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Master of Your Domain

A Web address can speak volumes about your business. What will yours say about you?

Similar to strides independent business owners made during the advent of the telephone, the Internet has changed forever the way business gets done. Apart from the obvious impact the Internet has had on travel, commerce and the like, the ability to set up shop and market a Web presence has afforded even today’s smallest businesses the opportunity to vie for a piece of the big guys’ pies.

In today’s cluttered marketplace, a compelling Web presence can make even the smallest of businesses stand out. Domain names, also known as URLs, are the first step in this process. Before choosing a domain name, one must consider what the objective of the Web site will be, and select the most intuitive name — or names — to suit those purposes.

A Web site address serves as the storefront for your Web store, or the first marketing collateral that your clients might see, and hence it is often the first impression your intended audience will have of you.

A URL should be easy to remember, intuitive, and able to provide your audience with a quick understanding of what your site can do. Many savvy Web operators and marketers register additional domain names in order to help drive additional traffic).Ü

Unfortunately, at this stage in the Internet’s development many of the best domain names have already been chosen. A recent survey by Virtual Internet (www.vi.net), a European ISP, indicates that there is now 23.8 million .com domain names registered, surpassing even the number recorded at the height of the Internet boom.

If you are still in the process of naming your business, it might be a good idea to choose a corporate identity that aligns with domain names that are still available. Online registry version and others like it have an interface that can help you immediately ascertain if a name you want has been secured.

While the vast majority of consumer and business Web sites end in the ubiquitous .com, it is important to note that there are other options. Sponsored top-level domains (Tads), such as .pro, are available to specific professional groups such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. Also, generic tads (gelds) such as .biz are available to all businesses on a first come, first served basis.

Additionally, there are a host of domain names to choose from under extensions such as .shop, .travel and .Inc that are available through resellers such as BulkRegister, Easyspace and RegisterFly.com.

Once you’ve decided upon a domain name, the marketing of it should become as high a priority as the content included within. Most marketing efforts take two to six months to truly bear fruit, so explore all options as early as possible, remain entrepreneurial and open to creative tactics, and above all else, be patient. Just because the Internet provides immediate impact on some levels, the lessons of the boom period made clear that growing a real business takes time.

Search engines are becoming an enormously valuable marketing tool, and there are varying degrees of opportunity to optimize your visibility on these widely used applications.

For free pickup of your Web site, as opposed to the purchase of Yellow Page or pay-per-click ads, it helps to be targeted in your approach. For instance, if your Web site sells stuffed animals, make sure any submissions to search engines represents that fact adequately.

To augment this effort, pay-per-click sites allow you to pay for better listing placement, but only if a user clicks on your Web site. Work with the site you purchase from to ensure you’re remaining targeted in your approach — while purchasing keywords like "lion" and "hippo" might generate more traffic for an online stuffed animal store, it might also generate a significant amount of unqualified traffic and might be more appropriate for the local zoo instead.

Of course, in addition to search-engine opportunities, advertising online is an evolving use of the media that ranges from banners to full-motion video. For most small and medium-sized businesses (Sibs), this could be an excessive expenditure in the early going, but depending on your business it may make sense to invest in a targeted ad buy. E-mail advertising is another option to consider at this stage. There are agencies designed to assist in these efforts, but much can be done directly, an option that might be more cost-effective for sibs.

Finally, once you’ve got your Web site designed and appropriately named, and you’ve got a marketing plan in place, you must make sure that you have clearly outlined objectives in place against which to measure your performance. If the Web site is not adding to your bottom line, then you should re-evaluate and improve its effectiveness. Make sure you have measures in place to detail where your traffic is coming to your site from, and ensure that there are ways to communicate with visitors once they leave. Develop relationships with partner Web sites that generate referrals to each other, and ensure that these are measurable (and commissionable) as well.

The most important thing when starting a small business and developing a Web site is this: Don’t make it an afterthought. A well-planned, appropriately named, and shrewdly marketed site can do wonders for business, and it is a calling card to make your company compete on a larger scale. You can compete effectively with a good Web presence, and grow your business as a result. Just prepare, and follow through.

Kevin Median is CEO of RegisterFly.com, a leading web hosting and domain services company to over 270,000 customers. The company’s offerings include domain name registration, Web hosting, e-mail service, whoops protection and other products and services.

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