How Do I...Find the Right Domain Name?

So you probably know you can lease a car, but did you know you can lease a Web site? But then, why would you want to?

For answers to these questions and more, I spoke with YummyNames General Manager Bill Sweetman about tips for small firms in finding the best domain name, Web site strategies and why in fact some firms have made arrangements to rent-to-own when it comes to Web site addresses. YummyNames oversees, sells and rents more than 150,000 domain names owned by Tucows, an Internet services firm.


YummyNames General Manager Bill Sweetman (courtesy of Tucows)

"A lot of small businesses think that all the 'good' domain names are taken, but that's the biggest myth out there," Sweetman said. "It's all about how you conduct the search."

For example, Sweetman suggests that a business owner might take a visit to a domain registrar and type in "cheeseboutique.com" or "cheesestore.com" and see that they're registered. "They often hang their head in frustration, but maybe something similar is out there with a .net or .org ending or by putting in a hyphen or a dash," he said. "But "the first thing to address is that there's a large premium domain market where there are names registered for sale or lease."

What many business owners may not realize is that the owner of cheeseshop.com might be willing to sell or lease the name, said Sweetman, but the owner of cheeseshop.com doesn't know what to do next. Sweetman said that's where services like YummyNames can help by acting as a broker. YummyNames has registered thousands of names itself to sell to interested parties. Some critics of that approach call it unfair for the many firms out there who have difficulty finding names online, but Sweetman said, "having a portfolio of generic domain names is a legitimate business."

A good first step in sussing out whether a certain domain might be available is to check the Whois database, which is a registry of domain-name owners. (To access the database, go to whois.com and then click on "whois lookup" or click here.) The information in there isn't very user-friendly, but you can usually determine who has registered the name. For example, if you type in "smallbusiness.com" to check on its availability, you'll see it's owned by Hammock Publishing in North Carolina. You'll also see when the domain-name holder's rights to it are set to expire. However, since domain names can be re-registered by their holder repeatedly, they often don't make it back to the open market.

Many large companies sit on domain names without using them as well. I worked for a publication with the domain Technologydaily.com. For years, we wanted to get techdaily.com, but it was owned by Time Warner which initially registered it in the mid-90s and has continued to re-register it without putting any content there.

"It's not a good approach to wait until a domain name is set to expire" to see if you can obtain it, according to Sweetman.

He also believes that while other domain-name suffixes are available, a ".com" and a ".net" pack the most punch. I have to agree -- I've learned more about the National Snaffle Bit Association than I ever wanted to know because I constantly mistype nsba.com instead of nsba.biz for the National Small Business Association.

Here is Sweetman's advice for small firms considering registering a domain-name:

*Start thinking about domains as early as possible in business planning. "Don't print your business cards with your desired Web address and assume you're getting the one you want," he said.

*If it looks like it's been registered by someone else, don't assume you can't get your hands on it.

*Do a Whois lookup and reach out to the current owner if necessary.

*Give yourself plenty of time to conduct a potential transaction and have multiple options. "Make a short list of five to 10 names on your hunting list."

*Find ways to protect yourself in the transaction - deal with a reputable company or find out how you can ensure your safety if you're putting substantial money down. Sweetman suggests using an escrow service.

The premium domains that YummyNames offers start at $500 for something like fastcar.net or greenautos.org, but can go up to $500,000 for tool.com. "But the average price for a lot of premium names often are selling in the $1,200 to $2,000 range," he said.

*Try to pick a name that's short, but not so short that it's an acronym. Every extra letter in the name is another opportunity for mistyping

"Make sure it's short, memorable and descriptive, which helps a search engine determine its ranking," noted Sweetman. "If you had two Web sites that were identical, but one had more descriptive domain, it would rank higher in a search engine."

He says business owners tend to think of one domain name per business, but additional names can drive more traffic to a main site. For example, if a firm specializing in music from Africa registers musiccloud.com, "they might also want to register related names such as Zimbabwe.music.com and point that domain to musiccloud.com. "If you can get a couple of original registrations for $10 or $20, you can get five, 10 or 20 names contributing traffic to your main site."

When Tucows leases domain names, the name ownership is retained by Tucows, but the name functions as if it's owned by the leaser. E-mails with the domain also go to the leaser. The deal is based on the percentage of the expected sale price of the domain name.

Sweetman said some firms that are interested in doing a seasonal campaign often lease a name because they only need the virtual address for a month or two. His company also has worked out lease-to-own arrangements when a customer didn't have the budget to purchase a name outright.

