Here’s a word of advice you may not hear from other marketing teams: Own a custom domain for your small business. We’ve seen too many small business owners get burned by not having one. The best way to preserve your web ranking, presence, and overall marketing efforts is to purchase your own, custom domain that contains your exact business name. In this post, we explain the importance of owning your custom domain and the hazards of not doing so. We also offer suggestions for what to do when you can’t get your own domain. Let’s dive in!
Domain vs. Website
First, what’s the difference between a domain name and a website? A domain is another word for a web address, while a website is the collection of files and pages that appear when you visit that domain. For example, “bobsappliance.com” is a custom domain, which visitors type into the URL bar in a web browser to view Bob’s Appliance’s website. Here’s a simpler way to look at it: Think of your domain as your street address and your website as your house. The street address tells visitors where they can find your house, but it’s not the same thing as the house itself. Likewise, the domain tells visitors where to find your website, but the website is an entirely separate entity. Make sense?
Owning Your Domain Is Ideal
Now that you understand what we’re talking about when we talk about domains, we can get into the nitty-gritty of how to handle yours. The most important thing to know? Owning a custom domain is ideal. It provides protection from competitors and makes you look like an established, successful business. And here’s the thing: You don’t even have to do anything with it! Just by owning the domain, you’ll keep others from taking it (which is especially useful if there are any other businesses nationwide with a similar name). You could also opt to just use your domain for your e-mail address so you appear more professional. Or, if you’re already working with a marketing team that has created a separate website for you, you can simply redirect your custom domain so it leads to this preexisting site. No need to create a whole new website for your custom domain if you already have one! If you don’t know how to register and purchase your own domain (although it’s simple to do online), have someone else do it for you. This person could be your marketer, a trusted employee, or a tech-savvy family member—as long as they’re competent and trustworthy.
PRO TIP: Have a custom domain but not sure if you own it? Check if you have a username and password for it. If you’re able to access and log-in to your domain, then it’s yours.
What If You Don’t Own Your Custom Domain?
We hate to sound like we’re fear mongering, but we need to emphasize how critical it is for you to own your own domain. If you don’t own your custom domain, then it’s up for grabs. That means it could potentially fall into the hands of one of your competitors. Here’s what could happen as a result:
- Your brand starts sending traffic to your competitors. People go to your domain (bobsappliance.com) looking for your business (Bob’s Appliance), but they don’t realize they’re actually connecting with a different business.
- With control of your custom domain, your competitor can also pose as your business on Google Maps. Google will believe it’s you because the domain contains your business name.
- If your competitor is particularly nasty, they’ll be empowered to write incorrect or overtly negative things about your business on the website attached to your domain. So people will visit your website looking for you, only to read bad things about you, instead. We’ve really seen this happen.
- If you can’t regain control of your custom domain, you may have to start all of your marketing over from scratch. This includes getting an entirely new business name and domain, since your current one is now associated with a totally separate entity.
How to Prevent Domain Disaster
Want to avoid the nightmare scenarios above? Registering your own, custom domain name can save you a heck of a lot of stress, money, and lost business. Annual fees for custom domains can be anywhere between $10 and over $100, and they’re worth every penny. However, what if, for some reason, you can’t have a custom domain? For example, some marketing companies may not let you have your own, or another business with the same name in a different state might have already claimed it. So what should you do? When owning your custom domain isn’t in the cards, these are the next best options:
- Get assurance upfront (in writing, ideally) from your marketing team that you will be permitted to take your domain with you after your contract ends. This is absolutely crucial if your domain contains your business name.
- If you can’t take your domain with you and you cannot have ownership of it, then you must use a generic domain that does not contain your business name. A generic domain will look something like, “electriciantexas.com,” which you can easily move on from because your business name isn’t attached.
The bottom line? If you currently do not own a custom domain for your business, buy one now. Owning a custom domain not only makes your business appear more established—it also secures your business’s web presence. If someone else does have control of your custom domain, they essentially have control of your entire web presence. You need to move fast and reclaim it before any damage is done. Reach out to them and try to work it out. If they refuse to return it to you, check with your state’s laws to see if there are any legal actions you can take. And if you cannot own your custom domain, make sure you take the necessary precautions to protect your business’s brand. The longer you go without owning your custom domain, the more immediate the risks facing your online ranking and presence can become. You can’t afford to wait.