Tweak Your Biz » Technology » An Expensive Lesson In Domain Names

An Expensive Lesson In Domain Names



You’ve heard the standard advice.  Start a business, get a domain name.  Get a GOOD domain name, one that matches your brandToo bad I didn’t follow that advice when first starting out with one of my current websites.  If I had, I would have saved myself over $3,500 (USD) and lots of headaches.  Instead, I learned an expensive lesson.  It’s a mistake that I hope I can save you from replicating.

I’m here to tell you firsthand the story of what can happen if your business name and your domain name do not match exactly.  And why you need to stop and think about it — now — for ALL your businesses and products, even if they’re experimental products or part-time businesses.

Related: What’s In A Business Name? 20 Considerations For Getting It Right

Business is what happens while you’re making other plans

When I first started my current business, I just didn’t foresee the direction it would take.  I wasn’t thinking about all aspects of it “mindfully.”  Instead, I was deeply immersed in a state of flow, growing the business.  I was figuring the business out on the fly. Things were moving along so quickly, that I didn’t step back and think about the domain name consciously and deliberately.

John Lennon once said “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”  That same saying could be adapted to my situation as “Your business is what develops while you’re making plans for a different business.”

My Story

You see, after I left the corporate world in late 2001, I started doing some consulting, first with entrepreneur friends, and later as a consultant for hire.  I had the domain name to match my consulting business (no problem there).  Everything went along fine for a year.

  • Then one day, I was looking for an easy way to publish a few articles online, so that I could link to them in an email newsletter I’d started for the consulting business.  A friend suggested Blogger.com as an easy publishing solution.
  • I tried it and was hooked.  Blogger was much easier than trying to format articles using  Dreamweaver, a software program.  That was in 2003.
  • Soon more people were reading the articles directly on the blog than through the newsletter.  I had timed the market well in this instance.  Business blogs were just starting.  Mine was one of the earliest.  I had a classic first-mover advantage.
  • One thing led to another, and my blog-that-was-just-an-easy-way-to-publish-a-few-newsletter-articles gradually became my business.  Instead of being in the consulting business, now I was in the online publishing business.  And my new business was named for my publication.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the URL to match.

Related: Compete With The Big Guys: 5 Ways To Make Your Business Seem Larger Than It Is

A Rookie Mistake …

Yikes!  How did I make such a mistake?  Wasn’t I smarter than that?  After all, I’d been running web businesses since 1998.

Looking back on it now, it all seems so obvious.  But it wasn’t at the time.  When you are heads down trying to build a business, you sometimes miss the forest for the trees.  And I simply missed how important that domain name would become.  But you can always see things more clearly looking backward than looking forward.

  • In fact, I will confess to something even worse.  For the first two years, I didn’t even own ANY domain name for the blog.  It had a blogspot.com address, as it was hosted at the time by Blogger, and that domain, of course, was owned by Blogger, not by me.
  • Gradually, I came to realize that my lack of a matching domain name was a ball and chain around my business.  As the blog grew, the problem only compounded.  Every month the problem got worse.
  • But now the matching domain name was not available — another organization had it.  Still, people automatically assumed that I had the URL that matched the site name.  And they kept referring to me and my publication by the wrong URL. And then they linked to the wrong URL.

And so began years of:

  • Contacting journalists and bloggers who had written articles about my business, begging them to the correct the URL
  • Biting my tongue and trying not to interrupt as people introduced me in front of large audiences using the wrong URL
  • Gnashing my teeth imagining the gazillions of visitors going to the wrong site (OK, so maybe it wasn’t that many visitors in the early years, but when you’re a startup every visitor counts)
  • Chastising myself for not thinking about that darn URL issue earlier

A Chance to Redeem My Mistake Nearly 8 Years Later

Fast forward to 2011.  A contact I knew alerted me privately that the domain name I should have had was coming up for auction at NameJet.com.  NameJet is a service that picks up lapsed domain names and auctions them.  So I set up a NameJet account and set about learning the ropes for bidding on a domain name through their procedures.

I was determined to get that domain.  And so I immediately dropped everything to learn all I could about bidding at NameJet.  Luckily I got some pointers volunteered by contacts I knew who were good at investing in domain names.

3-day auction

The fateful day came, and the 3-day auction was on!  I had about 10 reminders set up so that I wouldn’t miss the end of the auction — and I didn’t.

It turned out that there were about 70 competitive bids.

  • Now, the only reason most were bidding on that domain name is that obviously it was important to MY business (intrinsically, it’s not that valuable a domain name to anyone except me).
  • I’m convinced that if anyone else had gotten it, they either would have tried to sell it to me for a lot more, or siphoned off traffic intended for my publication. So now it was a matter of defending my trademark.

