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domain name choice:
getting it right
3.14 CHOOSING THE RIGHT DOMAIN NAME FOR THE UNEXPECTED OR UNWANTED
In business things go wrong. They might be relatively small things that are sorted in-house. Or they might be bigger things that impact on the organization and its environment. Although the two are fairly close relatives, the unexpected and unwanted present the organization with different domain name demands.
The unexpected is a problem because it is just that - unexpected. The unwanted is, you guessed it, unwanted - but it is not unexpected per se, so at least you can plan for it. Registration of domain names in these circumstances will be part of any public relations (PR) effort that seeks to address problems created by an unexpected or unwanted happening. The first issue to address is whether you feel it necessary to register a designated domain name or simply use your main domain with a sub-directory (eg atrustingbusiness.com/unexpectedproblem). I think I would favour a dedicated website on an assigned domain for a number of reasons, not least that it divorces your brand website from the 'problem' of the moment - and don't forget the 'problem' web pages will stick around on the search engines for a while. A site independent of the main site will also help with tracking the metrics of the consumers' response to the problem, and more intangibly a dedicated domain might be perceived by affected consumers as being a more serious attempt to address whatever issues have been raised by the 'problem'. Let's now take a look at the unexpected and the unwanted specifically.
The unexpected can't be planned for because you don't know what it is, so when it happens you need to move fast. An example might be a poorly worded evaluation of your product on a TV consumer-advice programme or a news story that unfairly presents your organization, brand or product in a bad light. More serious would be something like a production error making it necessary to withdraw a product from sale. Although domain names can be registered and made live in a short space of time, it can take 24 hours or more for the domain to be listed on servers around the globe. This being the case, the IT department or your hosting provider should be made aware that a live domain name might be needed in a hurry and prospective plans put in place. As the unexpected cannot be predicted you can only prepare generic types of name. However, if the construction has been agreed before any event occurs, at least time will not be wasted on its discussion when the worst does happen. Obviously, it depends on your product, brand and market, but I would look at things like productnameproblem, productnamerecall, productnamefault or if the problem is less serious, productnameadvice. None are perfect, but then neither is having a situation that requires such action. A .info suffix might add to the perception that the site is there to address a problem, rather than a more commercial .com or .co.uk which might smack of marketing.
The unwanted is the event that you try to avoid, but have to be prepared for its happening. In some circles this is known as disaster recovery, but the PR folk would rather call it contingency planning. The term might be softer, but not as appropriate because it fails to suggest the urgency of disaster recovery. Whilst I concede that unexpected problems are also unwanted, I class these events as being more serious that simply saving [marketing] face in the press. An obvious example would be something that has caused loss of life - an air crash or boat sinking for example. In these cases the major organizations have plans in place to cope with such a disaster, so having a 'dormant' site sitting permanently on a suitable domain name is not beyond the realms of forward thinking. Obviously, the speed of corporate reaction is a factor - there is no need to have a domain sitting ready on a server it is takes the organization 48 hours to get a press release out. However, when a US Airways plane crashed on the river Hudson in January 2009, the story was on Twitter and the images on YouTube before the major news services had run the story, let alone the airline react. So in this social media-driven world, organizations must be prepared to act quickly - and what better than a 'tweet' that directs everyone to a purpose-developed website on an appropriate domain name less than an hour after the incident?
An example of preparing for a negative event comes from the GAP retail organization. In August 2005 they closed down their gap.com, oldnavy.com and bananarepublic.com websites for 'scheduled site improvements'. The wisdom of closing down the sites for two weeks at the height of a back-to-school shopping season was the subject of some debate, but that discussion is for a different book (my opinion - why couldn't they build and test the new site on a 'hidden' sub-domain then simply transfer it over to the main servers?). Of domain name interest, however, is that the 'under construction' message that appeared when gap.com was typed into a browser sat on the domain
gap-underconstruction.com. Some forethought seems to have made in the domain names department, if not in GAP's
e-commerce executive office.
Footnote #1 to this narrative - reviewing the revised gap.com site I noticed that clicking on the 'about GAP' link takes you to gapinc.com. Nice idea - I like 'corporate information' to be on a different site to the online shop.
Footnote #2 to the GAP story - as of May 2006, some nine months after the site redesign, the gap-underconstruction.com web page was still live - with the rather cryptic message 'thank you, now you'll be the first to know when you can start shopping again'. Why not simply redirect to the gap homepage? Or given that gap-underconstruction.com was used for oldnavy.com and bananarepublic.com as well, give a brief commentary on why the page exists 'this domain name was used as a temporary measure whilst our sites were re-designed' and a list of links to sites the user might be looking for (including the aforementioned gapinc.com).
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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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