Registering a Domain Name
A website is the modern day storefront and requires just as much forethought and planning as its brick-and-mortar counterpart. After all, you wouldn't just drive around, point at a building and say "that one" before moving in. Creating a successful website requires you to really delve into the mind of your potential customers to best understand how to attract them. This challenge is inherent in the process of choosing and registering a domain name, which will be either the same as or complementary to the name of your business.
See the Internet and E-Commerce section of FindLaw's Small Business Center to learn more.
How to Choose Your Domain Name
Your domain name is your virtual address, contact information, and brand rolled into one, so it's important to get it right. Here are some tips to get you thinking about what domain name works best for your business:
- Keywords: Write down the first keywords or phrases that come to your mind when thinking about your business. For example, if you wanted to run an online shoe store, you might write down "shoes", "footwear," and "shoe store." Often, it's useful to have at least some part of one of these keywords in your domain name.
- Existing Business Name: While an exact match to your business name would be best, consider slight modifications online. For example if your local business was named Bob's Shoe Emporium, you might consider simply going for BobsShoes.com.
- Keep it Simple: You want your domain name to be as simple as possible, both to remember and to type into a browser. Also, try to avoid making long, complex domain names and avoid using words that are easy to misspell.
- Avoid Trends: Website names tend to go through trends and fads. One of the most head scratching trends has been to choose purposefully misspelled names, such as Flickr. This may work out for you if you have a large marketing budget, but not for the average small business. Your domain name is your business name online, so choose something that will still be useful 20 years from now.
- Make it Unique: A unique domain name will improve your odds of receiving trademark protection and help you avoid potential infringement claims. However, you want it to relate in some way to your business and whatever it is you are offering, which typically involves keywords that are not unique at all (e.g., shoes). Striking this balance is the essence of finding a good domain name for your business.
Legal Protection for a Domain Name
There are two basic legal issues to consider when creating and registering a domain name:
- Copyright: The most straightforward issue to consider is whether your planned domain name violates someone's existing copyright. You can perform a basic search to see if there's anything obviously wrong with your choice.
- Trademark: By creating a domain name, you're also creating a brand for your business and need to consider the trademark implications of your choice. Try adding something more specific to something general in order to make it more unique, as in the case of California Pizza Kitchen. Any one of these words is generic on its own, but the combined name is unique and still conveys the meaning of the business.
Check to See if Your Domain Name is Taken
Once you've written down your top five choices for a domain name, it's time to see if the domain is available. There are several online domain name searching tools available, including several offered by domain registration companies. Also, make sure you check for any extremely similar domain names. Even if your domain name isn't an exact copy of a trademark-protected domain name, you may still be in legal trouble for trademark infringement if the domain names are sufficiently similar.
Registering Your Domain Name
Once you've got a domain name you like and is available, it's time to register it. There are a multitude of domain registration websites, including GoDaddy.com and Network Solutions. Compare and shop around to get the best deal, and read online user feedback to see how customers feel about a particular service provider. Also consider registering any websites that users might type in that could lead to your site, including misspellings (e.g., bobshoes.com, bobsshoe.com) or generic domains that aren't yet registered.
Apply to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
Finally, once you have registered your domain name, apply to the USPTO for trademark protection. You do not need to do this to create trademark rights based on your domain name, but doing so strengthens any future disputes that may arise. More importantly, it prevents someone else from registering your domain name or something similar as their trademark, which could eliminate a major headache down the road.
Get Legal Help When Registering a Domain Name
Starting and running a small business, including the process of choosing and registering a domain name, requires careful attention to details and a certain amount of know-how. But sometimes legal matters arise that require the expertise of a legal professional. Consider contacting a business and commercial law attorney if you have questions.