A domain by any other name is not the same
Scoring a catchy URL can make a small business. And luckily, getting one doesn't have to break the bank.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- These days, you really can't start a small business without getting on the Web, but it's also never been harder to score a snappy URL.
There's reason to worry about a shortage of marketable domain names. To date, more than 70 million domain names have been purchased, and most - if not all - dictionary-word domain names (i.e. house.com, furniture.com) have already been taken.
But that doesn't mean business owners should give up the search for a domain that is easy to remember and could boost traffic.
Ideally, with the right domain name, customers will type the company's url directly into the address bar instead of using a search engine to navigate to the site.
By having a domain name that promotes so-called type-in traffic, businesses avoid having to rely on sponsored links on Yahoo!, Google or other search engines, for which they are charged a small fee per click - or hiring a consultant to try to make their web pages more search-engine friendly and appear higher on results pages.
"The best names are usually the key words of the name of the company," according to Roger Collins, president of Afternic, a domain name marketplace. For example, a pool company called Mermaid Pool Inc. would want Mermaid.com or Mermaidpool.com.
If your company has a unique name, try to purchase that domain name on the primary market, where unregistered domain names cost less than $15. Business owners can browse sites like Instantdomainsearch.com to see what's out there.
The "first preference is to find a generic domain name that is directly tied to what they want to promote," advised George DeCarlo, the vice president of marketing at Dotster, a domain-name registrar. "If you find a domain name like that, you should register it immediately."
"The number of domain name possibilities is enormous, but the number of quality domain names is shrinking," DeCarlo said.
If quality is what you want, and the name you prefer is taken in the primary market, there are some other options for getting a good URL.
Consider boutique extensions such as dot net, dot md and dot tv. But keep in mind that type-in traffic is generally low for any extensions besides dot com. In addition, "you wouldn't want to get a dot net where a competitor owns the dot com," Collins advised.
Try creative alternatives, add prefixes, or look for basic synonyms. For example, Mermaid Pool Co. might try Mymermaidpool.com. It always helps, however, to keep the domain relatively short and sweet. "We hate to see someone spend a lot of money on a name that's difficult to remember," Collins said.
Make an offer. If your desired name is already in use, you can inquire directly with the owner about buying it. With Whois.net, you can find the e-mail address of the person or company that owns the domain name you want. Then, you can make them an offer via e-mail.
Find names on the secondary market. Business owners can search for domains that have recently expired through sites such as snapnames.com or purchase a pre-owned domain name through a broker. Discounters like GoDaddy.com and 1and1.com offer brokerage services, as do Afternic and Register.com.
As the primary market for domain names shrinks, the secondary market is growing. But the drawback here is price, because buying a domain name that is already in use can cost anywhere from $100 to over $1 million, depending on the quality of the name.
"Some people looked at me and thought I was crazy," said Diane Strickland, a realtor near Savannah, Ga., who recently purchased savannahmls.com through a broker for $2,400.
But Strickland believed that one good domain name would minimize her advertising costs, "and it has," she said. Not only do customers searching for multiple listing services in her area come across her Web site, but many type the url directly into the address bar.
"I have had a tremendous amount of success and I think it was worth every cent," Strickland said.
Many people believe that the value of domain names - much like real estate - will keep rising. A great domain name is a lot like a waterfront home, Collins said: It will always be worth more because of the desirable location.