Connecting Pieces of Domain Puzzle

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In the online world, choosing a name for your company may be one of the weightiest creative decisions you make. Because online, domain is brand. For better or worse, how memorable your brand is and the emotions it engenders absolutely affect the bottom line.


The recent announcement by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers of newly approved top-level domain extensions .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .museum, .aero and .coop was a long-awaited starting pistol for domain prospectors who crave instant branding. The unfortunate wake-up call may be that those lying in wait may be too late (and, ironically, too early) to derive any immediate benefit from this open territory.


Too late, because the prime domains may already have been snapped up by primary, branded companies wanting every variation on their domain's extension. Too early, because even great domain names with these extensions will not be valuable as brands for some time. Our browsers still default to .com when we type a domain name keyword without an extension. Even .org is still a second thought.


In any case, protection of brand and domain territory likely will be the name of the game for some time. Already there are new players in the game. A start-up that I work with, SnapNames, soon will offer domain protection services in partnership with registrars. Domain owners and their representatives can register to be notified when a change occurs in their domain registration, enabling them to take the steps to retain it against threats of accidental loss, sabotage or cyber-theft. Prospective domain owners also may sign up to receive updates on registered domains of interest to them. Protecting the valuable domain brands may become even bigger business.


It is obvious, though, that a great dot-com name alone is no guarantee of success. To ponder another piece of the domain puzzle, I wonder how much value the generic brands of garden.com, pets.com, furniture.com and other victims of the dot-com crash will have in the marketplace now. It's a sure bet that someone will try to turn them into commodities, but how much is the name of a failed business really worth?


I have always thought that generic bookstore names are a weaker branding play than the powerhouse monikers of Amazon, FatBrain or Barnes & Noble, which also owns the domains books.com and book.com and has wisely chosen not to make a branding play out of either of them. Online seekers want specificity, not generalities, as a rule. So a name that brings a great image to mind is probably more valuable than one that simply labels.


At the same time, more ambiguous names leave room for the business plan to grow and evolve -- a necessity in the online world. It was a long while before Amazon sold anything other than books, but it is obvious that the plan was bigger than books all along. Now the pay-to-play search service GoTo.com is changing its name to reflect a more corporate affiliate approach. As reported a few weeks ago, the move has some experts scratching their heads, while others acknowledge it as a logical response to changes in the market.


I have suspected since starting my interactive agency in 1996 that you need a viable business model to survive on the Internet. Burning venture capital and changing models every few months will not help unless there is a solid plan in there somewhere.


• Mark Grimes is president/CEO of online advertising agency eyescream interactive inc., Portland, OR. Reach him at Grimes@eyescream.com.
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