In the 1990’s, when companies were first coming to grips with how the Internet might augment their marketing efforts, some enterprising people registered .com names such as mcdonalds.com, toysrus.com, etc. and then sold them to the actual companies for thousands of dollars. It didn’t take long, though, for ICANN, the international group that overseas domain name registrations to declare that if you own a trademark to a name, you could petition ICANN to have that name re-assigned to you with no compensation for the original registering party.
While that solved the issue of blantant domain name extortion, there remains a rather shady practice of registering domains similar to an existing business domain, pointing that domain name to a page full of ads or pay-per-click links, and offering the domain for sell to the business whose visitors may be accidentally going to the variant domain Web site. This practice – and the practice of buying up hundreds of “generic” domains, such as “buy-great-widgets.com” or “homes-for-sale-in-cleveland.com” – is referred to as “cybersquatting.”
I don’t begrudge someone figuring a way to make money, but cybersquatting is not always considered an honorable business. We have domains “parked” which are not going to actual, working Web sites, but these are domains which we fully intend to use someday to build e-commerce businesses. Over the past 15 years, we could have registered hundreds and thousands of domains, then tried to sell them to others for huge fees, but that just doesn’t sit right with me. To me, it’s like putting a reservation in for a great table at a restaurant, then selling it to whomever wants to eat there that evening. The restaurant doesn’t benefit, and the end-user pays dearly for what should not have cost anything in the first place.
We counsel our clients carefully when it comes to domain names. Often, people assume one great domain name is all it takes for a new Web site. Not true anymore. Since search engines often rank sites based on keywords present in domain names, if you don’t plan ahead, you could see your company or brand name appear in a number of “parked” domains, each one sucking away a percentage of your hard-earned traffic.
For example, let’s say you create a brand name of “happydoodles” for a line of note pads for doodling. Naively, you register happydoodles.com and begin building your Web site to sell your new products.
A cybersquatter monitoring new registrations might see your new domain name registration and decide that it is unique enough that registering key variants might allow them to sell these to you in the future when you discover that your customers are being misled to Web sites other than yours.
In the least, you should have also registered happydoodles.net, happy-doodles.com and happy-doodles.net. This keeps the top domain variants in your possession. All these can point to the same Web site, but you’ve pre-empted the typical cybersquatter strategy.
What about other top level domains such as .mobi, .co, and .biz? There’s certainly a valid argument for registering happydoodles and happy-doodles for each of these, but that’s up to you. Each registration costs from about $8 to $40/year depending on the top level domain. That may seem like a lot of money to you as you start up your new business, but pay a little now or a lot later.
Some will also argue that you need to register common misspellings of your domain name. In this case, happydodles.com or happydooldes.com. I’m not convinced of that unless you can sense that misspellings will be commonplace. If your company name is “acmereceivables,” then registering acmerecievables.com is probably not a bad idea, since so many people misspell “receivable.”
Plural variations are also something to consider. Continuing with our example, it would be quite reasonable to register happydoodle.com, happy-doodle.com, etc., as many people might understandably enter your brand in a singular form.
In short, take preventative measures when registering domain names. It’s your brand, protect it well.