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A MARKETER'S PERSPECTIVE ON
CHOOSING THE RIGHT DOMAIN NAME


DOMAIN NAME BOOK NOW AVAILABLE : SEE BELOW
domain name advice

Choosing an effective domain name is a crucial decision for any organisation. It is a marketing decision and not one to be taken by IT staff who do not appreciate the value of a domain name in marketing terms.

A search in Google for the phrase 'advice on choosing domain names' gave me 880,000 returns in less than half a second. Although I admit that I didn't look at them all, I was a long way in before I gave up - and I had found very, very few sites that actually offered me any advice that was of any value or significance.

Why take any notice of me?

Back in the day - OK, it was late 1996 - I got involved with a publishing company that was looking at the Internet for new business models. Many were tried, and most fell by the wayside, but one that was successful was the registration of domain names. The venture was given impetus by the fact that the organisation had already registered [amongst others] the domain name 'domainnames.com'. So it was that I ended up visiting companies, answering telephones, replying to emails and delivering talks at business seminars on the subject of e-commerce in general, and domain names in particular. All of this led to me being perceived as an expert in the subject.

Part of my knowledge came from finding the answers to customers' questions [the day I took a phone call from a guy in Eire who wanted to register the domain name of his company in every country in Europe sticks in my mind - we'd only registered .co.uks and .coms at the time], but the other part of my 'expertise' was gained from advising thousands of organisations on what domain name they should register - maybe I had a knack for it, but the skills came from experience in the field. To give you an idea of what I was doing around this time, take a look at why register a domain name - heaven knows how many prints of this I handed out when giving talks at meetings hosted by the likes of local Chambers of Commerce and business clubs from 1997 to 1999.

book cover: choosing the right domain name Choosing a domain name

For a long time the knowledge and experience I had gained in choosing the best domain name was available only to those folks who communicated with me directly,though I did have a paper - Choosing a Domain Name - published in the 'International Journal of e-Business Strategy Management' in 2003. It was while I was writing that paper that it occurred to me that maybe I knew enough to fill a book on the subject - and although other projects meant that for around six years it remained a 'work in progress' I did publish choosing a domain name: a marketing perspective late in 2009.

Domain name advice on the web

The only advice on choosing a domain name that I have come across on the web is offered by those companies that want you to use their services to register a name - hardly un-biased counsel. Whilst researching the subject, I had one registering company try to talk me out of registering a .com [when it was obviously the better choice for the requirements of the fictitious site that I gave] - presumably because they made more money registering a .co.uk - and another told me categorically that I could not register a .info. Oh dear! [I didn't tell them I already had charleworth.info].

Some advice I've seen online

One site suggested you should 'consider naming your company and registering a domain name starting with the digit 1. Better still, choose a name starting with 1st. Why? When people create directories of websites, they have to decide how they are going to classify those websites. OK, this might work for directories [how many will your website be in?] - but not as a company or domain name. This is the ploy dubious companies use for listings in Yellow Pages - ever wondered why there are so many businesses called 'aardvark' or 'abc' something or other? Hands up if you live in a town that doesn't have an 'ABC taxis'.

The top return on my 'advice on choosing domain names' Google search was domainnamebuyersguide.com. Full marks on domain name choice. Full marks on search engine optimization. No marks for 'advice on choosing domain names' - I couldn't find any. But there was a hi-lighted announcement that .biz were soon to be available. Yes, and Mafekeng has been relieved.

Advice on choosing a domain name found on the web is:

  • Rarely independent - usually on the site of a company selling registration services
  • Often US based, which has an effect on suffixes and 'accepted local norms' such as the use of a dash
  • Often limited - particularly from companies who register domain names as part of their business eg web designers
  • Often written by someone whose expertise is limited
  • Often written by someone who is not a marketer
  • Often written by someone who does not appreciate the value [to a company / brand] of a domain name eg a web designer, programmer or IT specialist
  • Sometimes technically wrong
  • Often inappropriate

Domain name advice in print

This is almost non-existence, with very few academic articles even considering [or mentioning] domain names. One that I came across, however - Huang, E. Y. (2005) Is revamping your web site worthwhile? - referred back to an earlier book [Hanson, W. (2000), Principles of Internet Marketing] which suggested that 'traffic-building activities can be divided into four main classes: domain name choice, portal presence, publicity/word of mouth and paid advertising.' Whilst I might argue that search engine optimization should be there too, that's not my problem. I take issue with the article's author's next sentence: 'Except for domain name choice ... the remaining three classes are the implementations that fall under the non-technical category.' Effectively, the author is saying the techies choose the domain name, not marketers. AAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH

Domain name advice in books

The advice I've seen in print is equally scarce, vague or just outright wrong. I have a book entitled 'e-marketing' [I'll not embarrass the authors by naming them] which offers the following advice with regard to domain name registration:

'Picking the right domain name can make a huge difference when trying to entice users to the site and builds consistency in the firm's marketing communications.'

domain name advice Sadly, it then moves on to another subject without actually telling the reader how to pick the 'right' domain name. Even this is an improvement on other books. I have two with the titles; 'e-Marketing Excellence' and 'World Wide Web Marketing', which do not even feature 'domain names' in their indexes!

