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For a business site

Businesses may require domains for various reasons, so to begin with its important to work out exactly what you're hoping to do by registering a name. This will then give you guidance as to what name (or group of names) will best suit your needs.

Protecting your existing trademarks

One reason to register domain names is to protect your existing trademarks or brand names. Since the Internet is so new and laws are relatively slow in keeping pace, it can be an important goal to protect your trademarks from "cybersquatters". Recent court cases and arbitration results have increasingly been in favour of trademark holders, which is good news, but still may not be enough protection. Problems can still arise due to:
  • Cross-border nature of the Internet: your trademark in one jurisdiction may not be enough to cover you globally

  • Conflicts between trademark classes: although you may be very well known for your trademark in one class (e.g. clothing) another company may have a similarly well known trademark in a completely different class (e.g. washing powder). Although this often presents no problem in trademark terms where there are many distinct classes of goods and services, in domain names there is only one "class" in which all businesses compete. This means another company may have a legitimate legal right to a name which you may have expected to register for yourself.

Even where you can recover your domain name by means of the recently introduced dispute resolution procedures or by more traditional court action, this is an expensive process and can be quite time consuming. And perhaps worst of all, there is still no guarantee that such actions will allow you to reclaim a name registered by someone else.

Seen in this light, registration of your trademarks as domain names is a form of very cheap insurance against possible future problems. As such, it is often advisable to register a range of domains around your trademark, which will catch common misspellings, similar names, singular and plural forms of words and so on.

Generic domains

Generic names are well proven for attracting large numbers of potential visitors to your site, and this is reflected in the sale prices of some of the more commercially useful generic domains such as "business.com" or "engineer.org".

Some companies re-build their whole business identity around their generic domain name, while others use one or more generic domains to help drive traffic to their main existing web site.

Either way, generic words are a great choice for a domain name. Since this is widely appreciated, however, actually finding a suitable generic word or phrase can be quite difficult. Although most common single dictionary words are already registered, a combination of two or more words may still yield a good quality generic name that is useful for your particular product or service.

Be aware that some domain name endings, such as .com.au, do not currently allow generic words to be registered at all. This definition can have a little room to move though, and some common English words have been registered under the current policies which still represent excellent quality, for example "drive.com.au" or "birth.com.au". Another way to work around the generic rule for com.au names is to join two common words together, for example "myinvestments.com.au" or "thedoctor.com.au".

For a personal site

If you are registering a name for personal use, unfortunately most .au domains are out as these generally require you to have a registered business or equivalent. Thus most personal sites go for a .com, .net or .org ending. Another option is .au.com. If you're in another country, you may be luckier - for example in New Zealand, the U.K. and South Africa it is quite acceptable to register a domain just based on your personal name without needing to have a corresponding business.

Often the best choice for a personal domain name is to register your surname as a domain name. An advantage of doing this is that you can add meaningful addresses for family members to enjoy. For example if your name is "John Smith", then smith.com would be a great address to have. As well as using www.smith.com as your web site, you can be john@smith.com and your sister can be jill@smith.com.

The bad news is that since this works so well, all popular surnames are likely to have been registered to someone else long ago, at least with a .com ending. You may have more luck with .net or .org, particuarly if your surname is not very common.

Another option is to register just your first name, e.g. john.com or jill.com. Again, since first names are shared by so many people, you probably won't find your name still available unless you have a quite unusual first name.

Moving on to the more practical side of things, you quite often will have success if you combine your first and last names, e.g. johnsmith.com. In this example, John Smith is already registered (November 1997), but if either your first name or last name is somewhat less common you may find your name is still available for registration.

Middle names and hyphens are another trick, so if you haven't found your name available yet, try putting a hyphen between the words (john-smith.com) or including a middle initial (johngsmith.com or john-g-smith.com).

When you need more than just your name to make yourself unique

Sometimes no matter how hard you try you won't be able to come up with an available domain that just uses your own name. In such cases, consider adding in another word to help give yourself identity, such as a country or place name, a favourite hobby or a special interest.

For example, if John Smith is an Australian he might be happy with johnsmithoz.com or ozjohnsmith.com. Or if he is crazy about cycling, he could try for johnsmithbike.com or cyclistjohnsmith.com. Or maybe just go for the interest by itself and get bikemad.com, ilovecycling.com or something along those lines.

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