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choosing the right domain name: a marketing perspective
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book cover: choosing the right domain name

CHAPTER 1
the who, what, where and when of domain names

1.11 ARE MULTIPLE REGISTRATIONS WORTHWHILE?
(2) Strategic Applications


Whilst the previous section covers multiple domain name registrations for the same organization, product or brand, this element considers how the organization can use multiple domain names on a number of websites. Before I go into detail on this issue, it is important to emphasize that domain name policy is a strategic decision in that it is an important aspect of any integrated marketing efforts. Too often, companies - and I include some global brands - have no domain name strategy or policy, and as a result their websites are sitting on a mishmash of different domains and suffixes. For many, the best plan is to simply host all of the sites on one domain, with sensible use of second level domains and sub-directories. For the offline business using the web as part of its marketing efforts it is rarely worthwhile to register more than one domain name, except perhaps registering local and global .com suffixes for a domain (the additional cost is negligible). Another reasonable idea would be to have a generic name that describes the product or service offered and another domain that represents the actual name of the organization. Each domain could 'point' to the same website, or 'product' and 'corporate' websites could be developed for respective names. For example, UK retailer Boots have boots.com as their online store and boots-plc.com as their corporate site.

DOMAIN NAMES IN PRACTICE :
redirecting (also known as pointing)
This is the practice where a domain name is set up so that if a user types it into a browser they are automatically taken - redirected - to another domain. For example, if you type boots.co.uk into your browser, the site that opens is on boots.com. Effectively, the alternatives to the primary name (misspellings etc) are 'parked' on a web server and when they are requested they 'point' the user to the main site. In itself, the concept of pointing is not a problem - however there is an issue with how they are redirected. The problem stems from the technical side of things, namely 'server headers'. Server headers are a part of the system which tells the browser how to deal with a site. When the browser requests a site, they also receive a header code which tells them if the site is OK - a '200' return. Each possible outcome is given a similar header code - you will have come across the '404' return for 'no site found'. If the domain name is being redirected it is assigned either a 301 or 302 code. The best option is to place 301 redirects on all domains. With this header code the surfer is taken directly to the website content of the main domain name. A 302, on the other hand, takes the content of the primary site and 'mirrors' it on the secondary domain. The user does not see any difference between a 301 and 302. The key issue lies with how search engines view each header code. When a search engine spider comes across a 301 it is redirected to the primary site, which it will then index. No problem. But when it comes across a 302 it reads it as a 200 because the content has been lifted from the primary domain and placed on that of the secondary. In other words, it reads it as a completely different site and will index it as such. This creates a problem for search engine optimization because when the search engine receives the 200 code it assumes it is OK to index all the pages, which is does. The search engine then recognizes that this is actually duplicate content (which it is - the only difference is the domain name). Duplication of content is frowned upon by search engines - they see it as a kind of spam - and they could take action against one or all of the domains up to and including banning them all from the index. This is particularly true if the organization has dozens, or hundreds, of domains all pointing at the same website.
There are a number of aspects we need to consider when looking at multiple registrations for strategic purposes, they are:

* Organizations registering more than one domain name for multiple web presences. This can work if your products or services are aimed at different segments - allowing websites to be developed to appeal to specific markets
* Organizations having a portfolio of names for use in, or registering them for, specific marketing campaigns
* Organizations registering names for some or all of the products they make or sell with the intention of developing microsites on them - this might be used to gain higher rankings on search engines (see also the next section on search engine considerations when choosing a domain name)

Throughout this book I use the DOMAIN NAMES IN PRACTICE : boxes to show examples of good and bad practice. In this section, however, rather than listing a whole load of potential scenarios, I offer a brief analysis of a series of strategic applications of domain name registrations as examples of practice.

The BBC : From the early days of the web, the BBC has been astute in the way they have used it as a medium of communications - and this includes their use of domain names. In the following examples, all of the websites are part of the British Broadcasting Corporation - but all appeal to visitors from different markets:
bbc.co.uk - The main website
bbcworld.com - Global news highlights and headlines
bbcworldwide.com - A global 'corporate' site
bbcamerica.com - TV schedules and comment for shows aired in the US and available on itunes
bbcprime.com - As above, but for all other countries in the world
bbcmotiongallery.com - Access to thousands of shots from the vast and diverse archives of the BBC and CBS News.
bbctraining.com - The corporation's training and development department
bbcmusicmagazine.com - The world's best-selling classical music magazine
bbcresources.com - The site for the BBC's outsourced services centre in London
bbclanguages.com - Language courses for learners around the world

Suzuki : If the BBC's domain name policy suggests some joined-up thinking has taken place, Suzuki UK's is the opposite. What happens if you type suzuki.co.uk into your browser? Well, you get the 'home' page for the various Suzuki products, namely 'automobile', 'motorcycle' 'ATV' and 'marine' (as this book is about domain names and not website design I'll ignore the fact that in the UK we call them cars - not automobiles). Clicking on the links takes you to the following domains:
Automobile - suzuki4.co.uk (yes, I have typed that correctly - the relevance of the '4' is a mystery to me)
Motorcycle - suzuki-gb.co.uk
ATV - quadrunner.co.uk
Marine - suzukimarine.co.uk
Calling this domain name strategy a shambles is being unkind to shambles around the world. The marine offering is the only one that makes any sense - so why not 'suzukicars' (registered by a suzuki car dealership), 'suzukimotorcyles' (available) and 'suzukiatv' (registered, but not by Suzuki GB) [These standings correct as of June 2009.]. Apart from (a) the obvious confusion for customer, and (b) the unprofessional brand image presented, there is also the obvious opportunity for 'squatters' to register names that take advantage of the situation (take a look at suzuki1.co.uk, for example), so reducing the brand value still further. But this story doesn't end there. The American Suzuki Motor Corporation use suzuki.com as the 'home' page - with the links going to:

