Last week I looked at how a website should be periodically reviewed to ensure that it's ready to handle and manage business and promotion operations effectively. This week, the focus is what to consider before when getting to grips building a site. It may not be the first on the checklist, but if a business is venturing onto the web, then a domain name for the site (and therefore presence of the business including the brand, possibly its blog, microsite and other web properties) is needed to host the site is inevitable, and its importance shouldn't be underestimated.
The domain(s) chosen can have a huge impact on the success of a business and inevitably the brand as a whole. At first it may not seem important, but the domain also impacts how the brand is featured within search engines, and when you think of how customer use search to find what they seek, being found quickly and easily is of huge importance.
When brands, profiles on other resources (such as social networks), campaigns are considered, a domain name is arguably one of the most important elements to a site owner. However, there is a little more to domain selection, purchase and maintenance than meets the eye. For many, the site and email are the primary point of presence, which are critical to incoming internet traffic and managing relationships. Given how important this can be, it is bizarre that some businesses drop the ball; the consequence of which could be brand dilution when this is left solely in the hands of third parties such as marketers, lawyers, web hosts et al that can miss the collective needs of what a domain means. The business needs to be more involved and take ownership, have their hands on the reigns and not leaving anything to chance.
It's no surprise that when it comes to buying a domain, domain name companies make it very easy; however, transferring domains, especially away from them, may be less straightforward if the provider that likes to hang onto its customers. Therefore, when a domain name is bought, researching the management options and the terms / conditions about transferring it to another provider should be checked and understood, keeping purchases as local (as in the same nation rather than county) as possible; applying a prevention before cure school of thought.
The art in choosing a domain name
There is definitely an art in choosing domains and it essentially comes down to creative, level headed and practical thinking. Without a doubt, selecting the right domain name will require coupling common sense thinking with business, promotion, marketing and sales acumen. If a business is already established (registered with companies house and so on), then it has parameters to work to because it has a name to work with.
And, this is where it can get a little complicated. If you've registered a business, you'll know there are hundreds, if not more that have similar names. When businesses have longer names, they may wish to have an abbreviated form for a domain name. It can become competitive with many competing for the same domain names, or very similar names, again, which can have an impact upon search.
Businesses need to think how domains are going to be perceived and received online. As soon as the website goes live, the brand then has the potential to reach an international audience, and the vast array of cultural differences should be considered - crucial if the brand is international (or has the potential to become international down the line).
Knowing what's out there
Businesses need to get to grips with what's out there in terms of domains, but also increasingly important, securing similar names across social networks that represent the brand.
In searching for a domain and wanting to know how to ascertain how many have been registered, and what is live, various domain name services can help with enquiries you type in. Some resources provide a check for a domain in addition to URLs across other resources, social or otherwise to protect domains and vanity URLs. The goal should be to consider this and sites such as NameChk can do this.
.COM or not to .COM?
There is an age-old debate about .COM. vs. CO.UK from both an aesthetic and search marketing perspective*. We've not experienced any issues with this e.g. .CO.UK http://www.elementalcomms.co.uk and neither has the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk. However, although the .COM was a domain created for the USA, it is more commonly known for being an international domain. Larger businesses (particularly those that are global) acquire other countries domains to manage business, promotion intellectual property (IP) objectives.
There is no doubt that a business can invest thousands of pounds in acquiring domain, particularly as they evolve with new extensions being created all of the time by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) e.g. more recently generic top level domains (TLDs) domain for brands, CAR, .SPORTS or .BANK and then the ability for brands to claim domains directly relating to the brand name e.g. Canon .CANON.
There are arguments for and against, the most compelling is cost. Applying for a new TLD will cost $185,000 plus an annual fee if accepted, so businesses need to review the advantages and disadvantages of domains, TLDs in particular. For many it will be mostly be the impact of branding, IP and search, I'd edge more on the side of search. Regardless of the choice and direction, businesses need to be prepared with alternatives and choose instantly after brainstorming and careful selection.
Think what you like online and why. Are more clever and play-on-words domains going to work for your local, regional and international audiences? Go through the process step-by-step of what you like as a consumer and why.
Digital domain longevity; beyond the WWW
Longevity and having customers associating the domain name with a product, service, brand and/or organisation should be high on the agenda. Creating, building and managing a brand online are not easy tasks and in any case should be seamless with any offline branding and promotions. The domain industry moves extremely fast, so any approach to this activity must be well thought out and planned, with owners being prepared to be flexible. Choosing the right domain name and vanity URLs (for social media) that may accompany it can be a great right step in instilling confidence and therefore affinity that brands desire.
Summary checklist in choosing a domain name**
- Allocate the correspondence of domains to long-term email address that is checked regularly
- Put reminders in place to notify when the domains are due to be renewed (sent to an email that can be picked up even when employees move on)
- Consider registering domains that protect a brand, including spelling variations and international extensions (if necessary)
- Think long-term about the brand when brainstorming names and domains
- Don't make your potential clients or audience guess, keep it simple. Avoid hypens and underscores. Choose something easy to say, spell, and share
- Avoid 'cool' spellings of words that 'play' on words that may cause confusion, unless the business and/or brand/s are truly unique, Avoid weird domains like F6P57V2FND48
- Research copyright and trademarks (globally). The likelihood of brands named the same is slim, but you need to check the possibility of domains as this is different territory***
- Consider buying domains in bulk to reduce the overall cost and make management easier. .COM is essential, but consider domains in other countries to protect brands globally
- Ensure that can you easily communicate the domain; make it easy to spell, which may pose problems for start-ups these days, put can be counteracted with other promotions and awareness
- Consider how domains can be used for campaigns sensibly e.g. http://www.domain.com/print, http://www.domain.com/radio, or http://www.domain.com/tv
*Discuss about domains, location and impact for another occasion
**Note this isn't an exhaustive list, but an initial guide of what to consider
*** Seek advice if you not proficient in savvy in domain name purchase or management
Next time, the options for businesses that don't publish a website and where and how they can manage brands within digital environments.