Digital Marketing - a Practical Approach 3e : home

DOMAIN NAMES

from: Digital Marketing a Practical Approach 2nd edition

First impressions can be crucial. In an online environment, the organization's domain name may well be the first point of contact between it and a potential customer. First impressions are all about perception, and a 'good' domain name can influence how a potential customer might perceive the organization - that is; poor domain name equals poor company, good domain name equals good company to do business with. Although this notion is far from absolute - and may even be nonsense - given the price of a domain name, it costs little to pamper to a customer's perception.

PRACTICAL INSIGHT
A domain name is not just for a website

Although technically they are not domain names, the digital marketer shown apply all of the lessons in this chapter to the choice of 'domain name' for all of the organization's presences on the web - in particular, social media. Brands should always look to register their own name on the varies channels, e.g.
facebook.com/nike and twitter.com/nikefootball (@nikefootball)
facebook.com/Amazon and twitter.com/amazon (@amazon)
facebook.com/cocacola and twitter.com/cocacola (@cocacola)
Given that social media presences can be set up an discarded more easily that websites, it is also common - and potentially good - practice to use quirky names such as promotional tag lines as facebook pages or Twitter handles.

Choosing an effective domain name - often referred to as the organization's address on the Internet - is a crucial decision for any organization. It is primarily a marketing decision and not one to be taken by other staff who do not appreciate the value of a domain name in marketing terms.
To have a web presence, an organization must have a domain name, and if they must have a domain name, then they should give some thought to not just having a good domain name, but the right domain name. Before the online marketer can select the right domain name, they must first understand a little about domain names.

What is a Domain name?

Every presence on the Internet is identified by a series of numbers (142.56.89.43 for example) - called the Internet Protocol, or IP, address. To make these IP addresses easier to remember, the early proponents of the Internet decided to allocate a word (or series of characters) to each IP number. As no two sets of IP numbers are the same, no two domain names can be the same.
Domain names are, and always have been, allocated on a first come - first served basis. The majority of generic, one-word domain names were registered in the early to mid 1990s - and as registration was free at the time, many were registered by IT students (who were amongst the first to use the Internet on a regular basis). It is the generic .com domains that many consider to be the best. It is also difficult to trademark a generic word. By definition that means that generic .coms are the most valuable domain names.

MINI CASE
High price names

Domain names that demand the highest value when offered for sale are generic dot coms. Loans.com, for example, was purchased by the Bank of America for $3M and .sex sold for $13M in 2010. Note, however, the majority of domain names that sell for high sums have with them 'related assets' - normally functioning, profit-making websites complete with customer details - which is where the actual value lies. For example, a group of domain names including dictionary.com, reference.com, and thesaurus.com were bought by Answers.com for $100 Million - but the websites hosted on those three domains attracted 11.5 million unique visitors per month in the period immediately prior to the purchase.

The domain name system is run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and is responsible for a range of technical aspects of the internet, including the Domain Name System (DNS), which allows for the registration of domain names within a number of registries known as 'top level domains' (TLDs). TLDs fall into two broad categories:
* Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) e.g. dot com
* Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs), such as dot uk for the United Kingdom

Each country has its own naming authority that runs the domain name system for that country - referred to as sponsoring organizations. To register a name you must apply to that authority for 'permission' to use that name. Effectively, those who register the name are the owners of that name and as such are the only ones who can use that name. There are organizations that act as intermediaries between the customer and the naming agencies. It is with these registration agents (or registrars) that the vast majority of people or entities register their domain name.

Domain name construction

When a name is registered it takes the suffix of the registered naming authority. There are a number of suffixes to choose from (more of this later) but to illustrate how domain names are constructed this example will use the best-known suffix - .com (dot com). The domain used as an illustration is yagahit.com.
As the suffix is considered to be the primary, or top level domain, combining the 'name' with the suffix creates a second level domain:
e.g. yagahit.com
When indicating their use as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of a world wide website, it has become accepted protocol to use the prefix 'www' on the primary domain name:
e.g. www.yagahit.com
As the dot com suffix now has two distinct words before it, this is now a third level domain name.
Any subsequent words placed in front of the primary name, but divided by a full stop, make the URL a fourth/fifth level domain name. Theoretically, there is no limit to the number of words that can be placed prior to the domain, in practice however, three or four is really the limit.
e.g. www.sunderland.yagahit.com
When used as a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) the domain name takes on an extra level to donate their country of origin.

