Founded in 2000, Opus Events Agency made its mark running conferences and similar corporate events. In recent years, the Beaverton, Ore-based company has moved into the cutting-edge field of "experiential marketing," orchestrating non-traditional branding tactics such as social-media video campaigns.

That move has not only led to enviable growth -- an 86% increase in revenues between 2011 and 2014, earning the company a spot on the Inc. 5000 list three years in a row -- but also a rethinking of the company's name. Thanks to the impact of its new focus on experiential marketing, in 2014 company executives decided to drop "Events" from its name and become simply "Opus Agency."

The agency also decided to change its domain name from the decidedly clunky opuseventsagency.com to something new, but discovered that neither opusagency.com nor any similar variant was available. "It seems like every 'dot-com' name under the sun has been registered," says Opus marketing director Brian Carlson.

The solution? Avoid the 'dot-com' entirely and adopt the recently released 'dot-agency' (.agency) domain option.

Now the company's home on the web is Opus.agency, a domain name that literally spells out the company's mission. "It underscores the agency model, and illustrates the idea that we offer a fresh perspective," Carlson says.

Opus is not alone. The new crop of more targeted and specific "not-com" domain names now enables many established companies that had previously chosen a sub-optimal URL the opportunity to make a fresh start. And Google recently issued a brief that not only states explicitly that adopting a not-com name won't adversely affect your rank in searches, but that in fact the advent of so many new domain name options will allow companies to  "find a meaningful and memorable name for your business as you tell the world who you are and what you do."

Maximizing that opportunity, however, requires careful planning and plenty of communication, which can ultimately elevate your brand to new heights.

Here is some essential advice from recent Inc. 5000 honorees--the pre-eminent ranking of America's fastest-growing companies--about how they made the switch from dot-com to not-com.

1. Redirect Traffic

The most important task in the transition is to re-direct web traffic from the old site to the new.

For this, Opus froze its website content and did a soft launch of the new domain name months before broadcasting that Opus.agency was up and running. This offered a window of opportunity to work out any bugs and code all requests to old URL links to redirect to the new site.

Freezing content and design on the about-to-be-former site as you work out any kinks on the new may be the most deliberate migration strategy, but it isn't the only one.

When Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a product design firm, moved from intelligentproductsolutions.com to IntelligentProduct.solutions in 2014, as soon as the 'dot-solutions' (.solutions) domain was released, it made an almost instantaneous transition.

"This is something that's on the cutting edge right now, so it was a good way for us to maintain our street cred," says June Severino Feldman, senior director of marketing and communications for the seven-year-old firm, which earned a spot on this year's Inc. 5000 thanks to its 61 percent three-year growth rate. The Hauppauge, NY-based company, however, did make sure to redirect their links ahead of launch to minimize the impact on SEO metrics, says Feldman.

2. Don't Say Goodbye Too Soon

To safeguard against lost communications, many companies keep their old domain names and their old email accounts for at least a period after launching their new URLs.

Harmony Healthcare Solutions, a healthcare finance executive recruiting and outsourcing firm that landed in the 497 spot on this year's Inc. 5000, recently switched from harmonyhealthcaresolutions.com to Harmony.solutions. "Our former website name was a mouthful, but that was the only thing I could get with 'harmony' in it," founder and CEO Christopher HG Brown says.

To maintain harmony during the transition, Brown happily pays the $25 annual fee to keep the old website and its associated email addresses up and running. Not that Brown has any misgivings about moving to a not-com website name. Just the opposite, in fact: His company has built out a portfolio of new domain names, including Harmony.expert, Harmony.consulting, and Harmony.healthcare, to keep the door open for future strategy changes. For its part, IPS has approximately 20 different domain names that redirect to its new primary site.

3. Spread the News

Once the technical details are in place, a communications strategy comes next. Use it as an opportunity to build excitement as you let employees, customers, and vendors know about the change.

Opus first told employees during an offsite retreat devoted to its larger rebranding effort. IPS likewise took the opportunity to make a big splash: Along with the new domain name and a redesigned website, it also announced a new corporate headquarters building designed to accommodate its growth.

Social media platforms and email newsletters are great ways to notify customers, since embedded links can easily draw them to your site. Danny Aponte, the director of software engineering at IPS, wrote a detailed blog post about the transition, and the "not-com" phenomenon in general.

Still, be prepared for some questions. "We're constantly educating customers and vendors that it's now 'harmony-dot-solutions'," says Brown. His advice: use it as a conversation-starter. "It's an eye-opener for many of them," he says. It's also a chance to send a strong marketing message that your company is not operating under a "same-old same-old" philosophy.

4. Stay On Top of SEO

Once your new domain is live, be sure to monitor SEO rankings and web traffic more closely than normal, to make sure no links are left behind. (A glut of "404 Not Found" messages on your web server is one sign that people are not getting through to your site, so be sure your webmaster monitors those and alerts you if necessary.)

The time you spend on these considerations will not only offset potential problems, but can lead to genuine gains. IPS, for example, says that its website is leading to more new business since it changed its domain name: it now serves up about one viable lead per day rather than the one per week that had been the previous norm. "It seems as though we're much easier to find since we made the switch," says Feldman.

For a more comprehensive "cheat sheet" on how to migrate your website to a "not-com" domain, click here.

 

Published on: Apr 28, 2016