$3,700

Eventually the bidding, which started at $69, topped out at $3,700 .  Thankfully I was successful.

  • Had I bought the right domain name originally, it would have cost me less than $100 to renew it for 8 years.
  • Instead, I paid $3,700 at auction.  And I went through many hours of extra work, not to mention the wasted hours of anxiety.

Related: The End of the Global Brand? What International Domain Names Mean For You.

A Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Step back to strategically look at your business and where it’s headed. It can save you money.

Look around at all your products and businesses and get the domain names for them now.  And if somebody else already has the domain name you want, consider trying to buy it from them, or renaming your product or business, especially if it’s early days and you can still change the name.  If the business or product takes off, you’ll be glad you did.

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The Author:

Anita Campbell runs online communities reaching 4 Million small businesses and entrepreneurs annually. She is the Founder of Small Business Trends and the CEO of BizSugar.com. http://www.bizsugar.com

Add Your Comment

  • http://twitter.com/fredchannel Fred

    Great post Anita. Thanks for sharing.nWe constantly remind that to our clients. I remember, one time we worked with a business that decided to move online to the next level. Doing research, we found out that a business in the US had the same name (not in the same industry) but where already all over the web and ranking very well for the name of the business. It would have taken ages to bring that name up there but the worst part is: imagine all the business she would have missed by having confused users landing on that other business when searching for her? We decided shortly that changing the name of the company was the best option.

  • http://www.tweakyourbiz.com Niall Devitt

    Hi Anita, Welcome to Bloggertone, I am delighted that you joined us. It’s a great story, if expensive one but congratulations on your honesty! Choosing and deciding on a domain name for a new business, is now such a big challenge but it remain hugely critical in terms of branding. Strange as it sounds, It gives the rest of us hope when we hear someone like you can make mistakes too! Thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.tweakyourbiz.com Facundo

    Compelling story Anita. As always, policy, mental notes, procedures, come after mistakes and not before. That’s probably business :) I guess the good thing about reading other people’s experiences is to (hopefully) avoid some of their mistakes. Definitely some mental notes taken on my side. To your advice I would add for others reading this post that it is very important to also purchase domains which are close to your company name or variations with plurals, typos, regional extensions. Anything you can do to protect the brand & your visibility.

  • http://www.hal9000.ie Jennie Molphy

    That’s a great line “Your business is what develops while youu2019re making plans for a different business”!nnIt’s hard for business start-ups (unless they’ve done it before) to think of brand protection before they’ve built a brand. But, like you say, it’s work to change a domain name down the road, or to obtain one that’s no longer available.

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan

    Hi Anita, nnOne mistake I made is use my own name as the domain rather than build a brand, which offers more opportunities.nnChris Brogan made the point that if he was starting out again he may not have used his own name ChrisBrogan.com and developed a site that (if he wanted to) he could sell on at some point. nnThere are exceptions to this of course, for example, if you want to develop a personal brand. nnThe trick when starting in blogging is sometimes to take yourself out of the equation and see whatu2019s best for the busines. nnNeed to follow my own advice more often :)nnIvan

  • Philip O’Rourke

    nGreat piece of work, Anita. You have my admiration and respect for your tenacity. Far too much of the “It’ll do” attitude in society today, and now we are paying the price. Well done.

  • Luc Glasbeek

    Hi Anita, nnGreat post! I’m reminded of the time when I started to think about a venture about 6 months ago. nnI noted down all possible domain names (even the silly ones) and checked whether they’d be available still. I ended up with a long list after some time, and when the ‘right’ name crossed my mind it just felt right. nnIt was a rather extended brain storm (time-wise) but I was glad I did this from the start and didn’t feel like I was under time pressure. The process was helpful in its own right as it made me think about identity etc.nnOne mistake I’ve made on a previous occasion was not thinking through the difference between American / UK spelling……….

  • http://www.stress-solutions4life.com/ Catherine Connors

    Hi Anita,nnWelcome to Bloggertone, great article and a lesson for anyone starting an online presence, whether it’s for business or just a hobby…. I think many of us (myself included) have made some boo-boos like this when starting out, but we live and learn :)

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Catherine, thanks for the welcome. Would that this had been my “only” mistake — but those are posts for another day….. Live and learn is right. Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Luc, It’s good to do things right, from the start, isn’t it? Feels great. Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Phillip, great point! I always say, “perseverance is the #1 secret to success.” I don’t necessarily have brilliance, I just stay with longer than others, and keep working at stuff until getting it right. And fix my mistakes. :-)nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Ivan, that’s a good point about keeping a separation between your personal brand and your business brand. nnI think it works when you’re a consultant to have the two be the same thing. Because often you’re selling your individual expertise.nnBut for other types of businesses, it limits the potential. Like Chris says, it’s hard to sell a business when it is so identified with you, the individual.nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Jennie, yes, and many startups aren’t really sure what business they are actually in, until later on. Things often develop differently than you plan. :-)nn- Anita

