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The Who, When, Why and What of Domain Names

While your business or organizational name is important, your domain name is often the first thing that people see. But what is a domain name? Who needs a domain name? Why are domain names important? What should your domain name be? And how should the domain name relate to your digital identity?

What Is a Domain Name?

 Your domain name is the web address people enter into the top of the browser to go directly to your website. This is the handle tied to your IP address that, realistically, no one is going to remember or care about. Domain names must be unique in order to be legal. However, it is possible to register several domain names that redirect to your website. For example, many companies will register both the .com and .net domains so that visitors who enter the wrong one will still end up on the company’s website. In every case, the domain name is where your company or organization can be found on the internet.

Who Needs a Domain Name?

 For most people, a social media account tied to your name is sufficient. A blog tied to your name or nickname is fine, too. A domain name is different. It is a registered designation with ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. A domain name must be registered for it to be yours. You could request a new one, or you could buy an existing domain name from someone else.

Why Is a Domain Name Important?

 Your domain name represents your company or organization. It may be the company’s name, but you could use a good descriptive term instead. For example, one enterprising pest control service seized the memorable domain Gotbugs.com. They have a longer formal business name, but this domain ties perfectly into the service the offer and leads casual searchers to their website. Everyone knows what they do by the web domain the use. A beauty consultant may be registered as someone doing business as themselves, but their domain name and brand could be “best lashes in X” or “The Darling Diva of Dallas.”

The domain name is the most obvious part of the URL. However, the sub domain names .com .net .org and other endings affect the perception and identity of the group, too. For example, the .edu domain is restricted to educational institutions. A .com is almost always commercial, but it could be a serious blog or individual’s personal website, as well. A .net may be commercial or not, but .org is associated with non-profits. Dot-mil is always tied to the United States military, and dot-gov is reserved for those in qualifying government agencies.

What Domain Name Should I Pick?

 You could base your brand off your name, though this has both pros and cons. A domain name based off your own name might not be memorable enough. John Doe 57 or Jose Garcia 183 is going to be lost in the crowd. Some unfortunate souls have names so hard to spell that it hurts their searchability. If you’re constantly explaining how to spell your first or last name, don’t build a brand based on it, and don’t use it as a domain name.

There are other benefits to choosing a domain name and brand identity not based on your personal name, as well. It allows you to separate your personal and professional identities. You can certainly reference your business website in your personal social media profiles, but this allows you to keep pictures of kids, pets and hobbies separate from your business content. More importantly, you could sell the business and its website to someone else, too.

The next question is the extension. The dot-com versus dot-net debate has raged as long as these competing domain extensions have existed. Dot-com is considered more professional. The list of acceptable domain extensions has grown, too. Yet both of these are considered more trustworthy than national domain extensions. For example, .ca is a Canadian domain subject to Canadian presence requirements. This might be a selling point if you’re a Canadian selling yourself to fellow Canadians, but it hurts your website’s reputation with individuals outside of Canada.

What about the newer extensions? For example, ICANN added a number of new domains like .biz, .adult, .capital, .church, and .community. The dot-biz domain was created simply to relieve stress on the overcrowded dot-com domain. The other domain names are less common and thus less familiar. They can in some cases aid your branding. A dot-church extension clearly identifies a church from a supermarket or apartment community with the same name. Dot-adult is more respectable than a triple-X reference. A dot-community domain may allow a community based bulletin board to function while distinguishing itself from the dot-gov site and real estate companies that often dominate the dot-com location based domain names. The challenge is communicating this to your customers in ads, unless they’re seeing an online ad or looking at your business card. These newer domains may also force you to register multiple domains to protect yourself, such as an organic food company reserving the .green and .eco domains in addition to a dot-net address.

It is also possible to have more than one domain name, and you can use these as landing pages to direct people to your main website. For example, large companies may control the domain names tied to each of their major product lines as well as their company name. They may use the product name domains to funnel people to their home page, or they may set up homepages specifically for each brand name.

