Domain Names.

What is in a name?

Last week I told you that Beyond.com changed their name from
Software.net because it was often confused with Software.com, a completely different company. But that is not the only reason they changed their name. Apparently, Software.net may be a good descriptive name for their business but in fact there is nothing distinctive about it. Not only were potential customers confused by the ending, there was apparently little in the name for potential customers to remember. Was that Software.org, Computers.com, Internet.stuff or what? It was technology related but just
what was it?

Traditional retail stores have a physical location. They are located in downtown shopping centers, retail malls, airports and many other distinctive locations. A retail store can consequently focus its marketing efforts on attracting traffic directly to their premises and on attracting walk-by and casual traffic. The former is by far the more expensive and difficult traffic to attract but is more likely to convert into a customer than the casual visitor. Casual walk-in customers however, often account for the majority of business for retail outlets.

Internet sites do not have a physical location and cannot expect much casual traffic. Visitors to most web sites are destination driven. They are harder to attract but far more likely to convert into a customer than a casual visitor. A web site manager's foremost objective is consequently to attract visitors to their site.

Company's like Beyond.com can afford to invest significant resources into finding the right name for their online business. For most new Internet ventures, this is not feasible. A name must be found and registered based on your own judgment. One of the hardest aspects to this is in finding a name that can be registered at all. Names like "Software.net", " shopping.uk.co/ ", "cars.com", "appliances.com" etc. are already taken. It may be just as well as Software.net decided. Some of the most successful online ventures have far more innovative and distinctive names like Yahoo,
Alta Vista and Amazon.com.

Another suggestion I have heard but don't put much stock in is to keep the name as short as possible. Three letters are best because they require that the visitor type the fewest letters. Apart from IBM I cannot immediately think of any 3 letter web sites. There is no point in saving typing if you don't remember the name. Barnesandnoble.com however may be putting too much faith in peoples typing and spelling skills. In either case it should not matter. Your objective should be to get a link that people can click on and not to have them type at all.

Another suggestion I think any serious web promoter should consider is to have multiple URL's. The fact is, registering a URL for as little as $15 per year from some of the new registrars is one of the least expensive promotion expenses you can have. Many ISP's (Internet Service Providers) will let you assign multiple domains to subdirectories of your main account for a nominal fee. Our ISP charges a $25 setup fee and $1 month. These additional domains can focus on a different aspect of your main business and then link to your main site. Not only will they cast a wider marketing net, the multiple links may also help with your search engine ranking.

If there is a chance your customer will misspell your name then register the most common misspellings. You will still get to the
barnesandnoble web site from http://www.barnsandnoble.com/ despite the mistyped. Most ISP's will also let you 'Park' several domain names in your main account directory for a nominal fee. Parked domains use the same web pages so there is no extra work in maintaining multiple web sites.

What about registering foreign domain URL's? By all means do so if it makes sense for your business. Not all jurisdictions will allow you to register a name with their commercial country code unless you have a physical commercial presence there. The ".
com" ending is the primary name for commercial US web sites. To the best of my knowledge ".com" names can be registered with Internic by anyone. What is more, many US Service Providers pride themselves on hosting as many foreign web sites as possible. If you have a European business with a product that can be easily sold in the US with a credit card, setting up a US presence could be very effective and inexpensive.

In the US the two additional name types are ".net" and ".
org" The ".net" ending is intended for Internet related services such as ISP's. The ".org" ending is intended for none commercial organizations such as charities. Even so there is no reason why you cannot also register your name with these endings. Whether it is really worth it is another issue. Few people will actual search under these URL's for a commercial site as Software.net found out. Even so, the cost for most businesses is negligible and has the advantage that it can block a competitor from registering it. If money is tight however, look for additional URL's that are likely to expand your marketing efforts.

Finally, when you do register your name make sure that you have control of it. In the US, your Hosting company will require that they are listed as the Technical Contact since they are maintaining your site. They will also be happy to let you be registered as the Billing contact since you have to pay the bills. In the past, many Hosts would also list themselves as the Administrative contact if you asked them to register your name with
Internic. The Administrative contact is the person that approves any changes to the name such as moving it to a new host.

The Administrative contact for all intents and purposes owns the Domain name even though they may not be paying for it. Hosting companies have registered themselves as the Admin contact to block the rightful owner from moving their domain to another host for any reason. This is unethical but not as uncommon as it should be. Getting
Internic to change the Admin contact can be difficult if the current Admin contact say's no.

When you register a new domain name in the US, make sure you are listed as the Admin contact with
Internic. If you already have a domain name but are not sure who the contacts are, you can check by going to http://www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois And entering the URL you wish to check.

"IMS Web Tips" ISSN 1488-7088
© Copyright 2001 Virtual Mechanics

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