There is a very unambiguous limit to the characters that can be used in a domain name. They are: all the letters of the Latin alphabet (A to Z) plus any number (0 to 9) and a dash/hyphen (-). NB these rules apply to domain names that use the English language - others, known as Internationalised Domain Names, are available in different languages. A domain name must begin and end with a letter or a number, no spaces or other characters are allowed. Any amount of dashes can be used, but must not be placed together. Domain names must be at least three and less than 63 characters in length (excluding suffixes). Although two letter domains do exist, they are only allocated to organizations that can prove that they are universally recognised by a two-character name. Communications giant O2 for example, use O2.co.uk and Hewlett Packard, HP.com - realistically, however, unless an organization is in the same league as these examples, they can forget two character domains.

PRACTICAL INSIGHT
Just having fun dot com

Given their low price, domain names are ripe for funsters to amuse themselves. For example, the imaginatively named 'the longest list of the longest stuff at the longest domain name at long last' website - can be found (of course) on
www.thelongestlistofthelongeststuffatthelongestdomainnameatlonglast.com.

Finally - and this is important for marketing reasons - domain names are NOT case sensitive. From a technically standpoint, it is possible to set up a website's host server so that it recognizes upper and lower case characters in a domain name (so making a domain case sensitive) - however, this is (virtually) never practiced, it being the standard operating procedure to set them up as being non-case sensitive.

Suffixes

The most common domain name suffix is the .com (dot com). This is the suffix for the USA and is considered to be the global name as it has no country identification (such as uk for the UK) - in reality, it has no country identification because it was the first suffix made available (there is a rarely used .us domain that is normally linked to state abbreviations, eg .fl.us for Florida).
There are over 250 countries with a country-specific domain, for example; .de for Germany .jp for Japan .fr for France and .gr for Greece. The need for 'global regions' to have their own identity in a domain name has been addressed - the first of what is expected to be a number of regional names, .eu for Europe is already established, with .asia going live in 2008.
There are over 250 countries with a country-specific domain, for example; .de for Germany .jp for Japan .fr for France and .gr for Greece - even the Vatican City State has its own .va suffix . Two global regions also have their own suffixes, but although .eu - for Europe - and .asia have become well established, plans for other regions have been dropped. Author's note, 2018. Although .eu and .asia started well, they are now few and far between - how many have you seen other than alancharlesworth.eu?
Whilst some countries impose restrictions on who can register their names, more than 80 countries are unrestricted meaning anyone anywhere can register any names. Some of these unrestricted names have been heavily promoted, but they are still considered as novelties in the majority of business fields - these include; .tv (Tuvalu) and .cc (Cocos Islands). Indeed, such is the use of the .cc for dubious websites that in 2011 Google removed from its index all websites using that suffix.
As well as country specific suffixes that use Latin characters, there are also a growing number of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) - also referred to as multi-lingual domain names - which use characters outside a-z, 0-9 and the hyphen. At the time of writing around 39 additional character sets are available, supporting over 350 languages including Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, Russian and Greek. Applications of IDNs for the marketer are limited. The most obvious issue is that if the domain uses non-Latin characters only the keyboards of users in countries where those characters are used can type the domain names into a browser.
Perhaps the biggest shake-up in domain name suffixes came in 2013 when ICANN introduced the model that allowed organizations to 'buy' permission to use their own suffix. The idea is that, for example, Nike have the brand name as their suffix - and have sites on the likes of football.nike and tennis.nike. Or perhaps a company - or the City council - could register .London, and 'sell-on' domain names such as hotels.London and dining.London. As with the .com domain name gold rush of the early 1990s, generic words are also up for sale as suffixes. Applications for generic words included Johnson & Johnson with .baby and L'Oreal with .beauty, .hair, .makeup, .salon, and .skin. Time will tell whether the cost of these suffixes will benefit those who intend to use them, but you can be sure that at an initial fee of $185,000 plus an annual fee of $25,000, you won't be seeing my website on a .charlesworth suffix anytime soon. Author's note, 2018. So far, these domains have been pretty much a disaster - how many have you seen? An exception are the the major brands; Amazon and Google.

