaBella.com doesn’t phase me too much because it’s not a competitor,” says Watson. “They’re manufacturers of fine instrument strings, and we’ve got good search results, regardless. If it was a jewelry company, I’d be quite concerned.”

All the same, her company’s most desirable piece of digital real estate was already taken. To counter the issue, Watson bought every other relevant piece of online real estate she could think of and redirected each new acquisition to the business’s second choice, LaBellaOnline.com.

As the traffic to that site grows, Watson is expanding her host of online real estate to include domains for the trademarked name of the business’s main product.

Abusive registration

Cybersquatting – the practice of maliciously targeting up and coming companies by registering desirable domain names and then charging extortionate amounts for them – has long been an underhanded way of making money on the internet. If you’re unfortunate enough to have invested in a particular business name only to find that someone has opportunistically registered before you could, there are thankfully some options open to you.

“If you own the trademark and the rights to your own business name, you can compel people to hand back online property just the same way as squatting in real-life property terms,” says Reading Room’s McGinn. “There are legal ways of getting back what’s essentially your brand, your reputation.”

It’s best to arrange a domain name along with that crucial first step of trademarking the business’s brand name. While legal action is obviously the last resort when trying to wrest a domain name from an opportunistic third party, there are some things that can lend weight to the afflicted company’s negotiations.

Businesses that have registered a trademark, or have one pending, are able to file for a Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy procedure (UDRP). Taking the cybersquatter to court isn’t necessary, however, as there are dispute resolution service providers that deal with cases of ‘abusive registration’, such as cybersquatting. Look for providers which have been approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

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Find out if your perfect domain is available with Netregistry’s domain checker.

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