Laser Technik Ltd
Multiple domain names – worthwhile?
Many businesses hold numerous domain names (web addresses). There are several reasons to do that.
Example: The owner of honest-john-motors.co.uk might also own honestjohnmotors.co.uk and possibly several other variants.
The primary reason is to prevent a third party obtaining a confusingly similar name to yours and using it to your detriment. Were that to happen the possible remedies incur very significant costs, many tens of £thousand if lawyers get involved whereas the annual fee for holding a name is small.
My advice is that you should not actively use secondary name variants but it is important and inexpensive to hold some “defensively” to prevent them falling into the wrong hands to your detriment.
It is common practice for businesses to hold several variants of their domain name and often further names relating to their products, brand names and trade marks.
A domain name is something like honest-john-motors.com which can be used as the address for a web site, email, and some other purposes.
The name is in two parts .com is known as a TLD (Top Level Domain) and honest-john-motors a second level domain. A country TLD like .uk is called a ccTLD (country code TLD).
Some countries require names to use one of a small number of second level names and the individual name is at third level. That used to be the case with UK names resulting in names like honest-john-motors.co.uk (.co is intended to indicate a Company) but now it’s also possible to have honest-john-motors.uk
The cost of holding a name in any of the common primary registries (.com, .co.uk etc) is low. For most businesses that’s pocket-money. 20 years ago I read that Unilever had over 1500 including the names of brands they no longer use. For a struggling small business cost may be a bigger issue.
Several questions commonly arise in respect of secondary names. The answers depend on individual circumstances but I’ll do my best…
The first consideration is what is the best choice of primary name. The ideal is short, relevant, single dictionary word or proper noun. If you already own one make sure you never lose it. If you don’t own one sorry, they sold out decades ago. Your options are:
- Buy a two or three word name like facebook
- Use a made-up word like tumblr, google, instagram, reddit
- You could try to buy an appropriate ideal name from the current owner but prices range from a few £thousand to a few £million.
Which variants should I hold?
If you are fortunate enough to own an ideal name then, if possible, you should hold variants in both the relevant ccTLD and .com registries. That’s slightly more complicated with the .uk ccTLD, then you should hold both example.co.uk and example.uk
If yours is a multi-word name then you may choose to hold two variants (in each TLD) one including hyphens between words like honest-john-motors.co.uk and honestjohnmotors.co.uk
Multi word names are unwieldy so one approach is to buy a short variant, 3 letter names are all gone but honest-john-used-motors.co.uk might be able to buy HJUM.uk and route both to the same website and email accounts.
In the earlier days of the internet, hyphens were necessary to help the search engines understand where to separate words. That could be a problem with names like the Italian electricity company once known as Powergen Italia. The domain name powergenitalia.it could be misinterpreted as power genitalia appealing to a very different demographic. In that case powergen-italia.it is a preferred variant.
Nowadays Google looks at the domain name in conjunction with other web site content and can usually identify the separate words. Humans may struggle but HonestJohnMotors.co.uk is functionally identical to honestjohnmotors.co.uk so use the former in print.
If you trade globally then the first choice is .com but they are more scarce (and cost more). If you can’t get that then .co.uk has global recognition (but there’s a risk of confusion with the .com variant).
If you own trade-marks or subsidiaries then you should hold corresponding names. You may choose to leave the trade-mark name idle but alternative include routing it to a relevant page in your primary site or setting up a separate web site for it. If the names routes to a separate web site (not just a copy of the primary site) it may get separate Google entries and generate additional business leads.
With all those options it’s easy to end up with too many names, we can offer an opinion whether some can be safely discarded.
Do I need the variants?
Need is a subjective judgement, my daughter tells me she needs a £1000 mobile phone…
Hopefully this document will help your understanding of the issues and will guide your choices.
Do variants help people find my web site?
Some “search experts” may tell you that the Google search algorithm disregards domain names. I would be surprised if Google do disregard such an obvious indicator. I’d regard domain name as a strong positive signal that the site is a good match for a search term.
As that algorithm is Google’s most closely guarded commercial property and is subject to very frequent change, I find the assertion very bold. A search expert wishes to sell a service to improve your Google search position, the domain name is an aspect he is unable (or unwise) to change. Downplaying its importance raises the perceived value of their other services.
Many years ago having multiple names all routing to the same web site appeared to result in search engines using them all and driving more traffic to the site. That is no longer the case.
How should I use my domain names?
The ideal is to actively use just one domain name for web and email purposes (unless you have dedicated sites for various products, trade marks and subsidiaries). Other variants are commonly routed to the same destination. That is no longer the ideal in most circumstances. One problem is that it makes it harder to drop the name should you so choose. There will be people who know that variant. It may be that Google indexes the site using what you perceive as a secondary variant. It may be that old product manuals, business cards etc use the variant.
Some choose to do nothing with the variants, just hold them defensively to prevent a competitor or a scammer taking the variant and using it to your detriment.
My current preference is to route the secondary name(s) to a web page that advises any visitor of the preferred name.
Can I change the domain name used for my current site?
Yes but it’s likely you’ll lose your prominence in Google Search results. That’s a major concern if your search position is very high for a number of good quality key phrases, that analytics show Search as a major source of visitors and that those visitors show some interest in the site (by spending more than a few seconds and click some internal links). Search is less important than it was in the past, it is only one of the ways your web site can be found and now there are billions of indexed pages the significance of those other sources may be greater.
Should I keep hyphenated names?
HonestJohnMotors.co.uk is easier to type and remember than honest-john-motors.co.uk so if you own both it may make sense to drop the hyphenated version and save a few pounds a year. Even if the web site is held at honest-john-motors.co.uk there is sometimes scope to change to HonestJohnMotors.co.uk although not always cost effective and the safest way to do that does take a couple of years.
Before doing that you need to be certain that dropping a name doesn’t have any side-effects. The best way to do that is to trap any email or web traffic that may be using it for a year and alert you to that usage. You should start by checking current DNS, web and email forwarding settings.
There remains the risk of a third-party picking up the dropped domain and attempting to use it to your detriment. Only you can make that decision. The decision is affected by fact that hyphenated names are less well accepted and confer little or no benefit in terms of Google listings or readability with the exception of those potentially open to misunderstanding like penisland.com (pen-island).
Criminals use credible names to trick not just the general public but more importantly even IT literate employees. The aim is to trick the user into entering log-on credentials to a fake web site with a plausible name. The criminals can then use the captured credentials to log in to the genuine site.
You might respond to an email from email@example.com (email sender’s addresses are easily faked) by clicking on a link in that email to www.redelivery-royalmail.co.uk or www.royalmail-redelivery.co.uk (fake), or, for that matter, www.RoyalMailRedelivery.co.uk. It’s trivially easy to buy such variants to set up the scam and virtually impossible to prevent without buying vast numbers of name variants created by simply adding a word to a legitimate name. From that perspective HonestJohnMotors.co.uk might still choose to retain honest-john-motors.co.uk
Whereas Honest John is probably not at much risk in this respect, royalmail.com should certainly retain royal-mail.com
This is not a hypothetical situation, there have been recent breaches of major organisations using this technique