Master Your Domains
Joshua Schacter has always had a thing for unusual domain names. When the extension dot-us became available, he registered all the words he could find in a dictionary ending in -icious. His hobby even caught the attention of national media when he registered burri.to as his personal email address in 1997.
So when Schacter registered del.icio.us in 2003, it was just the latest in his collection of obscure domain names. Now, just two years later, del.icio.us is a growing social bookmarking site with more than 100,000 users -- and Schacter says he has his bizarre hobby to thank for his business's popularity.
But are newer extensions and playful names a must for website success?
Maybe, maybe not, say analysts, but companies do need to have a clear-cut strategy when selecting a domain. And with nearly 30 options for top-level domains, choosing a name becomes a sink-or-swim process for many companies.
Analysts at research firms Jupiter and Gartner say wading through the Internet name game is an important step that business owners shouldn't rush. To help you weigh your options, here's a review of some of the most commonly chosen top-level domains:
- Dot-com: When it comes to domains, dot-com still reigns supreme. Registering your company with the original web address may be a no-brainer, but you'll find names are picked-over and scarce. If your first or second (or even tenth) choice is already taken, experts say it's worth it to get creative so you can still cash in on the dot-com cache. Doug Addison, Austin-based web producer and author of Small Websites, Great Results, suggests attaching your location to your name ("austinmechanic.com") or using your company's marketing slogan ("tireswithouthassles.com") to increase your chances of getting the dot-com extension.
- Dot-net: Originally intended for communications companies, dot-net has become a distant second choice for businesses that couldn't register the names they wanted on dot-com. Companies can get away with using dot-net if they need to, says Addison, but using the extension requires customers to cross "a mental hurdle" to remember the address. You can help them make the jump by putting the web address on every marketing tool -- delivery trucks, boxes, t-shirts, bumper stickers -- you name it. Making the name more visible will decrease the chance that customers will type dot-com when they want to visit your site, Addison says.
- Dot-biz: If you're not sold on dot-net, then dot-biz is a close third choice, says Gartner Analyst Ray Valdes. Choosing dot-biz can easily tie into your company's branding strategy, he says. For example, a small business consulting firm could use the address "smallbiz.biz" or even "small.biz" to give the name more impact. But if you do choose dot-biz, Valdes warns that the domain is home to a growing number of spam sites. Registering for the domain might cause customers to mistakenly think your address is an unwanted destination.
- Dot-org: Most Internet users think of non-profits when they see dot-org, says Addison, but anybody can register a site with the domain. Addison advises against using the domain unless you're buying it to ward off scammers and cyber-squatters. If dot-org is used as your company's publicized address, then customers might assume your site is for a non-profit or charity, he said.
- Dot-us: Geographic domains are popular in Europe, where web surfers are used to typing in domains like dot-uk and dot-fr to access their favorite sites. But in the United States, Valdes says the geographic extension hasn't caught on with businesses or consumers. Although he says dot-us is preferable to dot-org, many Internet users mistakenly believe the extension is for government sites. To avoid customers mistaking your company for a new federal agency, Valdes suggests sticking to dot-net and dot-biz if you can't get dot-com.
One of the most important decisions in the registration process comes after you select your website's name and domain. The next step is to carefully research where to register your site, says Jupiter Analyst Michael Gartenberg. Even if you win the Internet name game and land a dot-com address, Gartenberg says the name will mean nothing if you don't have a registrar that directs traffic to your site. He suggests looking up websites already registered with a company and tracking how much visibility they have on popular search engines such as Yahoo and Google.
After your company has established its commercial web address, it can be a smart choice to buy the same name in other domains. The strategic move will prevent other companies and individuals from scamming your customers, Gartenberg says. But if you're a small company with a limited budget, snapping up domain names can add up. Addison says the expense, although minimal, might be put to better use on marketing or other tools, and maintaining several domain accounts can often become an unwanted headache.