Q&A with Register.com CEO Larry Kutscher

Register.com provides domain-name registration, Web design and marketing services primarily for small and medium-sized businesses. Washingtonpost.com's Small Business Blog chatted about Web strategy with CEO Larry Kutscher, who joined the firm in late 2006 after executive positions with Dun and Bradstreet, Goldman Sachs and American Express.

Larry Kutscher (Photo courtesy of Horn Group)

SBB: What does Register.com do and why should small firms become familiar with it?

Kutscher: Register.com is set up to be the Web department for small businesses. We try to make using the Web simple and cost effective by offering basic building blocks for...helping choose a domain name, Web hosting, search engine optimization, search engine marketing and branded e-mail. Those things that make you look like a professional business on the Web. What makes it so important from our perspective is that true small businesses -- like those with one person, a couple people or 10 people -- may not have any technical knowledge or may have some. But they may not have the experience or desire to run their own Web site or create a Web strategy for their business.

SBB: What issues, specifically, are important for small businesses to consider when formulating a Web strategy that their larger counterparts might not have?

Kutscher: I think, in general, most things a big company has to worry about, a small business has to worry about. But a lot of times, small firms think: "customers know me. I don't need to have an e-mail address. I don't need a site that's sophisticated." But more and more when people are on the Web, they're not differentiating about what's local and what's not. They're just thinking "where should I buy this?" So it's important who is visible and who is apparent online.

The only thing that might be different is that clearly if you're a small business in a small location you don't necessarily need to be national in scope. You want to create a site in a way to attract people to buy from you. That ability to do it and to target your message is just as important as buying magazine advertising.

SBB: Once a small firm has a Web site, how does it let customers and potential customers know its domain?

Kutscher: You have to have a decent site. Then you want to get people to pay attention to you. Search engine optimization is a good way. That's the ability of Google, Yahoo and other search engines to find you online when they crawl the Web [with their technologies.] It's not hard, but you want to use a capability or service that naturally gets you scoring high on those rankings or have links to other sites. The most important thing for a small business is to do it. Otherwise, you're missing your free [online] traffic.

The other one is -- put your domain everywhere. It's no different than your phone number. If you're a restaurant, it should be on the menu. If you're a retailer, put it in the window. People see a Web site and they'll go there when they think about it. If you're trying to attract a certain [community], buy key words. It allows you to drive leads to your site.

You can buy local keywords. For example, you can buy "local deli DC." Most small businesses for the last three decades said they had to buy a Yellow Pages ad. But people today don't use the Yellow Pages. We added a service that writes the copy, buys the keywords and creates the metrics. We put an 800 number into the keywords so we can track how many calls are generated from keywords. We provide a monthly report and guarantee clicks on a Web site.

SBB: A lot of businesses say it seems like all the "good" domain names are already taken? How do you create a "good" one?

Kutscher: The most important thing is that it's close to your business.

1. Pick short, easy to remember keywords that describe your business. It might have to be gardenstateplumbing or gardenstatetopplumbing, and it ideally would link to the name of your business.

2. Keep it in English. Don't try to be fancy with foreign names because they get misspelled.

3. Personalize it with geography. If you're DCPlumbers, you could be DCJohnsPlumbers. Including geography in a domain name tends to open up a whole other range of alternatives. I think dot-com is the best to buy but it doesn't hurt to buy dot-orgs or dot-net too.

4. You can buy previously registered domain names. Remember, this is your business online. It's an asset and you will pass it on. You may have to spend $1,000 or $2,000 to buy your name...if it's the one you really want. It's not always good business sense to buy a [cryptic domain name] for $35 [rather] than the one that could really help you for $3,000.

SBB: What steps should a small business take to protect itself against cybersquatters?

Kutscher: Never call them up or contact them directly whether you're a big company or a small company. Most of the time, [the cybersquatter] will say no, but it helps to have legal representation. We offer a service that helps small firms in this situation.

SBB: Is there any reason a small firm shouldn't have an online presence?

Kutscher: A business should ask itself if it's worth it to do this. Fifty years ago someone may have asked if it was worth it to have a phone. They may have thought why bother -- people may just stop in. It all depends on whether a company wants to get new businesses or not. Most firms are sensitive to the fact that customer behavior is dramatically changing. How do you believe a company is real? It may not always be logical, but it's how people behave.

A [Web presence] doesn't have to be complex or expensive. The world has changed dramatically in the last two years or so -- you can set up everything you want to [on the Web] for $13 per month if you want to do it yourself. That's cheaper than your phone. A custom site costs under $800. This is a great way to reach customers and a great way to learn from customers.

SBB: What has changed significantly during the last two years or so?

Kutscher: I think it's just that the skills to do it and the tools are easier and you can build it quicker. Do-it-yourself tools are easier and much more robust. It's gone down the curve to where a lot of people are doing it and there are a lot of [businesses] out there ready to serve their needs.

We have a learning center that offers basic information for small firms like how to register a domain name or do search engine marketing.

Some people wonder whether now [in a weak economy] it's the time to cut back [on Web strategy]. But the Web is one place that can help you mitigate some of the impact of what's going on in the local economy even if [your customers are] blocks away, streets away or countries away. It's not the time to let your competitors invest and grow. Think about how to be aggressive on the Web and not to be in defensive mode. In hard times, there are winners and losers.

By Sharon McLoone |  May 30, 2008; 2:22 PM ET Tools and Tips
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Some interesting comments. However, small businesses still get most of their "ready to buy" customers from YP advertising. In 2007, U.S. consumers referenced the print Yellow Pages 13.4 billion times and usage of the online YP just keeps growing. And online YP continues to provide some of the most robust local content to Google, Yahoo! and others. Hard to beat the ROI and the extensive sales force ready to help advertisers get the most for their money! For more details, go to www.ypassociation.org.

Posted by: SHobbs | June 1, 2008 3:11 PM

I use Google Ad words and Yellow Pages to promote my business. The Internet referrals from my site and the Adwords program are awesome. I have to say that the Yellow Pages referrals both from the print and the on-line protion are very important. Don't dismiss Yellow Pages to quickly, the coupons that come into my salon have shown a significant ROI.

Posted by: Allen Reed | June 2, 2008 8:43 AM

I don't know how I feel about advice from Register.com who are regarded as the highest priced registrar with the most outdated functionality.

Also this rookie CEO Larry has not grown the business since he took the reigns and in fact their market share is shrinking. You can see this publicly because registrar statistics are widely available.

A failure and waste if you ask me. If you are a small business you would do better elsewhere than register.com. Take it from an ex-employee - they are the worst.

Posted by: Joseph H. | June 13, 2008 2:48 PM

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