  • http://www.abonarconsultants.com/blog ScottK

    Good post. I think this advice is more poignant than ever. With relevant, short domain names becoming so scarce, I think many business owners may be tempted to abandon any hope of a relevant domain. Your posts points out how the confusion this causes is such a huge issue. It was a $3,700 lesson for you, but it could be a five or six figure lesson for someone in the future. Good advice.

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Facundo, you make another wonderful point to remember, about purchasing domains and variations that are close to your brand or main domain. nnI own a lot of domains, but at least half are “defensive domains” — i.e., ones that just protect the main domains.nn- Anitann

  • http://garryowen.biz Garryc

    It seems that all lessons learned in business come from previous mistakes – that I have learned the hard way also. Now before I do anything the affects my business I reach out to my on-line groups and ask first. It has saved me from myself on several ocassions.

  • http://twitter.com/johndglynn John Glynn

    It is also worth buying up side names you might move into OR similar names to deter future competition. I only run 6 sites but own over a hundred domains.

  • http://twitter.com/NoIPcom No-IP

    Like real estate agents say, it’s all about location, location, location and this rings true with domain names as well! Great article, hopefully many people will learn from your costly mistake!

  • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

    Ah, if we could all simply see the future. :-) On a similar note, when you’re buying that all-important domain be sure to claim at a minimum your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts and the same username in any communities you frequent. If they’re not available you might even want to consider a different domain name so they can all match. nnIf you’re really serious there is a way to claim your preferred username across hundreds of social networks all at once. Having matching usernames gets you recommended and followed much faster because remembering one is simple but having to remember where you are which username is more work than most busy social savvy folks will do.

  • Stratico

    Having a business strategy is also about allowing strategies to emerge (business happens when making other plans) in a way that adds to the original strategy. Sometimes things evolve dependent on which customers ‘pull’ but generally a good level of initial research togethewr with souns strategic planning will ensure faster more effective and efficient strategic development. A strategic consult at the front end may have been cheaper than the domain purchase down stream.

  • Steve Waterhouse

    What a great and fun article. Technology can be a bit overwhelming at times. It’s great to have advice like yours and to know we aren’t all alone out there trying to figure all this stuff out. Thanks!!

  • Fiona Stolze

    Thanks Anita for sharing this story. I would have had no idea either and may have done exactly the same thing. I love your honesty. It’s given me food for thought about purchasing more domain names to protect my art brand. nn

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Niall, glad to finally join you guys over here. You’ve been such wonderful supporters of BizSugar.nnWell if I can give people hope, I’m glad. I have plenty more mistakes where those came from [grin]. Maybe not ones so easy to quantify, but there are enough of them.nn- Anitann

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to Bloggertone, Anita! nnHearing your story really illustrates how important it is to choose and acquire your desired domain name. You’ve got me thinking about what I might need to evaluate as I go forward. When you’re starting off (or starting something new), it can be easy to overlook something such as our presence online is another important piece of our strategic plan.

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Fred, Yes, the confusion factor is certainly significant. nnIn my case the organization that had the domain (a non-profit organization involved with small biz with a completely different name) didn’t actually do anything useful with the domain. They had it in a strange redirect loop that for years led to one of those “file directory” pages. That was a bit of luck for me, because visitors quickly realized they were in the wrong place. The confusion factor would have been far worse if their organization had had the same name and sent visitors to a site with the same name. nnSo I think it was good foresight on your part to recommend a re-branding.nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Steve, Luckily I like to laugh and keep a sense of humor. If I didn’t I’d sit down and cry like a baby over stuff like this – LOL. nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Fiona, I would say for art that domain names can be especially important, particularly if you have unique names. It’s definitely a good idea to think ahead on those things. ;)nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Gail! That’s a great point about securing your brand for social sites. One service that will check for you is http://knowem.com. There is another service that does that, too — someone else may know the name of that service.nn– Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Travis, yes, indeed, it’s also important to get those other extensions. Great point. At least the key extensions that are popular in your country.nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi John, have you done much with typos and misspellings? I haven’t (other than plurals and singulars). But a very common misspelling might be worth it….nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Garry, I like that: “saved me from myself.” Now if we could all just get saved every single time we were about to step off a cliff or something….. :-)nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Scott, so true on the economics. As domain names go, given some of the numbers I’ve heard through the years, I suppose I actually got off easy.nn- Anita

  • Anonymous

    Hi Anita. As a long time writer on Bloggertone, I’d like to welcome you, on your first post here. Thanks for sharing your story which is a great lesson that we can all learn from.

