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What Domain Names Do Canadian Small Businesses Actually Need?

My company, Webnames.ca, provides a variety of Internet services; among them, domain name registration. Webnames.ca is Canada’s original .CA registrar and our history in the domain industry goes back to 1987. So, when entrepreneurs and business owners ask me, “What domain names should I register for my business?”  you would think the answer would be simple; however, my usual answer is, “It depends.”

Factors like geographical location of customers, target audience, scope of current & future business, size of organization, value of intellectual property, relative importance of the company’s online presence to competition and of course, budget, all play a vital role in determining what domains a company chooses to secure.

Here are 10 key guidelines I consider when determining the domain needs of an organization:

1. Get your .COM if still available

.COM is still king and the most recognized domain extension in the world. If you are lucky enough to find your name(s) in .COM, make sure to snap them up.

2. Geographical Location – Where are your customers located? Who is your audience?

Most people prefer to buy local, pay in local currency and have products shipped locally to save on duties and shipping fees, making it critical for Canadian companies to have a .CA website.

To register a .CA, the registrant must meet Canadian Presence Requirements; meaning registering a Canadian trademark, having a registered Canadian Corporation or partnership in Canada or being a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.  Details on the Canadian Internet Registration Authority rules on Canadian Presence Requirements are available at http://cira.ca/assets/Documents/Legal/Registrants/CPR.pdf.

Depending on the type of products or services you offer, it may be beneficial to register other country related extensions also, including .US (our biggest trading partner and a much larger market than Canada) or .ASIA.

If you have presence, key customers or an audience in particular countries, consider investing in those domain names. As mentioned in my previous blog post Domain Name 101 – What Do the Various Domain Extensions Mean there are 252 country code Top Level domains (or ccTLDs) in the world. Be sure check out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority ccTLD database (ICANN) for the complete list of ccTLDs.

3. Local Search – Optimizing for your own backyard

Local search is becoming increasingly important to online marketing and customer acquisition strategies. Think of the last time you searched for a restaurant or a plumber. You probably typed in the search engine “Vancouver downtown sushi restaurants” or “plumber in Kelowna, BC”.  If the names are still available, consider registering the generic name of your service combined with the location(s) of your audience or customers eg. Whistlerelectrician.ca, VancouverLaw.ca, or CanmoreDentist.ca. Forward these types of domains to your main website and take advantage of the website traffic they generate themselves.

4. Protect other key extensions

.NET, .ORG, .INFO, .BIZ are typically registered by small, medium and large Canadian organizations along with their .COM. These extensions are unrestricted and open to anyone in the world to register, including your competition. If you have the budget to do so, we recommend protecting these and using them to drive traffic to your primary website.

.TEL is unlike any other domain name. It is an extension dedicated to contact information rather than website content. Think of it as a digital business card that will never go out of date.  .TEL is mobile compatible, has strong search engine optimization capabilities as well as free hosting associated with it. More information about .TEL is available at  http://www.webnames.ca/tel.

.CO is a new domain that was re-branded and released for public registration in the summer of 2010. Originally the ccTLD for Columbia, .CO is being marketed to represent a company, corporation, or commercially focused endeavor and has proved to be highly popular.

.MOBI is dedicated to mobile websites and with mobile surfing growing rapidly, it is smart to protect the .MOBI extension. While advances in smart phone technology allow for regular .COM or .CA websites to be displayed, .MOBI websites is guaranteed to be mobile compliant.

For more information about other domain extensions, read my previous post Domain Name 101 – What Do the Various Domain Extensions Mean?

5. Protecting Intellectual Property

A company’s goodwill and reputation are tied to its name. The importance of protecting your name(s) from the competition or cybersquatters who aim to profit from your goodwill must not be overlooked.

Create a list of your company name(s), trademarks and brand names or product names. These are the most basic intellectual property assets a company has. You need to ensure all of these names are protected in every key extension you have decided on.

6. Variations on your Intellectual Property

Misspellings – If your domain name is easily misspelled or mistyped – for example, a common typo of www.webnames.ca is www.webmanes.ca – register the misspelling and save your visitors time by redirecting it to your homepage. I will have a future post dedicated to the topic of “Typosquatting.”
Hyphenated names – Don’t forget to register the hyphenated and non-hyphenated versions of your name in at least the .CA and .COM.

Plural/singular – In applicable cases remember the plural and singular versions of your trademarks and brands.

Negative variations – Consider protective registrations too. If you’re in a cutthroat industry, susceptible to negative publicity or angry customers, register negative variations such as www.yourcompanynamesucks.ca/.com/.org, etc. Check out www.icbcsucks.com as an example of an angry client who has registered this name.

Transposing multiple words – If your name contains multiple words, make sure you register the transposed variations, for example www.spaserenity.com and www.serenityspa.com.

7. How big is your company and how popular are your products or services?

If your name is obscure or your company is very small and you don’t plan on growing beyond your local area, you’ll likely only need is your .COM and .CA.

However, for small businesses that plan on growing, it is important to plan ahead for your success.

The more popular your brand, the more valuable your intellectual property, and the more likely someone else will try to profit from it.

After becoming established, you don’t want to have competition or someone else with your names registered, and then try to sell them back to you or compete with you online, profiting from all of your hard work.

8. Determine your risk by looking at the competition

If you are in a market with many competitors, it is more important to protect your brands and names across multiple extensions and variations. Look at your competitors and see what names they have registered. This may help you gain valuable insight into key domain names you should be registering.

If you are lucky enough to have little competition, don’t forget to consider future competition as your product or service demonstrates success.

9. Review your budget against the previous guidelines

With any small business, money and cash flow are always a key consideration. The number of domains you end up registering will likely depend on your budget balanced against the risk of someone else registering your names and competing with you.

The key point is that in the large scheme of things, domain names are cheap; and a fraction of the cost in terms of time, legal expense and a battered reputation if someone has your name and is using it to drive traffic to their website or posting objectionable material.  For most businesses, a single lost customer each year could account for the price of multiple domain registrations.

If this seems a bit over the top, imagine for a moment what it would be like it would be to have other competitors hone in on traffic intended for your business; or if one of these extensions pointed to an offensive website. For the minimal effort and cost involved, it is good business practice to anticipate such possibilities.

10. Ask for volume discounts

As a rule of thumb, do your research and expect to register 5-10 alternate extensions or variations for every domain name you intend to actively market, be it a business, product, trademark, or blog. Small Business BC clients may contact Webnames.ca customer support for information on volume discounts at support@webnames.ca or by calling 1-866-221-7878.

About Cybele Negris

Cybele Negris is President & Co-Founder of Webnames.ca Inc., Canada's original .CA Registrar and one of the country's leading Internet solutions companies. Services include a full range of domain extensions, domain portfolio management, domain privacy, web hosting, email, SSL certificates, web development and much more. The multi-million dollar company has an impressive client list including many of Canada's top brands and global fortune 500 companies.