Domain names are one of the most basic components of the internet. These alphanumeric strings separated by dots that translate IP numbers into easier-to-remember labels are the gateways to websites. As such, domains are essential contemporary marketing tools and critical assets for all companies, individuals, and associations that have an online presence.
Phil Lodico is a managing partner at FairWinds Partners.
There are 1.5 billion internet users worldwide. With the right domain strategy, companies can extend the reach of their marketing campaigns and turn high volumes of online traffic into impressions and sales conversions for their brands. The key to doing this successfully is identifying the target consumer audience, being aware of how they seek products and services online, and knowing where they expect to find desired content.
There are two ways consumers search for content online. Direct navigation, also known as type-in navigation, is the process wherein users open their browsers, go to the address bar, and type in a domain name that has either been communicated to them through marketing or is assumed to be a source for content that they are looking for.
For example, a user might type www.weather.com into a browser to determine what to wear to work that day, or type in www.niketennis.com to get the latest news on Roger Federer. Direct navigation exists in contrast to search navigation, wherein a user searches for a string of keywords or terms using a search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or MSN.
While it may seem as though search navigation is the overwhelmingly preferred search method, the majority of users actually practice direct navigation when looking for desired content. Furthermore, it has been reported that direct navigators are the most valuable website visitors. This makes sense -- after all, these browsers are looking for specific products and are often ready to commit to a purchase. As a result, brands would do well to tailor their online strategies to accommodate direct navigators in order to optimize their online presence.
Aside from helping a brand fully leverage online opportunities, an informed domain name strategy helps prevent valuable domains from falling into the wrong hands. The inherent value of some of the world's most famous brands makes cybersquatting -- the act of registering domain names, especially those identical or confusingly similar to existing trademarks, with the intention of reselling them at an inflated price or otherwise profiting from them in bad faith by turning traffic into cash through sponsored links -- an extremely lucrative business.
The fact is, if a company misses an opportunity to promote its brand with a domain, there is a good chance that someone else is going to seize that opportunity for their own gain; after all, cybersquatters tailor their strategies to consumer behavior, just like legitimate businesses do. The process results in brand dilution and customer diversion that not only negatively affects sales, but harms the brand's reputation and could drive consumers to the intended brand's competitors. More alarming are the distinctly criminal activities associated with cybersquatting. These practices include depositing spyware or malware, phishing attempts, and the recently elevated issue of email interception, where a mistyped email address intended for a company sends the potentially sensitive message to a cybercriminal.
Armed with the knowledge that direct navigators comprise a valuable target audience, brands need to know which domains are likely to cater to this crowd.
Generic domains (also known as category or keyword domains) are domain names composed of dictionary words that are descriptive of a product, service, or category of products and services. Some examples of brand-owned generic domains are books.com (owned by Barnes & Noble) and 401k.com (owned by Fidelity). Generic domains have inherent natural traffic because of their intuitive and memorable nature, and brands are thought to have a dominant market share over the products and services associated with the generic category domains that they own. As a result, this type of domain is one of the most valuable kinds of internet property for a brand to own.
Consumers are likely to try domains based on the brands, products, and services that have been marketed to them, and there is a growing practice of entering creative domain names directly into a browser to reach more specific content. Therefore, domain names that contain a popular brand and a relevant search term appended with dot-com can likewise prove valuable for a company.
This is, of course, provided that the domain falls within the scope of likely online consumer behavior. For example, both walmart.com and wal-mart.com contain the Wal-Mart trademark, but these domains are not equally valuable to the company. Users are much more likely to drop the hyphen in a trademark when using direct navigation to reach a company's site. Yahoomessenger.com and yahoomessengerfortheweb.com are both descriptive domains that combine a trademark with one of the company's known services, but a user is more likely to type the shorter domain into a browser.
Finally, brands have to consider the popularity of the top-level domains (TLD) in which they are registering their domains. TLDs are the extensions found to the right of the domain name, and include dot-com, dot-org, and dot-net. Despite the existence of 21 TLDs, dot-com is the most intuitive and commonly typed, making dot-com domains the most valuable to own.
All in all, a proper domain name strategy allows a company to strengthen the online presence of its brands and helps foster consumer confidence. Here's how brands can thoroughly assess their domain portfolio with a critical eye.
1. Choose the right names to register.
Know where your customers are trying to find you online, and make sure that you deliver relevant and safe experiences. This means understanding the following:
- How customers most commonly combine your brand with descriptive terms in hopes of reaching content that is more targeted than what they would find on the general home page.
- Which misspellings and keystroke mistakes of your popular domains are the most common, and therefore the most likely places to find traffic meant for your sites.
- Which generic domains will best promote your brand and establish your company as a leader in your industry.
2. Put an end to wasteful registrations and maintenance of unproductive domains.
Be discerning in your registration choices and continually monitor the productivity of domain names in order to ensure that they are providing a return on investment.
- Delete names that are not related to your brand's promotion or protection strategy. You might be surprised by just how many names your company has accumulated "just in case."
- Sell non-branded domains that are no longer beneficial to your company, but may be desirable to another company. This not only cuts costs, but also generates cash flow from past domain investments.
3. Optimize the names you own and plan to keep by using them to your benefit.
Redirect owned domains to the most intuitive content so consumers who type these domains are greeted by rewarding branded content.
The internet is an ever-changing landscape, and it is important to keep up with new developments that affect the domain name space. The latest challenge facing brand owners is the potential launch of an unlimited number of new TLDs. With the expansion of the domain space, there will be more opportunities for brand promotion and brand exploitation, so it is important for companies to establish better domain name portfolio maintenance habits now, form a strategic plan, and execute it with discipline.