There’s nothing worse than eagerly packing all your business bags and preparing to move into your new home in Cyberspace, only to find that your dream location is already occupied because somebody else beat you to the door!
Even if you’ve been the proud ruler of your own online domain for quite a while, you must remember to keep a close eye on the lease agreements if you want to avoid the risk of having those keys snatched from right under your nose!
It’s surprising – and a little bit amusing – to see that even some of the mighty corporate giants can get caught out by this when they take their eye off the ball, as we’ll see in just a moment…
But let’s retrace our steps right back to the beginnings of a brand new business.
Securing the rights to the ideal domain name for your business is one of the first boxes to tick off if you’re intending to have a powerful online presence.
In fact, some would argue that it’s actually the very first step that you should take when planning out a new business.
So why do so many upcoming entrepreneurs seem to shove the domain name issue right to the back of the list, and then find that they have to deal with the disappointing consequences?
Perhaps it’s perfectly understandable in a way to assume that there are far more important things to worry about in those early development stages of business than silly old website addresses.
My good friend Wonky Alan was one of those people who felt that owning his own domain name was an issue that didn’t deserve his immediate attention.
When he first started to prepare the launch of his new business Wonky Spirit Levels, he focused his initial efforts on officially registering the name with Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC), printing up a load of business cards and cool promotional products, and painting his new dynamic logo onto the side of his van.
I did try my best to warn him that he should sort out his domain name before he cracked on with any of this other stuff, but my advice fell on deaf ears.
When he eventually got round to the task of trying to register his online domain name, he was shocked to discover that somebody else had – quite unbelievably – already snapped up the rights to his intended purchase of wonkyspiritlevels.com.au.
It was far too late to consider changing the name of his business now as he’d poured so much effort and expense into proudly promoting it, and so he was forced to settle for a huge compromise on the domain name.
Instead of his first choice of wonkyspiritlevels.com.au, he eventually had to go with the slightly less appealing and less catchy wonky123spiritlevels.net.org.boiledonions.discobadger.arewefinishedyet.com.au.
I think it may have affected his potential volume of website traffic.
It clearly comes across as more professional and reassuring to the potential customer when your website address proudly shouts out the unique name of your business instead of looking like the result of a hamster scurrying across a keyboard.
But it’s not just about aesthetics.
Your website is much more likely to be found in the first place if you have your own .com or .com.au domain name, as anybody trying to quickly hunt you down online will strike gold with their very first guess instead of getting lost in the search engines and giving up in frustration.
Signing up for your own domain name is a simple and painless procedure, with a wealth of online registry services to choose from, ranging from Domain Name Registrar (Australia) to Cheap Domains.
A quick search on Google will throw up several billion other alternatives, so you can happily take your pick and go with the best deal that you can find.
Many of the registry services will offer their own web hosting packages, but they’ll also give you a quick and easy option to simply ‘point’ your new domain name to any URL of your choice.
By doing all this as early as possible, you could be saving yourself a potentially huge disappointment later on, and allowing yourself plenty of time to re-think your strategy if necessary.
Depending on how much importance you’ll be placing on your online presence, you may even want to think about coming up with a new business name if your ideal domain names have already been taken!
You’re obviously not going to get the opportunity to consider this option if you left it too late to sort out the domain name and other wheels have already been set in motion.
Whilst you’re at it, you may also want to make sure that you’ve grabbed the most suitable URLs for all your new Social Media pages and profiles, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
Having control over your own business name in Cyberspace doesn’t have to be restricted to your website address. It’s a good idea to claim the best possible names across a wide range of other online platforms while you have the chance!
You may not have any immediate plans to use them all just yet, but this shrewd preparation could come in very handy later on down the line.
So, we’ve gone ahead and secured the rights to our domain name, and we’ve got that satisfied feeling of a job well done.
But how do we ensure that we stay in charge and keep full control of our domain in the future?
When you sign up to use a new domain name, you’re often thought of as being the ‘owner’ of that name…but this is not quite true.
In effect, you’re simply leasing the domain name from the registrar, typically for a period of two years although other options may also be available from your provider.
The big risk here is that you may overlook renewing your rights to the domain name when they eventually expire.
Not only would this mean that visitors using the expired address would be unable to access your website until you have completed the renewal, it could also lead to the rights being snatched right out of your hands altogether by a rival!
There are countless tales from the murkier backwaters of Cyberspace in which a perfectly good business with a registered domain name is doing very well for itself, but forgets to renew the rights when the time comes.
As a result, the rights are snapped up by a devious competitor, who uses the popular domain name to redirect visitors to his own website!
It might seem careless to overlook such an important element of your business, but even some of the giant internet companies – who really, really should know better – have been prone to these occasional bouts of forgetfulness.
Over the years, Microsoft has neglected to renew the rights to both Passport.com and one of their major Hotmail domains – mistakes which could potentially have shut down their entire Hotmail service.
They were actually extremely fortunate, as both domain names were bought by good-natured individuals who were only interested in giving them right back to Microsoft.
Apple weren’t quite so lucky.
Back when they first launched iTunes, they completely forgot to register for the UK domain name of itunes.co.uk, and it was quickly snapped up by a mischievous soul who used the domain name to redirect visitors to Napster, then the biggest possible rival to iTunes!
He wasn’t particularly keen to hand over the rights to Apple when they discovered their mistake, and so a lengthy, painful and utterly embarrassing court case ensued in which Apple were (perhaps controversially) finally given the rights to the domain name.
So the moral of the story is…keep on looking after your domain name long after you first grab it!
A good registry service will give you plenty of notice when the rights are due to expire, and you should act on this as quickly as possible rather than putting it to the bottom of your To-Do list.
For extra precaution, you might want to make a note of the expiration date when you first buy the domain name, just to make sure that you’ll be poised and ready when the time comes to renew the lease to your rightful spot in Cyberspace!
But how much importance do you place on owning the right domain name for your business?
Did you end up with the domain name that you hoped for, or did you have to make a compromise?
Would you ever have gone as far as to change the name of your business to match an available domain name?