Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Creating an Online Presence - Domain Names and Branding

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Note: this post is part of a series on creating an online presence.

In our previous post, we thought about:
  • What an online presence is
  • Why we would want to create one
  • Our goals
  • The resources we will bring to bear
  • Our options
But an early consideration should be whether or not you want a website with a specific name, i.e., do you need a domain name?


There is a lot to be said for coherence and simplicity in branding.  If it is easy to remember your brand and easy to find it, you are going to be more successful with it.  Domain names, e.g.,, that match/reflect your brand help this.

Subdomains can be an option as well.  For example, Blogger enables you to create sites like the one you are reading and house them as subdomains on their domain.  Before I pointed the blog you are reading to my domain, it was (which now automagically redirects to my domain).

You can also go without a domain at all, e.g., using a service like Tumblr.  While it can work for some cases, I would not suggest that as your core solution because:

  • Your audience needs to have an account to see your site
  • Your control of brand and message are significantly limited

What Name Should I Use?

Use a name that makes sense for your goals. Reflecting the brand can be direct or indirect.  For example:
Depending on your goals, you may or may not want to secure your own domain.  The benefits of using a subdomain like Blogger offers is that you don't have to hassle with maintaining the registration every year.

Is My Desired Domain Name Available?

There are lots of places that let you check for free.  Here are a couple:

If You Might Want a Specific Domain/Subdomain, Get It

And get it right away.  For domains, it's about $10 a year and it takes minutes to do.  For subdomains like Blogger offers, it's free and takes minutes to do.  That's not a lot to invest.

There are a lot of people out there making money off of cybersquatting, aka, domain squatting. They swipe a domain name solely because they think someone else will want it and will pay a premium for it.  I know, I have experienced it more than once.

With subdomains, it's a different problem with similar results.  Blogger, for example, let's you make multiple blogs and it's free, so there is simply a lot of competition for clever and concise subdomain names.

The primary concern here is that if you create a valuable service associated with a name before you have the desired domain name, you may have trouble getting it.

How Do I Get a Domain?

Well, believe or not, this is another reason to think about this early, because there are two primary paths:

  • Just register the domain with a domain registrar like Namecheap
  • Register it through a webhost like Dreamhost
A domain registrar is primarily focused on domain registration, whereas a webhost is more focused on providing you with the resources to host a web site and they typically offer to handle domain name registration (in essence, they are a broker, reseller).

I have done both and my general advice is that if you have a webhost (or think you might want to use one), register through them.  Sure, they may charge you a few dollars more, but remember that is a few dollars on an annual fee and I find the convenience of having one place to manage my hosting and registrations to be worth that.  It can also save you from having to learn a lot more about domain names than you ever wanted to know in order to get your site and your domain name in synch.

However, if, for example, you are relying solely on a redirected Blogger or Google Sites site, then the simplicity and savings of using a domain registrar may be the perfect choice.

In my opinion, either choice is fine.  Neither holds dramatic problems.  It's a matter of taste/preference.

Should I Grab Related Names?

People also make money by taking advantage of people that *think* they are going to your site.  A key anecdote that comes to mind is "".  There was a time when the ".com" version of that domain pointed to a pornography site, resulting in some unwanted "education" of civic-minded kids.  Sadly, it is still a site full of garbage ads.

Similar stories abound for misspellings/typos of sites.

If you are building a big brand, you might want to consider the following:

  • Grab the same name for common top-level domains, e.g., if you grabbed ".com", possibly grab ".net" or ".org"
  • Grab names for obvious/easy typos/misspellings
And then redirect those to your desired site.

In my case, in addition to I grabbed:

And set them up to point to

Whoa, Hold On, What About This Cybersquatting Thing?

For the purposes of this post it's enough to know it's a problem.  I will cover that in another post and include my own personal anecdotes for dealing with it.

Think About It And Act Accordingly

Think about whether or not you need a name and, if you do, go get it.  This can end up becoming quite a creative endeavor if the names you want are taken.  This process may even shape your brand.

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