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How to Register a Domain Name

A website is the modern day store and requires just as much forethought and planning to setup as a store would. 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 and keep them long enough to turn them into actual customers.

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", "heels", "boots", "footwear", "sports shoes", "dress shoes", "soles" 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: obviously, if you already have an existing business name, you may want to use it, or something similar to it, online. 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: ideally, you want your domain name to be as simple as possible. It should be simple to remember and simple to type. 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, with people at one point gobbling up extremely generic website names (e.g., pets.com), and then shifting to the other extreme by using obscure, fanciful, and bizarre names that have nothing to do with their product (yahoo.com). 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 imagine all the website traffic you'd lose as potential new customers understandably type in Flicker.com and end up somewhere else. Your domain name is your business name online, so choose something that will still be useful twenty years from now.
  • Make it Unique: this is the real challenge for most people in deciding what to use as their domain name. You want your domain name to be unique, because the more unique it is, the more likely you are to receive trademark protection and avoid any potential infringement claims. On the other hand, you want it to relate in some way to your business and to tie in to 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. This is not typical, but it's always worth your time to double-check. You can go to copyright.gov and 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 domain name choice. If you choose an extremely generic name, such as shoes.com, or use generic geographic names, such as California, then you will be unable to register for much, if any, trademark protection because the terms are so generic. Note that one way around this is to add something else to the name in an attempt 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 5 choices for a domain name, it's time to see if the domain is available. There are several online domain name searching tools available: simply type "check domain name" into any popular search engine. It's worth your while to use more than one of these services to ensure that your domain name is available.

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. You should protect yourself once you've chosen a suitable name by performing a trademark search.

Registering Your Domain Name

Once you've got a domain name you like and you've checked to ensure that it's not infringing on anyone else's intellectual property rights, it's time to register it. There are a multitude of domain registration websites. A search for "domain registration" in any popular search engine should give you a list of companies to start with. Compare and shop around to get the best deal, and read online user feedback to see how customers feel about a particular service provider.

In addition to registering your domain name, 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 (e.g., shoestore.com).

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.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you
address you business's operational needs.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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