There are also auction sites for expired domain names. "They are an excellent marketplace for business owners to get their hands on wonderful domain names at an affordable price," said Sweetman, who added that prices vary but are usually about $60. He suggests small firms take a look at auction sites: snapnames.com, namejet.com and afternic.com. These sites generally allow users to see what's coming up for auction and put a preorder on it, which commits them to bid on it.

If a business still can't find the right virtual address, there's always next year. The Internet's governing body has opened bidding for companies willing to pony up at least $100,000 to offer new, more specific suffixes. While it's not clear what will be offered yet, it's anticipated that the new suffixes will be along the lines of ".flowers," ".books" or ".london." That's sure to help small firms with long, hyphenated names get more specific, plus, said Sweetman, "I'm sure that there are brilliant entrepreneurs out there cooking up great ideas for new [top-level domains] and who to appeal them to."

For more tips on Web strategies, take a look at an interview I did in May with Register.com CEO Larry Kutscher and another story about a small firm that ended up in a legal battle after mistakenly losing its domain.

By Sharon McLoone |  November 25, 2008; 10:34 AM ET How Do I...
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Comments

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"A good first step in sussing out whether a certain domain might be available is to check the Whois database, which is a registry of domain-name owners run by Network Solutions Inc. (To access the database, go to whois.com and then click on "whois lookup" or click here.)"

Technically the "whois" database is not "run" by Network Solutions Inc.

Each TLD (top level domain) such as .com has a Registry. The registry for .com & .net domain names is Verisign Inc. which co-manages the whois database with the registrar of the specific domain name.

Whois information is public, but always Most Accurate at the registrar the domain name is registered with. (ie: Network Solutions, Godaddy, Moniker etc)

The Registry will display who the domain name is registered with (registrar) and provide a link to their whois database, domain name servers (DNS), Creation and Expiry date and Status.

The registry holds the Master List of when domain names expire.

Each domain name registrar (960+ currently) holds it's own whois database, but every inquiry is checked through it's respective registry. This is how a domain is known if it's "available" or "registered" by an entity.

Just wanted to clear that up.

I personally use Whois.sc aka DomainTools.com for my whois inquires.

Jamie Zoch
DotWeekly.com

Posted by: DotWeekly | November 25, 2008 11:30 AM

Hi Sharon,

Great post and the advice from Sweetman is very helpful for small business. I work for Network Solutions and we are located in the DC metro area. One thing I would like to add is the importance of keeping your domain registration info secure and updated. We have some tips on our blog on this subject http://blog.networksolutions.com/2008/8-tips-to-protect-your-domain-registration/

Let us know if we can help answer questions on this subject.

Thanks,

Shashi Bellamkonda
Social Media Swami
http://blog.networksolutions.com
smedia at network solutions dot com

Posted by: shashib | November 25, 2008 6:51 PM

Hi Sharon,

It was a pleasure being interviewed by you. Thank you for turning our conversation into an informative article.

I would like to clarify one small but important thing, just so that there's no confusion, which is that YummyNames does NOT own either fastcar.net or greenautos.org, the two domains I rattled off the top of my head as examples of relatively affordable premium domain names. We do, however, own lushcars.com and scrapautos.com, which are comparable premium domains, and I probably should have used those as examples instead!

Regards,

Bill Sweetman
General Manager
YummyNames
http://www.yummynames.com

Posted by: BillSweetman | November 25, 2008 8:07 PM

Choosing a domain name that is a protectable trademark is another method of gaining additional protection for the domain name you select. Not all domain names function as trademarks. I just talked with Launch Wizards about choosing business names that can be registered as trademarks. The interview, which will be spread out in a series of blog postings can be found at http://www.launchwizards.com/blog/2008/11/startups-use-this-database-to-research-business-names/

Also, people hoping to profit from domain name rentals and sales need to make certain that their business models do not push them into the category of cybersquatters. Cybersquatters are those who register well-known brand names or trademarks as internet domain names with the intention of selling the domain name at a significant profit.

Many of the names listed in the posting as being brokered by YummyNames - such as fastcar.net and tool.com – would be generic for many uses (meaning that no one would have trademark rights in that particular name). Trying to profit from the sale of a domain name that also functions as a trademark could get the seller labeled a cybersquatter. A cybersquatter can lose control of the domain name and face other legal consequences in a Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure or in a lawsuit filed under the AntiCybersquatting Protection Act.


Joy R. Butler, Attorney and Author
http://www.joybutler.com

Posted by: JoyRButler | November 26, 2008 5:59 PM

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