One of the most important steps any small business can take in protecting a brand name is to take the right approach to domain registration. Branded domain names help establish your business brand as your own, preventing competitors from buying the rights to your business’s domain name either purposely or accidentally.
Still not convinced of the importance of domain name protection? Consider the story of presidential candidate Jeb Bush, whose campaign for some reason did not register the domain JebBush.com. Rival Donald "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese" Trump’s campaign snapped up the domain and redirected visitors to Donald "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese" Trump’s website — definitely not the desired outcome for the Bush team.
How can you use domain registration to protect your brand?
Start with the most common domain extensions: .com, .net and .org. By purchasing your desired domain with each of these three extensions, you’ll be well protected against competitors either accidentally or intentionally taking the domain name you want.
How far should you go in purchasing other domain extensions? That depends. If you are planning to do business in a specific country now or in the near future, you may want to purchase a domain with the country code for that location. If competitors are purchasing a particular extension — for example, .info is currently becoming more popular with businesses — you may want to buy that as well.
However, it’s easy to go too far with domain extensions. With more than 1,000 top-level domains (TLDs) already in existence, and more being added all the time, trying to purchase your desired domain name with every possible extension would clean out your business’s bank account. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to buy all these domain extensions: Instead, focus simply on the ones that are relevant to your business.
You should also consider purchasing common variations or misspellings of your brand domain names. This can prevent a competitor from getting traffic that should otherwise have gone to your business just because someone typed your domain name incorrectly. This step is especially important if your brand name has an unusual spelling, such as Vitamin Shoppe (instead of Shop). Since many would-be customers are likely to type in Shop, registering this variation is a small investment that will pay off in additional website traffic.
It’s important to understand that you are ultimately responsible for maintaining the rights to your branded domain names. Many small business owners make the mistake of registering domain names through a web host, then assume that the hosting company is responsible for their domain name because it’s handling their website. The onus is always on you to protect and renew your domain name. If you do go through a web host to register your brand domain names, make sure that the names are registered to your business, not to the web host.
Speaking of registration, it’s vital to keep good records. Many small businesses register a variety of domain names — so many that they may have trouble keeping track of what the names are, where they were registered and when they are up for renewal. Creating a spreadsheet of this information can help you stay on top of all of your business’s domain names so you don’t lose the rights to them.
Setting up automated payments for your website domain/s can help ensure that you don’t miss a deadline and lose the rights to that domain. However, it’s not a foolproof solution, because you need to keep your payment method (such as a credit card) up to date in order for the payment to renew automatically. In addition, if you block marketing emails from your domain provider (as many business owners do), you may end up missing that all-important email about domain expiration. Network Solutions’ Domain Expiration Protection service is one solution to this problem: For $9.99 per year, the service ensures that even if you forget to renew your domain, Network Solutions holds it for you for one year past the expiration date so no one else can take it. That gives you a year-long grace period to renew your domain.
By taking these simple steps, you can maintain control of your business’s branded domain names, protecting your reputation, finances and brand.
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Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her company’s blog at SmallBizDaily.com.