In business today, the Internet is the great equalizer. A company with 10 employees doesn’t have the same purchasing power as one with 10,000 employees, but a great web presence can help a smaller company hold its own in an otherwise intimidating market. To compete with the heavy hitters, small businesses must strive to provide cohesive, engaging web experiences. The first and most important part of establishing a strong online identity is obtaining the perfect domain name. While it may seem like a small part of the picture, your domain name should embody your business’s brand. If you look at the Internet as a massive city, your domain name is simultaneously serving as your company’s address, street sign, storefront, and window advertisement. A great one establishes credibility and sparks curiosity; a bad one confuses customers or — worse — is easily forgotten. The Internet is more than 25 years old, which means many of the best dot-com web addresses are already taken. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a one-of-a-kind business name, chances are someone else has the web address you want — or something close enough to it to confuse your customers. Thankfully, just because someone else owns “NameYouWant.com” doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. When the Internet first infiltrated homes and businesses, nearly every URL had to end in .com, .net, .org, or another well-known website suffix — but now hundreds of new domain name extensions are available, allowing you to determine what goes on both sides of the dot. This exciting evolution affords you greater creative control over how customers find and interact with your business online. The many benefits of a unique domain name A unique domain name helps you do more than simply avoid customer confusion. Selecting the right one can enhance your branding efforts in ways that most business owners might never consider: Increased credibility: If you’ve made uncommon design choices on your site or have a business name that scammers might try to take advantage of by using similar-sounding names, a unique domain can help you earn and maintain consumer trust. This is exactly why Marriott International recently purchased the top-level .Marriott domain — to prevent abuse by scammers by assuring customers that they’re making reservations on a Marriott-branded site. Furthermore, if you sell dinosaur toys but don’t own “DinosaurToys.com” and can’t find anything close to the name you want available, potential customers might question the legitimacy of your brand. However, you could now purchase the Dinosaur.Toys domain, leaving little doubt about your company’s status within the industry. Professional contact information: Nothing kills a company’s image faster than a Gmail or other generic email contact address. No matter the size of your business, customers are starting to expect the professionalism that comes with a unique domain and company email. Remember that a great domain name also becomes a great email address. A memorable and meaningful email address helps make your company stand out in a customer’s inbox. Not only is it unique, but it also gives your company an air of established importance that customers take notice of and appreciate. Heightened visibility: Snagging a unique domain now will allow you to enter a new online landscape that many of your competitors probably haven’t discovered yet. This gives you a decided edge when customers set out to see who the big players in your industry are. When people compare websites — or web addresses listed in search results — side by side, you want yours to stand out. If yours is the only one with a personalized or particularly meaningful domain extension, customers will be intrigued and eager to see what makes your business different from the rest. Safe investment opportunities: A great domain name isn’t a gimmick; it’s as legitimate an asset as any piece of real estate. For the same price as a full-page ad or a modest marketing campaign, you can own a specialized domain that features a category-killing keyword that will last a lifetime and add tangible value to your business. That’s what businesses like Coffee.Club and many others have done. If your brand doesn’t need it later, you can resell such a keyword domain after it has accrued value. Getting a dictionary “word .com” name can be costly. With all the new choices in domain extensions, a “keyword.something” domain may be far more accessible. SEO benefits: The best domains provide ongoing SEO benefits and will save you money on SEO and SEM in the long term. Entering the crowded dot-com marketplace puts you at an inherent disadvantage by forcing you to compete on search engines with websites sharing the same space. If you have the option, why not differentiate yourself from others to boost your traffic? Selecting the best domain for your business Once you decide to break from tradition and get a unique domain for your business, you need to keep a few things in mind: #1. Make it relevant It can be tempting to get cute or overly creative when grabbing a new domain for your business. Don’t do it. Remember, the purpose of getting a new domain for your business isn’t just to see how clever you can be with the name; it’s to give customers a new, intuitive way to communicate with your company about your product or service. You can choose an industry-themed domain (e.g., .toys, .vacation, or .software), or you can go with one more specific to your company’s name (e.g., .photography, .club, or .realtor). Make sure your final choice aligns as closely as possible with the products and services your company provides. #2. Make it memorable If your company name is long or difficult to spell, you will inevitably lose customers as people try — and fail — to get it right. To combat this, make your website address as short and sweet as possible. If you use an abbreviation or a nickname, ensure it’s easily recognizable or intuitive. You want repeat visitors and online shares, so the idea is to make it easy for your customers to remember and recommend your site to others. #3. Make it inclusive If you don’t want to migrate your existing online presence to a new domain, you don’t have to. Make your new domain part of the larger whole of your website family. If you want your unique domain to redirect to your more traditional .com website, go for it. This way, existing marketing materials remain relevant while you create content for the new or additional domain. If you do decide to migrate fully, make sure to follow proper procedures to maintain your SEO value and search rankings as you transition to your new web address. Even savvy business owners tend to underestimate just how dramatically the terrain of the Internet has changed in the last 10 years. Some of the methods that worked in 2005 might as well be 100 years old today. With the speed at which technology advances today, only businesses on the cutting edge are really keeping up by avoiding obsolete practices. To join their ranks, you can step out of the crowd and enjoy the benefits of having a domain name that truly expresses your intent with meaning on both sides of the dot. There is no longer a need to haggle over the price of scarcer dot-com web addresses or rack your brain trying to figure out which combination of letters and numbers might be “close enough” to work well for your business. Instead, consider using a unique domain name to set your company apart from the rest, basking in the liberation that thinking outside the dot-com can provide. Images: “http www browser bar, Internet address / Shutterstock.com“ ________________________________________________________________________________ Tweak Your Biz is a thought leader global publication and online business community. Today, it is part of the Small Biz Trends stable of websites and receives over 300,000 unique views per month. Would you like to write for us? An outstanding title can increase tweets, Facebook Likes, and visitor traffic by 50% or more. Generate great titles for your articles and blog posts with the Tweak Your Biz Title Generator.