RESEARCH SNAPSHOT
Domain names add to email credibility

Having your own domain name means that you can use it for your email address. Research by Microsoft UK, published in 2008, found that almost half of respondents said that they would rather not use a company which had a personal email account - e.g. hotmail or gmail - rather than a company email address. I would suggest that in the years since that research use of the Internet has become so common that users are even more aware of the implications of personal emails in a business context.

Choosing the right suffix is dependent on the use to which the website is to be put, and the essential question to be addressed is what is the nature of the organization and where it trades - or hopes to trade. If the organization is a business then the main choice is between the local suffix and .com. Using .co.uk as an example; if the business trades only in the UK then .co.uk is the suffix to choose - if the business trades globally, then .com. That is, of course, rather simplistic and other options exist in the grey areas that sit between the black and white - a hotel, for example, might seek to attract customers from around the globe but using the country code of its home country will identify where it is located geographically. For example, nicehotel.com could be located anywhere in the world, but nicehotel.co.uk is in the UK.

Creating the right domain name

Although there are guides for creating domain names for specific purposes, each having different criteria for the selection process, there are some issues that are generic to all purposes. They are:
* Length - in general, when picking a name, less is more
* How easy is it to recall the name?
* How will it be communicated? (e.g. verbally or in print)
Other general considerations include:
* Is the domain name a representation of the organization and/or business?
* What is it to be used it for? (e.g. website, email address, company name)

RESEARCH SNAPSHOT
Coffee is more important than a domain name, apparently

Research has revealed that the UK's small businesses are rushing their choice of web address, with 41 per cent taking less than an hour to make the decision - around the same time they took to source their coffee making machine. This was despite most of them recognised that their domain name could have a lasting effect on their business, with one third of businesses believing that their revenue would improve as a direct result of having a better web address, and 1 in 4 businesses admitting they had 'concerns' about the effectiveness of their domain name. More than 60 per cent of respondents did not seek a second opinion, and only 10 per cent of businesses considered the long-term effect of their domain name on their business image. Little surprise then, that many British businesses believe that their choice of domain name could have been better.
Source: FastHosts Internet (www.fasthosts.co.uk)

For those new to domain names it is worth reiterating that all (useful) generic words have long since been registered, so a toy company wanting to register www.toys.co.uk or www.toys.com (owned by Toys"R"Us and eToys respectively) it is too late. So assuming that a suitable generic word that represents the product or service being marketed is not an option, how does the organization choose a suitable domain name? Options include:

* Take the company name, and add a suitable suffix. If I were a consultant, alancharlesworth.eu would be an example of this - although businesses often use the possessive 's' in the name, e.g. charlesworth's which might be problematic for the domain name.
* Although the company might be known by the owner's name, surnames are rarely still available to register - a simple solution is to add the product or service offered to the company name. A business known as Alan's Ltd that makes toys might use alanstoys.co.uk.
*Along the same lines - add the location to either the company name or location - alansofyork.co.uk or yorktoys.co.uk, for example.
* Register the name by which the company is commonly known - such nicknames are common where the organization's name is particularly cumbersome or formal.
* Use the abbreviation of the organization's initials - Alan's Toys of York Ltd using aty.co.uk or atoy.co.uk, for example. This option is severely limited as most 3 and 4 character domain names have been registered.
* Abbreviate some of all of the words in the company name - an engineering company from Philadelphia, for example, could easily shorten that to phillyengineering.com.

It is worth noting that in the USA the use of the dash (-) in domain names is shunned, 'all one word' being the norm. However, this is not so much the case in Europe, with there being three significant examples of when it should be considered. Firstly is where your 'first choice' name has been registered - simply split any words with a dash. Secondly, where the dash makes the domain 'read' better (perhaps because the term would be grammatically correct if a dash is used) and thirdly, there will be occasions when two words run together to create an unfortunate term. For example, a company that provided expert consultancy service called Experts Exchange registered those two words as its domain name - unfortunately, the subsequent term read ExpertSexchange.com.

