As I introduced in my post, Entrepreneurs Developing Web Sites Must Address These Top 5 Potential Pitfalls, it is an absolute must for small business entrepreneurs, freelancers and other soloists to own their domain name. Your domain name is your business when it comes to a presence on the Internet. Even if you don’t want to pursue setting up a web site now, register your domain name so it will be yours when you are ready.
What is a Domain Name?
Before you can own one, you need to know exactly what you are getting. A domain name is an easy to remember name that represents a company’s computer services on the Internet. I’ll give a couple examples in a moment, but the first thing I want to point out is, what we are talking about is an over-arching name, that includes potentially, multiple actual computer servers. Most people naturally think of www.CompanyName.com to represent a companies web site. But, note that the domain name is also used for other services, most commonly Email & FTP (File Transfer Protocol) services. The actual domain name portion in the example above, is: CompanyName.com, where the www refers to a specific computer, usually a web server in this instance.
When you purchase a domain name, you get the right to use the name for the period of time for which you pay the registration fee. Usually for one to five years on initial registration, though on renewals you can go up to ten years. If you are securely in business, I highly recommend you always register your name for the longest time period offered. That way you don’t lose it by forgetting to renew!
How Should I Choose a Domain Name?
Logically, from my example above, you would probably select a name including your current business name if you have one. If you are in the early stages of planning a new enterprise, you have the opportunity to investigate name availability as you choose a name for your business. I would work on developing a business name in parallel with selecting your domain name. By doing both at the same time, you insure yourself of the availability of your name. You might even have the opportunity to choose a non-obvious name, like Yahoo!, if appropriate for your business. A name such as this requires a significant amount of marketing to develop a brand image, but it is obviously unique, and will stand out against your business competition. You may need to hire a brand name expert for that purpose, and I highly recommend such an expert if you choose that route.
The technicalities of the actual name are fairly straight forward. You choose a generic Top Level Domain (TLD), such as .com, .net, .org, .tv, or a country code TLD, such as .us, .ca, .au (United States, Canada, Australia). A full list of all the officially authorized current domain names is available. There are restrictions on the use of some TLDs, in particular the country codes, which may only be available if you are actually doing business in their country, or require a standard second level name like .co.uk.
Th original .com, .net & .org are pretty much open for any use now, but the selection of names is highly competitive. However, most consultants still recommend as do I, the .com domain for commercial businesses. I would seriously consider also purchasing the equivalent name in the .net & .org TLDs as well as a safety measure against a competitor stealing it. Unless you have a registered trademark, a fight over a domain name is not easy. I would just choose another and move on if it is not available.
As an example of a domain name selection, my own, cdchase.com, is derived from my first & middle initials and my last name. I wanted to keep it short, yet recognizable. I often stylize the domain in print: cdChase.com. You can do the same for print marketing materials, which should always have your domain name! Recently, I have considered purchasing longer forms of my name, but have yet to do so. One that used to be available is no longer… however, if it goes into disuse, I will obtain it.
Tom Brit has some excellent hints in his post, Picking a Domain Name is Harder Than You Think.
You too, can try to purchase domain names that are already owned, but not yet in use or bid to buy them. There are several companies that specialize in this business and there are people out there that actual collect domain names for the prospect of selling them for profit! One of the leaders in this field is Sedo, where I have a domain name parked for resale, ChattanoogaCountryHomes.com (though last night I came up with an idea to use it, so I may retract it!) Parking is a means of putting your domain name somewhere and potentially getting income from it based on searches finding it, and it having paid advertising on it.
How do I Register a Domain Name?
Registering the name itself, is easy once you have determined it’s availability. Most Registrars have tools on their web site to check the availability of a name, so you can start there, and when you find one you like, you click buy it! The tricky part is getting a good registrar. There was recently a case of a registrar (RegisterFly) going out of business… leaving the domain owners registered through them high and dry! The registrar is the technical center of making the domain name system work. So, if they are not providing the services reliably, your web site won’t be reachable. I recommend choosing only an ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) accredited registrar . I use a third-party registrar & DNS services company, DynamicNetworkServices (DynDNS), that allows me to manage my domain name separate from my web host & email services. This allows me some flexibility in the management of my web site & email, as well as other services. Doing this independent of your web host is not that complex, and I highly recommend it. However, most people will choose to purchase their domain name, DNS services, email & web hosting services from the same provider. At least the first time. I will admit I did so too! It’s convenient and easy. However, from a business perspective, I like the idea of specialists handling my services independent of each other. They can focus on what they do best and provide reliable services and flexibility. I would personally recommend choosing from the leading registrars, adding my own due to personal experience with them, and the elimination of one (eNom) due to the relationship with the above mentioned RegisterFly pending class-action suit:
In conclusion…They’re cheap! Buy more than one! You can point them all at the same place initially, then develop specialty sites later. This will help with Search Engine Optimization and marketing. You should own any trademarked product names that you have. If the name is related exclusively to your company, you should own it as a domain.
Well, that should get you started… I probably should have broken this up into multiple posts, but I was on a roll! Feel free to ask any additional questions that you may have. I’d be happy to help!