These domain names are separate from the subdomains they may set up for specific models or individual retail stores and restaurants. A classic example would be the “store123” model for identifying individual franchises in a chain. You could then have a separate webpage for each store or restaurant, showcasing the way it looks from the street and introducing the team. In these cases, you want to include the unique identifier for the location in business directories. It might be as simple as “X Company – Downtown Location” and “X Company – Suburban Location”. This increases the company’s rankings in local searches, and it allows you to have separate brand identities for each store without having to create multiple websites for them. However, you may want separate websites for each product line or company service. The corporate foundation often has a separate webpage from the corporation’s homepage.

What about individuals? Individuals may want to have separate domains for their consulting business and their author page. They can cross-link these pages, but now your branding and search engine optimization for each page are distinct. We’d recommend authors have their own website in addition to profiles on Amazon or Goodreads. This gives you more control over your branding, and it creates yet another entry in the search results related to you or your content.

A Warning about WordPress-Based Websites

 It is easy to set up a blog or small business website on WordPress. When you set up a domain or profile on WordPress, pay for the dot-com address instead of sticking with the free version that sticks a .WordPress at the end of the domain name. This proves to others that you are an amateur. It also makes your site much harder to find, if someone assumes that your address is a dot-com. You can use WordPress to set up a dot-com address.

How Should Your Domain Name Tie into the Rest of Your Digital Identity?

 Your domain name should be part of your brand’s digital identity. For example, you may want to use the domain name as your company’s social media handle across all major social media sites. This creates a consistent image that engenders trust. It also makes it easier for potential customers to search for you on platforms, whether they’ve heard of the handle or want to check out the company.

Forget link spamming and other backlink profile building strategies. Start the process of building a back-link profile by putting a link to your new domain in your various social media profiles. List your new domain name as your business website in your profile. If you have a physical business address, put the new domain name in the business registry along with the business name, address and phone number. (This is called NAP+W.) As you create new social media profiles that incorporate the domain name into the brand identity, add these new profiles as links on the other profiles.

How Does Domain Name Relate to Your Company’s Email?

 If you want to gain professional legitimacy, have your email address tied to your domain name instead of a generic Hotmail or Gmail address. Note that you can set up web hosting so that the emails to the XYZ@yourdomainname.com are forwarded to your personal email address. And you can set it up so that you can send emails from your personal email accounts that are stamped with the domain address. Just make sure that the web host serving up your website and email services doesn’t host a lot of spamming services, or else the emails will be blocked by the recipient’s spam filters.

There are additional benefits to controlling email addresses tied to the domain name. You can set up separate email accounts for customer service, tech support, sales, marketing and direct messages to you. They may all come to you at first, but you can filter the content of the messages based on the channel they came through. If one email address is clogged with spam, you can set up another. Furthermore, you can have one email address as “President” or “Founder” and another that simply reflects your name. Now you can communicate using the persona that’s best for that particular situation.

Am I Stuck with the Domain I Set Up?

 You control the domain when you own it. You can move a domain and the website’s associated files from one web hosting service to another. You can buy and maintain additional domains, assuming someone else doesn’t have a greater right to them. (You can get in trouble if you try to take a domain name associated with a famous person or brand.) You’re free to set up additional websites, though that increases the work load. Nor do you have to do all the work yourself. You can hire a web designer to create or maintain your website, if you don’t want that to be handled by a web hosting service that provides tools for setting up your own website once you register the domain name. Fail to pay the ongoing registration fees, and the domain name may be taken by someone else.

On the other hand, that means the ABC domain you set up five years ago will eventually go away if you abandon it. Just realize that it will take all email addresses and ecommerce pages with it. And it means you shouldn’t register a domain, set up a website and create an entire digital persona unless and until you’re ready to take it seriously.

Derek Wolf
"People Like Us (do things like this)"

Ⓒ copyright Derek Wolf 2020, all rights reserved.

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