Business development · 7 October 2016

Thinking of starting your own business? Get your domain name locked down first

Without a well thought out domain name, a business has little chance in a congested online world
Without a well thought out domain name, a business has little chance in a congested online world

GoDaddy’s VP for EMEA, Stefano Maruzzi, begins his series of expert articles for Business Advice by looking at the important the right domain name for a company just beginning its growth.

Contrary to what we may assume, even the biggest businesses have had a share of domain problems. Some of the world’s most valuable companies come up with new product names, but overlook the arguably important step of registering the equivalent web address.

Potential buyers will inevitably type a domain name they expect will take them to the new product website. Instead, they are faced with obscure websites that certainly don’t lead where they wanted. No matter how big you are, landing on the wrong website isn’t an ideal part of the customer journey.

In the modern world, your website is as likely to be your first point of contact as your shopfront. If your customers and potential customers can’t find it, they can’t find you. Big brands can fix this issue by buying back the domain from the company that owns it, an approach somewhat out of reach of the typical small or medium-sized enterprise.

SMEs need to approach with a little more caution. Before the company has even begun, in fact. In order to ensure finding your company is as simple as tapping a name into an address bar, you need to make registering step one in business set up, right after having the idea. There’s no real excuse not to.

Get online before you’ve even begun

It takes less than five minutes to register a domain name and it’s often really cheap. If you happen to come across a seasonal promotion, you could even be looking at as little as a penny for the first year of registration. Even if you have just the twinkle of a great idea, you may as well go ahead and register it. Even if you never kick off that company, you can rest assured that no one else is going to launch the business that could have been yours, and you never know, you could be the next multinational goliath.

When your business does kick off, however, your website is your very own piece of online real estate, acting as your online business card or shopfront to assure people that yes, you really do exist. And, if you don’t have the right address, people aren’t going to stop by, even people looking for you will get lost. As you market your business, potential customers will remember your web address from offline advertising, word of mouth and beyond. If it’s not simple, or clear, they won’t easily find you, and you may have just lost a prospect.

It’s not just whether people can remember your URL – Google also understands a great deal about your site from your address, making the act of choosing an address your first act of search engine marketing. Web addresses that include clear signposts as to what your business does are registered by the search engine against the right industries and get the most relevant traffic. Include your company name and city and you can target locally, assuring potential customers that they are dealing with a local business when they need one. No one in Grantham wants a plumber in Toronto! Similarly, if you’re doing a great deal of business overseas, a clear address, searchable in every market will help explode your potential customer base.

What do they call you?

The first step in securing this valuable real estate is picking your domain name. There are two ways to go; signpost what you do (Bristolbikefixers.uk) or go for the good old fashioned brand name (Saddlebags.com). The choice is yours but consider whether people are likely to “get” what you do from your brand. Our bike shop probably isn’t going to benefit too much from a range of horse riding enthusiasts finding the site (without a significant pivot in business strategy, at least).

Make sure that the simplest version of your chosen name is available. Long addresses aren’t memorable, so you don’t want to have to extend it, and don’t mix letters and numbers – it’s a web address, not a password.

It’s also worth checking that your chosen address isn’t too close to someone else’s copyright or another domain name for a similar service. If you’re too close you could be caught out by trademark squatting regulations. The owner of the infringed trademark could bring a complaint through the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy and you could lose the address.

Once all that’s out of the way and you’re buying your domain name address, you may also want to grab any common mis-spellings of your domain and anything that people may more commonly call your business. The Guardian is a great example; in a fit of self-awareness, it owns grauniad.com, a name solely used by the newspaper’s greatest critics.

With all that in place you’ve almost got your domain, you just have to work out your ‘domain extension’.

Domain name: How does it all end?

Once you know what’s at the front of your web address, you need to decide on how it ends;

Whether it’s .co.uk, .net, .uk, that’s really up to you. Most British businesses have traditionally opted for .co.uk, .uk or a .com – but in the past few years a range of extensions have been released, so you can personalise your address even further. Graphic design company? Why not go for companyname.design or if you’ve got an on-demand service, thousands of .today domains are available. Ultimately, however, you can direct as many addresses as you need to a single website, so you can make sure all of your bases are covered. If you’re operating locally, try a .uk domain or .com, as well as local addresses for the countries in which you’re likely to operate (.fr if you’re opening your services in France, for instance, or .de if you are planning to target Germany partners). For a local services company, a good idea might be to go the other way – buy up a .uk address and your local towns extension, .London?

There’s no right answer to the number of domains to buy, it’s only limited to the number of ideas that you have and where you want to be found. What you buy should be based on your business’s needs. Companies trading globally may want to invest in more “extensions” than a local provider. If your sites are set overseas but you haven’t expanded yet, secure the local address early to avoid someone else beating you to it. Once it’s secured, it’s there for you to use or not use as you see fit, but you know that no one else is going to grab it.

Ultimately, however, make sure that you love your new address. There are limitless combinations of domains in the world so there’s bound to be one that works for you. If you find yourself with an address that you don’t like, you’re stuck and it will be everywhere from your advertising, to your business cards, to staff t-shirts to, well, your website.

Your home, online

Your web address is the thing that will be with you throughout your journey, defining your business at every point in your customers’ initial contact with you. So, on this occasion, don’t get caught out – think through your web address, before you go naming the business.

Stefano Maruzzi will be writing for Business Advice each month, with his next article providing tips to help protect your digital presence online.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

At the beginning of his professional career, Stefano Maruzzi made an impact by leveraging his software engineering skills to launch Microsoft University in Italy, while writing fifteen books which have been translated into multiple languages. He then served as MSN Italy country manager at Microsoft, president at Condé Nast Digital International, and Google Italy country director. Maruzzi is currently GoDaddy’s VP EMEA in London, UK, heading the regional team to empower small business owners to build their brand and grow online.

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