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.
"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
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