Automobile - suzukiauto.com
Motorcycle - suzukicycles.com > then suzukicycles.com/Product Lines/Cycles.aspx
ATV - suzukicycles.com > then suzukicycles.com/Product Lines/ATVs.aspx
Marine - suzukimarine.com
I also did a quick check on a number of other ccTLDs for 'Suzuki' and the shambles is rife around the globe - even Suzuki.asia is registered by a domainer! Now, I do appreciate that the various outposts of the Suzuki empire might be different business entities - but, hey, they are all part of the global brand that is Suzuki - can't someone in Japan get their various acts together?

Yes Car Credit : Although their overall business practices can't have been that good (the company ceased trading in 2005) at least Direct Auto Finance Ltd had given some thought to their use of domain names. The company traded as Yes Car Credit, so the yescarcredit.net domain name featured on their TV adverts was not a bad choice - or was it? What about the .com or .co.uk? Both the .net and .co.uk actually redirected to the .com website, so why not use the .com on the TV adverts, after all, it is the most commonly recognized suffix? I would suggest that it allowed the company to measure the success of their TV advertising. Any surfer who arrives at the site via a .net URL will (almost certainly) have seen the TV advert. Promotions in other media could use the .com or .co.uk and so help determine the ROI of those promotions. Some may argue that the range of domain names might confuse users. I would say this is not a problem, because as the company had registered (and used) all the popular names, the potential customer would arrive on the Yes Car Credit website whatever suffix they use. The additional cost incurred by the marketers of Direct Auto Finance Ltd for this creative use of domains would have been a drop in the ocean that was their overall marketing budget - and defiantly not enough to send them into administration!
DOMAIN NAMES IN PRACTICE :
domain name crime?
Is it irony when a crime stoppers' website has its domain name stolen from under its nose? Only a few hours after the crimestoppers-uk.org (note the hyphen) website was launched in a blaze of publicity, crimestoppersuk.org was registered by someone else. Not a crime to register the name, of course - but whoever at Crime Stoppers UK that was responsible for not registering both versions committed a serious online marketing offence.
Newcastle airport : An example of lack of forethought in registering names comes from my local airport. The website is found on newcastleairport.com, which I can live with - it's what people call it, even though its actual name is Newcastle International Airport. It is also the case that newcastleinternational.co.uk, newcastle-airport.co.uk and newcastleairport.com all redirect to the main domain. On the downside, however, newcastleairport.co.uk redirects you to ourports.com - a company that deals with transport to, and parking and accommodation at, airports. Also, newcastleinternational.com takes users to a domainers page of a company in Las Vegas. My opinion? Ourports and the domainer are being a bit naughty registering the name, and I would have thought that Newcastle Airport would win any ownership contest. On the other hand, from a sales point of view, full marks to Ourports, and shame on you Newcastle Airport for not registering the .co.uk and .com. versions of their names.

Procter and Gamble : They are one of the world's biggest spenders when it comes to marketing, so P&G's use of domain names is worth a closer look. On the positive side, they are reputed to be the owners one of the world's biggest collection of domain names including not only various suffixes of their brand names, but many generic words that might be connected to their product ranges. However, if they were quick to spot the advantages that could be gained from the innovative use of domain names, they do not fare so well with their own name.

Procter and Gamble operate on the web as their global brand identity of P&G by using pg.com. To find details of P&G's local operations you must access pg.com and select the relevant geographic region or country - and it is the domains on which these sit that cause me concern. The first ones I looked at were around Europe, where several third level domains are used. For example, France is fr.pg.com, the UK uk.pg.com and Germany .de.pg.com. I think this is sensible - but P&G are not consistent. Greece, for example, is p-g.gr and Hungary, pg.hu - whilst further afield, the site for India uses pg.com/india.

I can't help but think that this could be handled a whole lot more effectively, but it is also the case that this is a website architecture and management issue as much as it is a domain name problem. An obvious problem with any domain name policy is whether the same model can be used around the globe - something that is particularly relevant for P&G in that they have opted for a two-character brand-name derived domain name. This is because many countries stick to the minimum-three-character rule - so 'pg' is not an option in those countries. Another advantage of sticking to third level names is that P&G have total control over the names and the sites that sit on them as they all defer back to the pg.com 'parent'. This would mean they need not worry about domain name decisions made by smaller countries that might impact on their various web presences.

Domain name management : Whilst there will be circumstances when multiple registrations are a good idea or business strategy, there is still the issue of managing them to consider. For the SME with half a dozen it is not a significant issue - though someone should be made responsible for them. For others, like my Hilton Hotels example, domain name management is either a full-time job or something you outsource to a trusted third party - if only to ensure their annual registration is kept up to date (don't dismiss this lightly - both Microsoft and Amazon have been guilty of letting domain names lapse in the past).

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Copyright copyright 2009 Alan Charlesworth. All rights reserved.
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