PRACTICAL INSIGHT
Capital practice
Earlier in this section it was mentioned that domain names are not case sensitive. This can be very important aesthetically when the name is presented in print. The following are all the names suggested as examples in the previous section - but all are presented using upper case characters where pertinent. Not only do the look better, they sometimes make more sense grammatically.
alancharlesworth.eu    AlanCharlesworth.eu
alanstoys.co.uk    AlansToys.co.uk
alansofyork.co.uk    AlansofYork.co.uk
yorktoys.co.uk    YorkToys.co.uk
phillyengineering.com    PhillyEngineering.com

Note that the suffix is always presented in lower case.

Registering a domain name
The process is relatively easy - and conducted online. There are two main choices:
1 Register it yourself using any one of the hundreds of online domain name 'registrars'.
2 If professional services have been employed to develop a web presence that organization will normally register the domain name as part of the package - though they should not choose it without discussion with the customer (you).
Whichever is chosen, there is one vital issue to note. Part of the registration process includes a section that requires details of the registrants - effectively who is the owner. It is not unknown for unscrupulous operators - both registrars and service providers - to list themselves in this section and not their clients, so make sure you or your organization is listed as the owner.

MINI CASE
Renew it or lose it
Although you may 'own' the registration of a domain name - you must renew the registration periodically, if you don't, you will lose the name and it goes back on the open market. Over the years there have been a number of embarrassing examples of major organizations and brands - Microsoft and Amazon have both been guilty in the past - forgetting to renew, but being able to recover their domain name as there were trademark issues.

Buying a 'pre-owned' domain name

Transfer of ownership of domain names is not only possible, it is a business model for some companies and individuals. Over the years many names have been registered simply because their buyers feel that one day someone, somewhere will want that name - and so they will be prepared to pay for it. It is also the case that an individual or business (particularly a small one) might have a website, or be trading on a name, that is coveted by another organization. In such cases the owner might be willing to put up with the inconvenience of establishing their website on a new domain if the compensation is worthwhile. For the buying company the purchase price of the name might be considerable - but still only a small percentage of the overall marketing budget. Note that in the decision time section of chapter 6 the search engine optimization advantages of purchasing an existing name and/site are considered.

DECISION TIME

Choosing the right domain name requires two decisions:
1    Which suffix to use
2    The composition of the actual name
However, because so many names are already registered, domain name selection is often a case of second, third, fourth (or worse) choice. A common compromise is the name of choice with a substitute suffix or first-choice suffix with a concession being made with the name.

1    Suffix selection revolves around the organization's target market and its location. Considerations include:
* Where is the market? Global markets might be best served by a .com.
* How does the organization wish to be perceived? Again, a .com might best serve only objectives in this case.
* Even in a global market, being identified with a specific country (perhaps the product or service's unique selling proposition is that it originates from a distinct region) then that country's suffix is better.
* If the business trades in Europe - rather than globally - then .eu is a serious possibility.

2   Name composition is often dependent on the name of the offline company, its brand names or those of its products or services. As shown in the earlier examples, it is often easy to simply employ the organization's name - or a variation of it - as its domain name. It is always recommendable to have a recognizable connection between the offline and online names - particularly if the offline brand has been built over many years. To go online with a new 'name' is to start from scratch with regard to credibility and customer recognition - unless, of course, the online product is separate from the offline entity. Particular care should be taken with the use of SMS text-style abbreviations. For example, the use of the character '4' to replace 'for', or a single 'u' instead of 'you'. Whilst this works well for the mobile phone company Phones4U (they have built their brand around the notion) for an established 'traditional' offline business to use such abbreviations could easily lose credibility in its market segment. Obviously, if the target market is made up of teenagers, then the text language might work.
For the new, pure-play online company the situation differs in that the domain name is the trading name of the company - effectively, its brand. Whilst this has the advantage a having a blank canvas for name choice, it is hampered by the fact that so many names - particularly generic ones - have already been registered. It is the lack of availability of names that is behind the phenomenon of companies with fabricated words as their name. An example is airline website, Opodo. The major advantage of choosing this name was that no domain name in any suffix had been registered for the word.
For more on choosing the right domain name, see: domain names - a marketers perspective


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