In a book titled 'e-Marketing' written by Straus, El-Ansary and Frost [yes this is so bad, I will embarrass them by naming names] first published in 1999 and re-printed in 2003, a section on domain names says: 'A URL [Uniform Resource Locator] is a website address. It is also called an IP address [Internet Protocol] and domain name.'

Err, no. A URL is the address of a web page e.g. www.anydomain.com/information.html. A domain name can be a URL but a URL is not a domain name - a URL requires a www or http//: prefix, a domain name does not.

Later on the same page the authors state that:

'The www is not necessary and most commercial sites register their name both with and without it. Firms are advised to register with the www because browsers vary in their ability to recognize sites without it.'

Oh deary me. Firstly, the www is not part of the primary domain name. Secondly - and it is a technical point - it is the host of the domain that decides if the name will be recognised with or without the www, not the browser.

Even the best get it wrong with regard to domain names - including e-marketing and e-commerce best-selling author Dave Chaffey [sorry Dave]. In his third edition of 'Internet Marketing' (2007) he gives as examples of 'global' - ahem, actually the 'g' stands for 'generic' - top level domains (gTLD) both .com, .co.uk, .ac.uk, .org.uk and .net. Well two out of five is better than none - .com and .net are correct, but the other three are all country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). Oh, and .net is described as being for network providers - no, the official designation is 'commercial company - alternative'. [note that in the UK .net.uk is restricted to network providers]. Also, both .org and .org.uk are both described as being for not-for-profit organizations - which is tru-ish, but the rule is not regulated or enforced. And finally - .ac.uk is described as being for 'a UK-based university' - partially true, but it is also available to certain Higher Education-related organizations. The same book, in a list of domain name services are InterNIC, Nominet and Nomination. No problem with the first two, but 'Nomination' is an organization that registers .uk.com names [and several others such as .uk.eu] - although the book quite rightly describes the .uk.com as a 'pseudo-domain' I think it should have gone a stage further and not included them at all as there are issues with registering what is, in effect, a third level domain. Update June 2009 Well, it seems Mr Chaffey et al might have read this page - or at least some of it - as their 2009 4th edition of the book recognises that the 'g' in gTLD 'g' stands for 'generic', and the reference to Nomination seems have diasppeared. However, they still got the applications of some suffixes wrong - my comments are in brackets:

  • .com - '... international or American company' [kind of right if you accept the term 'international company' to mean any organization anywhere in the world, but then I have half a dozen .com domains and I'm not an international company]
  • .org - 'are for not-for-profit organizations' [sort of, see above]
  • .net - 'is a network provider' [no - see above]
  • .org.uk - 'is for an organization focusing on a single country' [hmmm, I can only think that this is a misprint]

Dave - if you do read this, for the 5th edition, feel free to reference any of my three books that have the right applications listed ;-). Oh, sorry I nearly forgot. In a section on legal issues a court case is mentioned involving a miscreant who registered a whole load of domain names of famous companies and then tried to sell them to said organizations - except that the book lists one as 'marks&spencer.com'. Sadly, the ampersand [&] is not allowed in domain names, I think they meant 'marksandspencer'..

Update: June '14 - I don't think I ever got that reference :-)

Update: August '07. I thought things would be improving by now but this week I got a book sent by a publisher [an advantage of being a lecturer in HE] one whose author - Kevin Lane Keller - is a big hitter in academic texts. The book - Strategic Brand Management - isn't really in my subject area, but I scanned through it for any Internet-related content [there is virtually nothing on online branding and the influence of consumer generated media and social media on branding, but I digress].

Now, if you've read this so far you will have realised I think that domain names are an important element of brand management, so I am a little biased ... but Mr Keller condenses everything on domain names into one page [out of nearly 700] - and the section is titled: 'URLs'. AAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH [again]. The section includes the sentence; 'Anyone wishing to own a specific URL must register and pay for the name with a service such as Register.com.'

fasthosts quote

Later in the page, is the sentence; 'Brand recall is critical for URLs because, at least initially, consumers must remember the URL to be able to get to the site.' Well if brand recall is so important, maybe the subject deserves more than a single page covering the subject? Oh, and the research is out there to show that the majority of first-time visitors arrive at a site via a search engine, not by typing the 'URL' into a browser window.

And finally on this book, Mr Keller uses two companies as examples of domain names - I'm sorry, URLs - and one is Yahoo! It's not a bad choice for online branding as it as an off-beat word which would be unlikely to make it through a lets-decide-on-a-new-brand-name exercise in a contemporary corporate marketing environment. The thing about the domain name of what was one of the first major Internet brands is that it is different to the name of the company - and the brand. Yep, the company/brand is Yahoo! - and you can't have an exclaimation mark in a domain name. No mention of this from Mr keller, and yet [I would hope] any new pure online company would not choose a name that could not be replicated as a domain name.

Update: June '14 - let's hope that seven years later things have changed?


If you think I might be able to help with your domain name[s], get in touch. I would be particularly interested in an arrangement of 'payment in kind' ...

... so if anyone from BMW, any sunny country's tourist authority, Anheuser-Busch or any of the major airlines is reading ...

There's more on domain names in both my tips, hints and advice and interesting articles sections.
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