Eli Schwartz

One of the first action items many new business owners take is  to register a domain name. This seemingly inexpensive five-minute task can end up with disastrous consequences if you don’t make the effort to do it right. Attempts to save small money while purchasing the first domain names can end up being one of your most expensive legal fights down the road.

Horror stories

The Japanese automaker, Nissan, still does not own Nissan.com. They spent years in court trying to seize the domain from its rightful owner. (I recommend reading up on the history of this dispute!)  During the 2008 election, US politician Sarah Palin did not own Sarapalin.com, and currently, a variation of her name with the .IN extension, sarahpal.in, is redirecting to Hillary Clinton’s campaign website, likely not an outcome she would support.

Best practices

Here are the steps you can take to avoid making domain name mistakes that will come back to haunt you later on.

  1. When deciding on a name for a company, the first thing you should do is check the domain possibilities with a good registrar that can show you all the TLD variations of your desired name. For a business local to one country, try to get the most common TLD, but if you are global it might be a good idea to purchase the .com.
  2. Ideally, you should register the other common domain extensions like .org and .net and redirect them to your core domain. While, you might want to save money, now is not the time to be frugal. If a competitor or squatter picks these up later it will cost you thousands of dollars and millions of tears to recover them even if you rightly own all the trademarks.
  3. When registering the domain, make certain that the email address on file is one that you will see any important notifications from your registrar. The US presidential candidate Jeb Bush allowed his domain JebBush.com to expire, and Donald Trump was able to purchase it.
  4. You should absolutely use keywords in your domain but don’t stuff in as many words as possible. For example, if your new business sells cookies, it would be a good idea to have cookies as a central part of your domain, but having other menu items also might be a bit much. When it comes to keywords and domains, focus on what users will think.
  5. If your desired domain name is only available with the addition of hyphens (e.g. free-cookies.com), give it a pass. Hyphens will cheapen the name and users will never remember to use them.
  6. Keep the total length of the domain short with a target of under 15 characters. Even though modern browsers can handle long URL’s, they will not look great when they get truncated in the address bar on mobile browsers and in search results.
  7. Don’t register a name that will be really difficult to spell; especially, if you will use offline marketing that will drive type-in traffic. You can actually crowdsource test this with a survey by playing an audio clip of your domain/brand name and then ask people to type as a response what they think the spelling might be. If too many people can’t figure this out, avoid it.
  8. Optional: Depending on what kind of business you are launching you should also see if the social media handles are available. Knowem.com is a great tool to see what names are still free on the most common networks.
  9. Optional: If there are any misspellings of your brand or domain, you want to purchase these too. This can likely wait until you have some traction that requires protecting your brand, but it is worth some quick research to see if there are some domains that should be picked up sooner. com has a search engine to find these misspellings.
  10. Optional: Buy names that might have negative words appended to your brand like “sucks” or “complaint”. Most large companies with deep pockets purchase these, so if you are concerned about people squatting on “yourbrandsucks”.com and you can afford it, you should preemptively purchase it.

As a final note, you are never really stuck with domain until you have built a brand. Whenever you come up with a better name, you can always change your name if the situation warrants. Even if you are in a rush now to get your business started, its far better to follow the best practices above so you don’t end up making costly or irrevocable mistakes.