What's in a domain name? More than you realize. Getting your own catchy corner in cyberspace can mean the difference between your site being an out-of-the-way pit stop or a prime destination for throngs of surfers.
But catchy domains are going fast. Network Solutions alone counted more than 5 million new domain names in 1999 -- a 164% increase over 1998. Within two years, predicts one Florida-based Web designer, 100 million domain names will be claimed, and you can bet that the remaining ones will be as out of fashion as betamax.com or vanilla-ice.net.
Alarmed because you have yet to register your site? You shouldn't be. There's still time to get a creative, marketable name if you act quickly and know where to look.
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Think globally, act locally
Feeling down because your business has a simple name that someone else grabbed before you even knew there was an Internet? Try including a geographic reference in your name. For example, say your name is "Joe" and your business, "Joe's Pizza," is located in New Hampshire. The Web address JoesPizza.com has already been claimed, but "newhampshirepizza.com" is not. You could even take advantage of your address and turn your site into a de facto source of fun facts about the Granite State. Surfers are pleasantly surprised when sites offer more than meets the URL.
Geographic references can also be easier to remember than the name of your actual business. For example, Ron Richards and Co., a New England-based wedding band, registered as BostonMusic.com. That's a smart way to make sure altar-bound couples -- who usually screen several musical acts before making a decision -- keep them in mind for the big date. An even better choice might be "BostonWeddingMusic.com," which would help ensure that users know you're a wedding band and not a music store.
Don't be afraid to go after ".net" and ".org" domains
Alternative top-level domains such as ".net" and ".org" aren't going as fast as ".com," but are nonetheless good alternatives if available. A common misconception about these is that ".net" is only for network businesses, and ".org" is only for nonprofits. Though they originally identified such organizations, there is nothing keeping you from registering your business with them. Just keep in mind that your users might look for you at a ".com" by default and not find you.
If you are lucky enough to find your own ".com," it's a smart idea to buy up its ".net" and ".org" versions as well. Owning all three names will make it that much easier for visitors to find your site, not to mention prevent competitors from buying them up and luring users away.
Also, keep in mind that seven new domain name registrations will be available for use sometime in 2001, according to NIC.net; the official provider of .com, .net and .org domains. They are:
Of the seven -- .info and .name are the only two open to the general public. The other five domains are limited to professionals and professional organizations.
Other options include reserving a domain in a specific country. These will give you an address that ends with a two-level code such as ".uk" for Great Britain, ".to" for Tonga, or ".nu" for the Niue Islands. Some countries require you to have a connection to the country, but some smaller countries with cool country codes (such as Tonga and Niue) are open for business. The Norwegian domain registry maintains a complete list. Note that international policy on who can get and register these domains is still evolving, and the Swedes who have grabbed yahoo.nu will probably have to give it up if yahoo.com complains.
Now you can register longer names
Recently, the powers-that-be in cyberspace decided to more than triple the allowable length of Web addresses to 67 characters in a domain name. Smart entrepreneurs are registering catchy words and phrases that relate to their businesses. For example, JustLikeMomUsedToMake.com is a site for swapping recipes. Another, RainingCatsandDogs.com, is the address of a Florida-based pet store, and is in its own way just as catchy as Pets.com.
One way to avoid having a really long domain name confuse users is to use dashes. They also might better your chances at finding that catchy slogan. For example, "rainingcatsanddogs.com" may be registered, but "raining-cats-and-dogs.com" is not. If you do go for a hyphenated name, spend the extra few bucks to grab the unhyphenated version as well, or someone else might take it and confuse the heck out of people trying to find you.
Don't forget that you can use numbers in your address. For example, when Fairfax, Va., entrepreneur Frank Borges Llossa was launching a search engine for finding stock photos on the Web, the name "onestopstock.com" was already taken. So he registered 1StopStock.com. A wise choice, especially because many Web directories list sites alphabetically. Having the number "1" in his address got his site listed first in the stock photography catagories on Yahoo.
Everything is for sale
OK, so maybe you've tried everything we've suggested, but that catchy domain name remains elusive because someone already owns it. Few things in the world don't have a price attached, so it can't hurt to hunt down the owner (the contact information of people who own domains can be gleaned from any registrar) to see if you can buy it. Of course, you'll have better luck if you're going after an uncommon name -- or have truckloads of cash to spend. "Business.com" sold for $7.5 million in November 1999.