Get this one wrong and you could be sending customers to the competition.
Choosing the right domain name should be an essential part of any business marketing plan. Here's why: Every day, 60 million Americans use Internet search engines to find information about everything from health topics to new products, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a non-profit research center studying the social effects of the Internet on Americans.
Here's another reason: Consider the real-life story of Gary Pudles, CEO of AnswerNet, an Inc. 500 company. When registering domain names, Pudles wanted to register the URL for his company's name, www.answernet.com, but he also wanted to attract customers looking for services under a particular topic: telemarketing. The URL www.telemarketing.com, which today accounts for 20 percent to 30 percent of their Internet referrals.
Before you head to the online registrar, know that you could be in for a shake-down if you don't know the ropes. Here's a rundown of the most important things you need to know:
1. Use your business name. That is, of course, if it's available. If your company is Rocky Mountain Candy, your domain should be "rockymountaincandy.com." That may seem obvious, but it's a point worth reiterating. Customers will automatically assume your domain is YourBusinessName.com and type it into a Web browser. If they can't find it that way, it will make it harder for them to find you.
2. Be prepared for a challenge. By this point in the game, many of the best domain names have been snapped up, years ago. Generic names like cars.com, sex.com or art.com were among the first to go, and are now worth millions of dollars. Unless your company has an extremely unique name, you may be in for lengthy brainstorming sessions with your business partners as you consider alternatives. When Gary Pudles was lining up URLs for his company, he was asked to pay $50,000 for his company's name (www.answernet.com), which had been registered by another party who instantly realized the value of the domain when Pudles first came calling (Pudles ultimately had his marketing manager call as an individual to buy the domain for $5,000).
3. Always use dot.com. Having a .com at the end of your URL is not only expected for companies, it also indicates a degree of professionalism that extensions such as .org, us, .info, etc. don't carry, according Jerry West, Director of Marketing for WebMarketingNow.
4. Keep it simple. Shorter names are easier to remember than longer ones. They also lend themselves better to radio and televisions advertisements and are less prone to typing errors. You'll get tired of repeating "MyOverlyComplexDomainName.com." Also, avoid dashes and other symbols, as well as obscure acronyms. "Consider how your domain name sounds when you have to read it over the phone to a customer. If you have to explain special characters, abbreviations, or spelling, then you've got a problem," West advises.
5. Register alternatives. Just as Gary Pudles expanded his roster of URLs to include others that potential customers might type in, you should consider the same for your business. Doing so will keep customers from stumbling across a competitor's website. Most registrars forward secondary domains to your main URL for free.
6. Register your trademarks. If your company makes a hair product called "CurlNGo," buy the domain name CurlNGo.com (as well as CurlAndGo.com, for that matter).
7. Consider keywords. Buy additional domain names containing keywords that reflect your line of products or services and redirect them to your main site. This will improve your search engine rankings and bring you new customers. When doing online research, users tend to type in generic keywords such as "barbeque restaurant Atlanta" or "hair gel." To find the best keywords for your line of business, try Overture's inventory or WordTracker tools.
8. Use it. Let everyone know your URL: Incorporate it into mailers, television spots, business cards, and letterhead. The more you use it, the more people will remember it and visit your site.
9. Don't lose it. This is the most crucial point of all. If you run a successful business and fail to re-register your domain name on time, chances are good that a prospector will snap it up as soon as it expires. If this happens, you may be forced to buy back your domain at a high price from the domain squatter. To avoid this scenario, register your domain for as long as possible -- Network Solutions sells 100-year registrations -- and choose to have the registrar automatically renew your domain each year by keeping your credit card information on file.