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about this book vertical black line choosing a domain name
choosing the right domain name: a marketing perspective
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book cover: choosing the right domain name

the who, what, where and when of domain names


When a name is registered, it takes the suffix of the authorised naming authority. There are a number of suffixes to choose from (more of this later) but to help illustrate how domain names are constructed I am going to use the best known suffix - .com (dot com). Note that in the USA, the suffix is more commonly referred to as the extension. The domain used as an example is:

As the suffix is considered to be the primary, or top level domain, combining the 'name' with the suffix creates a second level domain:
When indicating their use as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of a world wide website, it has become accepted protocol to use the prefix 'www' on the primary domain name:
As the .com suffix now has two distinct 'words' before it, this is now a third level domain name.

Any subsequent 'words' placed in front of the primary name, but divided by a full stop, make the URL a fourth/fifth level domain name. You can have as many 'words' prior to the domain as you wish, in practice however, three or four is really the limit.
In my '' example there is no subdomain on the Top Level Domain as it is not being used as a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLDs). However, for ccTLDs the 'cc' element adds another 'word' to the full domain name (the USA with its .com is lucky in this respect). The following diagram shows the make up of a domain on the .uk ccTLD.
domain name examples
Note that multi-level domains are also referred to as 'subdomains', eg a third level subdomain. Whilst the use of third/fourth level subdomains is not unusual, nor is it common practice. Its use is normally instigated by the IT department, using the third level as an extension to the domain to provide extra space for website content - think of it as an extra directory in which to keep files on a PC. When used in this way it is common practice to omit the 'www'. This means that when the web page is live in a browser window the address will read [something like] From a marketing perspective this is not good practice. It creates a confusing state of affairs for web surfers who have become accustomed to seeing a 'www' and not having to type in the http://.

To be fair to the IT people, third level sites are usually accessed only as links from the primary domain site, therefore the surfer will not be required to actually type the URL into the browser. When third level domains are generated at the behest of the marketing department the www should be retained. Marketers want websites to be revisited - for that to happen, the website address should be as clear as possible (a good general rule for domain names, more of which later), eg

it's all Japanese to me

An advert in a Sunday newspaper supplement for visiting Tokyo entitled 'totally Tokyo' included reference to the URL; This is rather confusing for a number of reasons. The fourth level domain is unusual, the combination of words are not obvious (some might associate 'metro' with city transport), .jp is rarely used outside of Japan (most .jp websites are in Japanese) and the final '/' is unnecessary. Without looking back - tell me the URL of the website. See, I told you it was confusing.
Only the registered 'owner' of the name on the primary (top level) name can add second and any subsequent level names. An effective application of third level addresses is to expand web presence without registering more primary domains whilst still retaining corporate identity. Google, for example, uses the following:

If you have been concentrating so far you will realise that any organization that is using a name based on domains such as or has a problem. Effectively, they have 'rented' the third level of a domain name owned by someone else. This means that they do not have legal ownership, or control, over the name - that is retained by the owners of the primary domain. It is apt that such names are often referred to as 'pseudo-domains'. Think of it as renting a room in an office block. You might have a contract with the owner of the block with regards to your office, but if he decides to paint the building red - or even sell it - you have no say in the matter.
ding dong poor domain name calling

Suppliers of cosmetics around the world, Avon Products Inc have websites for every country in which they trade. The majority of these sites sit on the relevant country domain, for Germany and for Spain for example. In a few countries the domain name avoncosmetics is used eg Presumably this is because local companies have first, and legitimate, claims on the trading name 'avon'. So far so good, until you look at the UK site - which sits on Oh dear. Both and have websites on them, but neither would appear to have a rightful claim on the domain name as neither site uses Avon as any kind of trading name. As Avon Products Inc would have a valid claim on both, I wonder why they are using the, particularly as the company has obviously gone to great lengths to register appropriate names around the globe. Could it be that someone somewhere actually thinks that is the international domain for the United Kingdom? I would think not, given that the company also use

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Copyright copyright 2009 Alan Charlesworth. All rights reserved.
International Standard Book Number: 978-1-4452-0538-0
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