Selecting domain names

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Internet branding

Today we embark on a three-part series regarding Internet branding. Specifically, we’ll discuss how the choices you make for your domain name, your email address and your blog begin to build your brand before you think about designing a logo or writing a word of copy.

There are some rules to follow when choosing a domain name for your site.

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Image via Wikipedia

Select a .com TLD
A TLD is a top level domain. .com, .net, .org were among the first and are still the most common TLDs in the United States. Unlike other TLDs like .gov and .mil, anyone can register new domain names with these three TLDs without restriction. The .com TLD is for companies or commercial endeavors. .org is for non-profit – you guessed it – organizations, while .net is for more personal projects that aren’t as official as .com or .org. There are now many other TLDs, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is planning to begin to allow essentially an unlimited number of new TLDs soon, increasing the number from perhaps 100 current TLDs to possibly thousands.

The problem is that nobody remembers websites that don’t end in .com. Now you’re going to object, reminding us that the new domains offer specialization. “But .pro would be a great choice since I’m a professional!” No it wouldn’t. Professionals choose .com. “But .ca is available and I’m located in Canada!” Your location doesn’t matter. If you’re in the United States and advertising your commercial website, .com is for winners.

Own the domain that matches your company name
“We’re a US company and someone already has aaaauction.com,  .us works just as well!” No it doesn’t. If someone already has the .com name for your company, you absolutely need to change your business name. That’s how important it is that your domain name matches your company.

If your website is kansasbid.com, make sure that your company name is Kansas Bid and vice versa. If you try to get cute with your domain name, few will remember it.

Shorter is better
If your company is named for you, your first and best bet is your last name. In other words, if our auction company is called Aaron Traffas Auctioneers, we would look for traffas.com. It suffers from being difficult to spell, but we’d get around that problem by registering travis.com, traffis.com, trafas.com and so on, having each of the alternate misspellings point to the main account. However, since traffas.com is taken, we’d settle for aarontraffas.com, knowing that it was a little less desirable than traffas.com but not quite a deal breaker.

However, let’s say that we’re John Smith Auctioneers. Obviously smith.com is taken. Obviously johnsmith.com is taken. Do we look for johnsmithauctioneers.com? Now we’re getting into the problem of a lengthy domain name. The longer the name, the more difficult it is to predict misspellings, the harder it is to fit on business cards, the harder it is to read on billboards, and – worst of all – the harder it is to get customers to remember the site. Was it johnsmithauctioneer.com? Was it johnsmithauctions.com? Notice they never think to ask if it was .net or .org or .us or .idiot.

Own your domain name
This problem is rampant within the auction industry. Many auctioneers are approached from an upselling [read:predatory] website hosting company with a sales pitch that goes something like this. “We’ll host website for you and even register your domain name so you don’t have to deal with a registrar or mess with any of that techy stuff.” We really like it when they use the word techy, by the way. The company then registers your domain name for themselves and creates your website. Should you ever wish to leave, you can’t simply point your domain name to another provider because you don’t own it, they do.

Find out if you own your domain name. Go to http://www.whois.net/ and enter your website. Sometimes, as in the case with Network Solutions, it will tell you you have to go to the registrar used to register the domain name to see who owns it. Stay with us. This exercise is important. Your web host can be listed as the technical contact, but you must be listed as the registrant or you don’t own your website.

CamelCase isn’t for websites
This rule isn’t necessarily about selecting your domain, but it’s about how you present it to your users. It will probably generate some opposing comments, but we feel it’s both true and important. Websites are case-insensitive. That means that auctioneertech.com is just as valid as AuCtIoNeErTeCh.com. Why don’t we write our website using CamelCase like AuctioneerTech.com since that’s the way it looks in our logo? Because websites should ALWAYS be written exclusively in lowercase. Writing your site using intermittent capital letters may make it seem easier to read, but it also makes you seem a little less – to use the word from our patronizing, predatory salesperson from above – techy than the competition. Your customers notice the details, don’t give them the opportunity to think less of you because of something as simple as how you write your domain name.

Priorities
In summary, your website is the most important marketing component to your business. While many people will come to your site by clicking a link, far more will visit your site because they saw your website in an ad or because they’ve been there before. Make it easy for them not only to remember, but to guess. The first thing most everyone does when trying to load a site is to type the company name and add .com. If that doesn’t work, if we’re interested enough we may look up to see what it was supposed to be, either by referencing the ad or searching in Google. In this case, it’s already a strike against the site and the milk is a little more sour before we’ve even arrived at our destination.

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Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES

twitter.com/traffas | aarontraffas.com | aarontraffasband.com

Aaron Traffas, CAI, AMM, CES, is an auctioneer from Medicine Lodge, Kansas. He is currently community evangelist for Purple Wave in Manhattan, Kansas. Aaron serves as the current president elect for the Kansas Auctioneers Association and in the past has served on the National Auctioneers Association Education Institute Board of Trustees. He is a past instructor at CAI and co-wrote and instructed the ATS designation course from NAA. He currently instructs the Internet Auction Methods course offered by the NAA. During the summer, Aaron operates a farm in south central Kansas. Aaron is an active singer and songwriter and the Aaron Traffas Band's latest release, Enter: The Wind, can be found at iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.