Traditionally, generic domain names such as Vodka.com or Seniors.com were not sought after by established companies because the companies did not understand the benefit of using domain names to extend their brand or web presence. This has changed as companies now have integrated campaigns, using important keywords to drive traffic online. For example, Russian Standard Vodka purchased Vodka.com for $3 million and is now using it for a teaser campaign.
There are a number of reasons why utilizing a generic domain name in addition to the company or brand name can make a marketing campaign more effective. For one, using a keyword in the domain name can help drive traffic through "direct navigation." Vodka.com provides a good example of this, as a web surfer interested in purchasing vodka may bypass a search engine and use direct navigation by typing the web address http://www.vodka.com/ into a browser. Although a vodka company cannot trademark the word "vodka," owning the domain name is essentially a trademark for the world of online domains. The owner of Vodka.com has the direct attention of an interested vodka buyer on its website because it owns the category in the virtual world. Owning the domain gives Russian Standard instant credibility in the U.S. market, even though it has not traditionally competed there.
Another example of the effectiveness of direct navigation is the recent purchase by an Illinois t-shirt vendor of Tees.com, which naturally attracts 17,000 unique visitors a month. The company paid a large price to secure the domain name through an online auction, but will make its money back in a little over two years on natural traffic alone and now has a jump start on any campaign it runs.
A recent study by WebSideStory revealed that visitors who arrive at a site through direct navigation are nearly twice as likely to take an action (such as clicking on an ad) as those who arrived through search engines or another method. Many well-known companies use this generic domain name strategy including Lane Bryant (http://www.rightfit.com/), Calvin Klein (http://www.underwear.com/), H&R Block (http://www.taxcut.com/) and Johnson & Johnson (http://www.baby.com/).
For highly targeted campaigns that do not reflect the entirety of a company's target audience, it helps to set up an additional website, with its own domain name. The independent site allows marketers to easily reach and then track the audience that resulted specifically from that marketing campaign.
If the particular campaign is based around a giveaway or another element, this site gives marketers the freedom to be more creative than with the main brand site, prompting visitors to view the site as more of a third person site without any dry business-speak. A few good examples of these "fun" websites are for Burger King (http://www.subservientchicken.com/), Comcast (http://www.theslowskys.com/), Kayem Foods, Inc. (http://www.bratworship.com/) and Wrigley's (http://www.candystand.com/).
These non-brand domain names can also be used to integrate with other media to build curiosity. Take for example the new Cheetos commercials with Chester Cheeto appearing as a devious yet cool character that encourages young people to do something outrageous. One such commercial takes place in a laundromat. At the end of the commercial, the text "Join Us: http://www.orangeunderground.com/" flashes on screen. The strangeness of the ad builds curiosity -- and the desire to join the site in a way that the tag line, "Join Us: http://www.cheetos.com/" wouldn't have. The website prompts a video with an administrator of the "Orange Underground," encouraging visitors to join what is effectively a social network to create a youth culture around the Cheetos brand.
Websites of this nature enable companies to target specific segments and provide highly tailored content that might not be attractive to their entire customer base.
Marketers should also consider domain names based on the time of year or a location relevant to the business. Take for example a flower company around Valentine's Day. This year, Valentine.net, Valentine.us and Valentine.co.uk were available through online domain auctions. Browsers looking for Valentine's gifts are often drawn to these domain names, frequently through direct navigation.
Meanwhile, domains corresponding with a location, otherwise known as "geodomains," can be helpful for companies looking to focus on business in a certain region (take for example American Express' InChicago.com, InNYC.com, and In-LA.com).
When planning a new marketing campaign, there is plenty to consider in a domain name. Should a generic domain name be used to drive natural traffic through direct navigation? Perhaps a separate campaign-specific domain name that can be easily tracked and targeted to a specific audience would be effective? Maybe a domain name that leverages the time of year or the customer's location is appropriate? Although the content of the campaign will ultimately determine its success, keeping these methods in mind will help build audience share for that content.