Can your friends, family, and customers find your web site – even if they can’t spell or don’t know about your clever abbreviation?
I am amazed when I type a domain name into a browser and don’t find the site I’m looking for. I must confess, sometimes it’s because I’ve typed it wrong or assumed they were using their full name when they were using some alternative. I eventually find what I’m looking for, but don’t count on all your visitors to be as persistent as I am.
A shortened version of your business name may seem like a better domain name because it requires less typing, but if your customers know you by your full name, they may be confused. For example, the official site for American Airlines is www.aa.com, but they’ve been smart enough to register more than one name, so if you type in www.americanairlines.com, you go to the same site.
My best advice: Register every variation and misspelling of your name you can think of and direct all of those domain names to your website. (Just because someone didn’t do well in the third-grade spelling bee doesn’t mean they don’t have money to buy your products or services online.)
Directing more than one domain name to the same website is a relatively simple technical detail you can arrange through your Internet service provider or the company where you register the name. And it’s not that expensive. Some of the new registration sites, such as godaddy.com, charge as little as $8 per year.
Also consider registering the same name with different domain endings, such as .org, .net, and, most importantly, .com.
The Seattle Ballet, for example, registered seattleballet.org (the domain ending used by most nonprofits), but they should also consider registering seattleballet.com because many people will assume that’s the address.
Consider whitehouse.gov. The .gov at the end of that name distinguishes it as an official government site. An individual can’t register a .gov site (which stands for government), but anyone can register .com (which stands for commercial) and .org (which stands for organization).
If you’ve never visited the .com version of Whitehouse, I don’t recommend going there. It’s a hard-core porn site, but it does provide a dramatic lesson in the importance of protecting your domain name. I’m sure that site receives many visits from unsuspecting people who type .com instead of .gov because that’s what they think of first.
The .org version of Whitehouse isn’t an official government site either, although it does at least have a picture of the White House. It also has lots of critical commentary on the U.S. government.
The moral here is that if you are a nonprofit, a government organization, or a university (usually distinguished by .edu), you should also register your-name.com, just to make sure people don’t end up at a site that’s trying to get traffic from your name recognition.
Similarly, if the .com version of a name you want is unavailable, registering the .net, .biz, or .info versions may be a fine alternative. But make sure the site that has the .com version is not a direct competitor or something you’d be embarrassed by if your visitors found it by accident.
You can check to see if a domain name is still available by visiting any of the domain name registration services. All of them have a search engine that enables you to enter any name and find out if it has been registered. You would be surprised how many names are still available.
You can register a domain name yourself or you can have your service provider or system administrator do it for you.
If the name you want is taken, you can find out who already has it by clicking on the small button that says ”Who Is” at the top of the Network Solutions site at networksolutions.com. Enter the name in the ”Who Is” database and you’ll even find the contact information for whoever registered it.