By Nick Leech, Marketing Director, 123–reg

Your domain name is the foundation of your online presence. You include your domain on business cards, signage, and any advertising material that you distribute. With so much importance surrounding your domain, it’s vital that you choose the right one to perfectly suit your business.

The first thing to remember in choosing your domain is that it should be memorable – try to make it simple, easy to read and as short as possible. Your domain should include your business name or something easily identifiable, so potential customers can instantly associate it with you and your business.

Once you have chosen the domain name you will need to register it. Registering a domain that is already available is simple and involves a straightforward online purchase process through a domain name registrar. You will first need to search for your desired domain to make sure that it’s available. Once searched, a variety of domain extensions are usually offered. These are the part of the domain that comes after the ‘dot’, the most common ones being .com and .co.uk. Choose to register whichever domains and extensions best suit your brand. Domain registration is usually charged on a yearly fee, so it’s important to remember when your domain is due to run out so you can renew it!

Having the right domain name extension can make a big difference. Until recently there was just the choice of a few generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as ‘.com’ and ‘.org’, plus Country Code TLDs (ccTLDs) which show where a website is based. This all changed at the start of 2014 when an influx of new gTLDs started to be introduced into the domain name market by ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a change that is set to provide a wealth of opportunities for businesses and their online presence.
Registering for a newly released domain extension works a bit differently. There are three stages to be kept in mind. The first is Sunrise, a period during which trademark holders can preregister names that are the same or similar to their own trademarks. This is designed to protect a brand from cybersquatters early on by enabling trademark holders to block the registration of domains that contain their trademark.

Next is the Landrush stage, the time when anyone can apply for a domain name. At the end of this process domain names are allocated, but if there is more than one applicant then an auction may be held with the domain going to the highest bidder. The last phase is that of General Availability, when anyone can take their pick of the remaining domains on a first-come-first-served basis. But if you have your eyes on a particular domain name, get in there early when it is released! The Landrush phase is the best chance you will get to secure a name, although you may have to pay more than at general availability.

What does this mean for SMEs? New gTLDs such as ‘.guru’ and ‘.agency’ have created the opportunity to establish a unique web presence that helps businesses to stand out from the crowd, whilst also representing what they do.

Geographic gTLDs are on the horizon too. ‘.London’ is now open for registration meaning that companies can benefit greatly from the association that a ‘.London’ domain can provide. It’s good practice to have both a ‘.com’ domain and country of origin domain such as ‘.uk’ or ‘.co.uk’, but additional domains such as ‘.London’ and ‘.agency’ should be considered as well to help differentiate your brand online. Each alternative domain can redirect to the same page, allowing you to market your web address differently depending on who you’re targeting.

It’s vital that SMEs know how to get the most out of the online space so they stand a fighting chance in today’s competitive markets. Building and maintaining a website all starts with the domain and it’s not as black and white as buying a ‘co.uk’ domain anymore. Utilising the introduction of the new gTLDs and being sure to consider all aspects of your website will help to build an impressive web presence that sets you apart from your competition.