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Momma Always Said

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Be the Master of Your Domain

Hey, you out there -- yeah, you at c0nsultant504129@aol.com and members.tripod.com/users/~deziner6711.html -- listen up, because this column is for you.

For my sake, I hope my column The Re-education of a 1099 Columnist convinced you to get an Internet presence. But don't think that as an IP, you can get away with a half-assed Internet presence like those above.

A business domain name shows that you're serious, that you're successful, and that you won't skip town with the client's money. However, getting a domain name isn't as easy as choosing a moniker and shelling out the 35 bucks per year. Making things complicated are the facts that:

  1. All the good names are taken (including allthegoodnamesaretaken.com!). According to Doug Wolford, general manager/registrar of the domain name registry Network Solutions, 25 percent of all the domain names in existence were registered in the last quarter of 1999. That means 1.6 million potential IP domain names went south in three months alone.

  2. A great many registrars have popped up, offering to register your domain name for not $99.99... not $49.99... but $29.99, including a free set of Ginsu knives! These registrars provide different levels of service, but you don't know what that level will be until you fork over the dough.

Don't wet yourself: I'll help you find a name that's worthy of your status as an IP and escort you through the dangerous, scary world of domain name registration.

If your business name and last name weren't snatched up by legitimate Webmasters in the early days of the Internet (i.e., last month), they're probably sitting on the site of some cybersquatter who will charge you a ludicrous price to release them. But hey, you're an IP. You're crafty. You're smart. You're cheap. And you know some clever ways of beating the system.

Make a Dash

Domain names can consist of letters, numbers, and hyphens. So if graphicdesigner.com is taken, how about graphic-designer.com? Wolford even suggests putting hyphens between every letter. "Look at this," he says with audible glee. "S-m-i-t-h.com is available!" (To find out if a name is available, go to Network Solutions.)

However, Ellen Rony, co-author of The Domain Name Handbook, advises against making a dash for a hyphenated name. "It's hard to explain the hyphen to people," she says. "You want a name that's easy to spell."

Net It

Dot com. It's overused. It's clichéd. Who needs it? When I learned that my domain name of choice, twowriters.com, was taken, I went for twowriters.net instead.

The only drawback is, people are slaves to the dot com master. If someone doesn't know or remember your exact domain name, they'll obediently slap on a .com. And many browsers will even add the .com automatically. This can lead someone straight to your competitor (such as twowriters.com) -- or worse. To see an example of that ominous "or worse" in action, try visiting whitehouse.com instead of the real White House address, whitehouse.gov. (Warning: You must be at least 18 to enter.)

Go Long

Internet domain names used to be limited to 16 characters, but now they can be up to 67 characters long (including the .com, .net, or .org). If you can't register your name or company name, how about your slogan? Just be sure not it's so long that potential clients get tired out from typing and visit your 16-character competitor instead.

The long URL also lets you include key words that can boost your ratings in the search engines. "Register domain names that are rich in keywords and drastically increase your search engine rankings," says Carey Hilton, president of Internet solutions provider nixhilton & associates. "With the new 67-character rule, you can fit far more keywords in a single domain name than was ever possible before."

Add On

All the simple URLs like writer.com and webdesigner.com were snatched up while you were still learning how to click and drag. So experiment with creative prefixes and suffixes to come up with names like cyberwriter.com, ewriter.com, i-writer.com, writercom.com, writernet.com, and writerfromhell.com (as of this writing, it's available!).

"I liked the sound of freelancewriter.com, but that domain name wasn't available. So I thought maybe I could come up with a variation that wouldn't be too far off," says IP writer Marla Hardee Milling. "I tried variations of 'Web' and 'cyber,' but all were taken." Then sites like ePregnancy.com, eNutrition.com, and eBay.com sparked an idea. "It hit me -- I could add an 'e' to my preferred domain name and it would be efreelancewriter.com. I checked it out and it was available!"

Get Inspired

If the above tips have failed you, it's time to start casting a wider net. Is there a jargon word or phrase common to your industry? "My domain name came to me as a result of a discussion about bandwidth: 'Sir, you can throttle your Internet connection speed up to 10 Mb per second with colocation services,'" says Jim Wendt of throttle.net, which provides e-business solutions. "When I heard the word 'throttle,' I reserved the name immediately."

Freelance speaker Philippa Gamse is another IP who got funky with her name. "I'm an Internet/e-commerce speaker, so I chose the domain CyberSpeaker," she says. "It describes what I do and it's catchy -- it works!"

Go Global

The endings .com, .org, and .net are called Top Level Domains (TLDs). But even though these three TLDs get all the press, every nation has its own country-specific TLD, such as .nl for the Netherlands and .jp for Japan. The good news is that while many countries require you to actually live or do business there before you can buy a domain in their TLD, over 80 nations sell their TLDs to all comers. (You can find out which ones at idNames.) The bad news is that if you have a .ru or .za TLD, visitors to your site may think you're based in Russia or South Africa. "You don't want to be pinned down geographically in a global medium," says Ellen Rony.

Even more good news is that several tiny nations have TLDs that carry little national identity outside their borders, such as .cc for the CoCos (Keeling) Islands, .mu for Mauritius, and .nu for the Island of Niue -- the smallest self-governing nation in the world. Registrars of these TLDs are advertising them vigorously, so most surfers think of them as alternatives to .com rather than as country codes.

"I couldn't even dream of having something as basic as photographer.com," says IP photographer Kelly Petersen, who owns the domain www.photographer.cc. "At the time I first found the .cc extension, there were all kinds of wonderful URLs I could have chosen: Photo.cc, Photography.cc, Kelly.cc, etc. Obviously, all of these were long gone with .com, so it was an easy decision for me to make."

"I thought at first that the URL would confuse people," he continues. "But this hasn't been a problem at all. Because the URL is unusual, it ends up being just another little hook to have people remember you."

The Moment of Truth

Finally. You've found a name that reflects your IP business that hasn't gone the way of free love. Hustle over to a registrar and buy it now, before someone else does.

Until recently, Network Solutions was the only domain name registrar. Now, you can choose from more than 30 (so far). You can find a list of registrars at Core or ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

Registrars differ in price and service, charging anywhere from $25 per year and up and offering service ranging from the immediate to the non-existent. According to Rony, some registrars use "batch processing," meaning they hold onto your registration until they have a batch to submit to Network Solutions, which is the only domain name registry. If this is the case, the name that was free when you filled out the application may be snarfed up before the registrar actually gets around to submitting your application to Network Solutions. The only way to know for sure whether a registrar uses batch processing is to ask. On the same note, although all registrars let you search for available names, Network Solutions has the most up-to-date information.

Now you have no excuse for hanging onto that amateur-sounding AOL Web address. Follow the tips above, and soon you'll be the master of your domain.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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