FINDING A PITHY and inexpensive domain name for your business’s web site these days is next to impossible.
To date, 146 million top-level domain names (that is, names that end with extensions such as “.com” or “.net”) have already been registered, according to the most recent report from VeriSign, the big Silicon Valley registry. Another domain-name provider, the Go Daddy Group of Scottsdale, Ariz., says it registers, renews or transfers over one million domain names each month, or once every 1.3 seconds. And two more registries, Moniker.com and Register.com, say don’t even bother trying to register a five-letter single-word “.com” — they’re all gone, as are all three- and four-letter configurations.
But even if the perfect domain name is already taken, newbie business owners still have a number of options. For instance, they can wait for annual registrations to expire, or register domain names with less popular extensions, such as “.info” and “.biz,” or use country-code extensions, such as “.us” for the United States or “.de” for Germany (keep in mind, requirements such as residency may apply.) Some entrepreneurs opt for easy-to-remember phrases. Others buy names in the aftermarket, typically through domain-transfer web sites such as Go Daddy’s TDNAM.com .
Jason Levin, the founder of Gringos Ventures , a contract flower grower in Vista, Calif., recently purchased SunFlowerGuy.com for $2,500 in the aftermarket. After constantly being referred to as “the sunflower guy” at parties, he says, the name stuck. When it came time to build a web community, which may grow into a platform for a consumer-driven flower business, he says: “We were flexible with the name but we thought, ‘Gosh, if we could get it, that’d be great.'” Though, he admits, if the price was any higher he might have reconsidered the name.
When it comes to domain-name strategies, not every option will be right for your business. For instance, buying a name with a “.cn” extension makes no sense unless you do business in China. Also, choosing a kooky name (think: Yahoo and Amazon) that has nothing to do with what your business does may require a lot of marketing dollars that many small businesses don’t have.
Here are some other considerations to make before naming that domain:
Pick Pithy Phrases
Since must-have web sites can cost thousands if not millions of dollars in the aftermarket, “the most valuable domains are going to be the ones that are short, easy to spell and memorable,” says Jeremiah Johnston, chief operating officer for Sedo.com, an online marketplace for buying and selling domain names and web sites, in Cambridge, Mass. Additionally, picking natural and easy-to-remember phrases that aren’t already registered can save you a bundle, as the average resale price for already-registered domain names in the aftermarket is about $2,000, according to Johnston. Unregistered domains usually cost between $10 and $15, plus a small annual fee.
However, going this route is definitely a judgment call, he says. Johnston provides the example of WiFi.com, which recently sold for around $225,000 and regularly receives about 15,000 unique visitors every month. “If you were to go through a search-engine advertiser like Yahoo or Google and then pay them [for key words that might compel] 15,000 unique visitors a month that would cost a pretty penny,” he says.
Monte Cahn, co-founder of Moniker.com in Pompano Beach, Fla., says previously registered sites tend to have other attractive characteristics, such as page rank on Google and traffic ratings from web-site tracker Alexa.com. Cahn added that already -registered sites might have back links embedded in other web sites that still connect to your site, which also could drive traffic. “It gives you a head start if you are trying to brand an online business,” he says.
Choose Words Wisely
When dealing with phrases rather than one-word domains, be conscious of how they look, suggests Cahn. Longer and combined words often have words within them. For instance, the two-word combination of “therapist” and “finder” could be misinterpreted as “the[rapist]finder.com.” Additionally, he says, “stay away from domains that have double meanings, and if they do, be careful they don’t work against you.”
Also, stay away from mistypes of popular web sites and brands. “A lot of people don’t know that they may get in trouble for using words similar to trademarked brands,” he says. For instance, if you pick a domain name confusingly similar to “Pepsi” and you also sell soft drinks, you may wind up in court, Cahn says. Instead, make sure you aren’t infringing on anyone’s trademarks. Do a search at the U.S. patent office web site .
But you might want to purchase your own site’s misspellings, Cahn suggests. When people type directly into the web-address field, mistakes invariably occur. One missed key stroke or errant underscore can, for example, land a potential customer at someone else’s web site or an error page. A good exercise once you settle on a domain name is to ask your friends and family to type it out 50 times each and then buy all the misspellings, he says. Otherwise, “that customer who is trying to get to you may or may not come back to you,” he says.
For most individuals and businesses, “the ‘.com’ is still the ruler of the world, as is ‘.org’ if you’re a nonprofit,” says Larry Kutscher, chief executive of Register.com in New York. Still, it might be smart to buy up other extensions, such as “.biz,” “.info” and “.us,” as well. The last thing you want to do is “spend money marketing your web address, to have your customer get lost or wind up at a competitor’s site,” he says. Since this can be costly, choose extensions wisely, based on the type of business you have, he says.
Find a Niche, Optimize
Gary Andersen, owner of custom clothing company A CertainTee in Minnetonka, Minn., chose to include what his site sells in its domain name, hardtofindteesandsweats.com , when he launched it three months ago. Andersen says his strategy is all about finding a niche. He thought, “If I were frustrated about trying to find a certain size shirt, maybe I’d be inclined to enter something off-the-wall like ‘hardtofindtees.com’ (another domain name owned by Andersen) into a web browser.”
Andersen also took steps to hire a web-hosting company that offers search-engine optimization services — that is, steps for improving the volume and quality of web traffic to a site from search engines. This way, he says, when people type specific key words into a search engine, the site will appear. “You can’t just rely on a catchy phrase that one day someone might enter,” says Andersen.
(“Starting Up,” a weekly column written by Diana Ransom for smSmallBiz.com, follows entrepreneurs through the early stages of launching a business. Write to her at email@example.com .)
SmartMoney.com provides news, information, and tools for business professionals and growing businesses. All content provided by SmartMoney is © 2008 SmartMoney®, a Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and Hearst SM Partnership.