  • http://www.encouragingexcellence.ie/ Mairu00e9ad Kelly

    Hi Anita, welcome to Bloggertone. What a very honest and insightful first post. nnWhen I first bought my domain name the .com wasn’t available (owned by a school somewhere in Africa) and became available April 2010, unfortunately I was away at the time and I missed the slot. It was bought by someone who offered it to me for $10,000 and I refused to bite. He badgered me for a month until I told him to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine, that I would NEVER pay more than the normal asking price for it as I had the .ie, .org, .net, .co.uk domains and .com really wasn’t that important to me since most of my business was local.nnLike some of the other replies on here, it has been suggested that I trade as my own name too, however that would be really difficult to sell if I ever wanted to, plus as a generic Irish name is is difficult for the average Irish person to spell, never mind the rest of the world.nnMis-takes are the things we do so that we can learn how to do it correctly the next time – an essential part of life. Unfortunately all too often we beat ourselves up over them unnecessarily.

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Mairead, nnTalk about extortion!!! Good for you for not caving in.nnI also have my name as a domain and used it when I was consulting. Now I have it mainly for reputation management and to make sure my name comes up in search engines. So it’s not a bad strategy to at least have the domain name for your own name, even if you use a company name to conduct business under. nn- Anitan

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Well hello, Frank! Thanks for the welcome. You’re all so friendly here. :-) nn- Anita

  • http://twitter.com/smallbiztrends Anita Campbell

    Hi Elli, nnYes, you’ve got it right — it’s all too easy to overlook something. nnAnd really, it’s that way with a lot of things when you have your own business and you have 30 balls in the air at any given time. At least one thing is bound to fall on the floor — I always hope whatever I drop won’t be TOO critical or TOO expensive. nnThanks for the welcome!nn- Anita

  • http://www.seefincoaching.com/blog Elaine Rogers

    Hi Anita, a hearty welcome to Bloggertone from another Bloggertoner!!nnA great post, and a great reminder for any one managing an online identity, whether personal or professional.nI saw on a programme recently here in Ireland, that expectant parents are now considering the name of their unborn child, depending on whether the domain is available :) – thumbs up for the web savvy parents!!nnI have 2 very different businesses online so far, and very carefully checked the domains and the extensions before naming the businesses (both location dependent).nnTo be honest, I think it will be one of the more obvious “first tasks” to do when looking to start a business. Anyone ignoring online presence these days is naive, in my opinion (even if they really think they will never be online).nnI agree also it’s important to try and keep similar usernames/avatars when signing up to SM sites.

  • Rmbierwas

    What do you do if the .com domain name is being sold for close to $2000? I have .org and .net..have a FB site with my name as well as my website that is up and running…business cards, branding in place etc..but I cannot afford $2000. I have asked them to negotiate and never got a response back. I don’t feel my name is really that sought after..maybe they hiked the price because I already had my business started? Can I wait them out?

  • Anonymous

    You can spend some bucks registering a domain name, and a few more to have a company host your website, or you can get it all for free. Here’s how.

  • http://review-blogger.com pol

    good tips, help me to chose a domain. 

  • Richard Kligman

    I think you may still be making the same mistake, but this time a sophomore mistake :) watching video is one of the top things people do online. More and more companies are using .tv either to showcase their videos or as a separate channel themselves. For $13 at dynadot.com you can reg bizsugar.tv, especially if you can see yourself having a video series one day. Also, while your at it, you may want to reg the .co.uk as well, in case you ever decide to branch out to that area as well. Don’t kick yourself 5 years from now. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.pierson.507 Mike Pierson

    That is just wrong! Services like
    “NameJet” should be banned from the Internet. They are nothing but
    scum-sucking pirates!

    I urge everybody to NEVER
    purchase a domain from an auction. These scum-suckers are registering a $10
    domain, with no intent to use it, for the express purpose of extorting
    companies into paying for it if they need the domain.

    Instead, do this — trademark
    your business name. Then FORCE these slimy pond wigglers to release the domain
    because they are violating your trademark! Terms of service forbid a bully like
    NameJet from snatching up domains just so they can “auction” them off
    to companies looking to have a domain matching their business name.

    You can also look to the .biz
    domain, which is specifically for businesses. There is a built-in process for
    obtaining the domain that matches your business name. In short. people are not
    allowed to squat on a .biz domain that rightly belongs to somebody else.

  • http://www.securitycamera-ny.com camera-ny

    Hi Thanks for the tip