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The True Cost of Registering an Available Domain

Bundles of Money

What any of us wouldn’t give for a time machine to go back to the 90’s! The internet was growing but not at critical mass yet, and domain names were simply a means to an end for the most part. The millionth domain was registered in 1997 – since then, the domain space has expanded to over 250 times that amount.

Based on that, it’s easy to see how finding an undeniably good available domain name these days is nearly impossible. But that’s what most entrepreneurs try to do, and it costs their business much more than they realize.

The Domain Dilemma

The business world is moving to the internet – even offline businesses need an online presence due to review and recommendation sites. That means it’s that much harder to register a domain name good enough for your business as the supply is dwindling.

If domains were like real estate, your understanding would likely be that the best options would be increasing in value and you simply have to pay the price. After all, being stuck in a poor location makes it hard to ever capture a piece of the action.

With domains however being nearly infinitely expandable, what has happened instead is that you’re more likely to go with a “good enough” available domain rather than paying more for an undeniably “good” domain. You might sooner look for a different extension of the domain you really want or a different domain altogether as long as it’s available.

The True Savings of Getting an Available Domain? Not Much

Yes, your true primary choice likely doesn’t cost as much as you think. You’ve seen ridiculous sales listings or eBay auctions where domains you wouldn’t register are priced at millions of dollars, but those listings are merely noise. In reality, you’re often able to get a domain for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars that is significantly better than anything you’d find available.

Realize then that opting to settle for a “good enough” available domain is merely saving you a one-time cost of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. But what does it really cost you?

The True Cost of Getting and Using That Available Domain

For the most part, an available domain is only ever a first choice if you start your search with expectations lowered. You may feel that anything good that is taken is off-limits, so you look only for “decent” names and/or wild ideas.

Here’s the thing – if you’re getting your online brand with lowered expectations, what will the expectations be of the potential clients or customers that see it?

Have you ever seen the name or domain of a website and instantly judged the site negatively? Of course you have – everyone does that. You do it every day to avoid going to scammy or spammy sites and also to avoid wasting time on a site that won’t have what you want or need.

The same thing happens to your site. Some folks will take one look at your domain and decide to go somewhere else. Or they may go to your site but with lowered expectations. In fact, the quality of your domain name even affects what someone might be willing to pay for your products or services. If your domain makes you look cheap, your visitors won’t be looking to spend a lot for what you’re offering.

Let’s say you were being conservative and felt that this difference in domain quality might cost 10% of your revenue (which represents a higher percentage of your profit). How much money are you looking to make with your business over its entire lifetime? Take 10% off that amount – that’s what you’re throwing away by registering a domain name that’s available vs. buying a taken domain.

Or to put it another way – by saving a few thousand dollars to register an available domain at the expense of 10% of your business revenue (again speaking conservatively), you’re saying that you expect the lifetime revenue of your business to be merely tens of thousands of dollars. That’s how low you’re aiming.

The Additional True Cost of Getting and Using an Alternative Extension

The dominance of .com in overall domain registrations has waned over time – once the vast majority of domain registrations, now well under a half of them. You might take that to mean that .com is on its way out, but far more than half of the highest trafficked sites online are on .com domains.

Not only that, but the vast majority of serious businesses are on .com. When is the last time you bought anything on a site that wasn’t using a .com domain (or your local country code)?

You might think “what about interesting web 2.0 domain names?” After all, some sites have become popular on such domains. They lose a drastic amount of traffic to the .com, enough that most companies that see success on them buy the .com eventually – and sometimes they can’t. This goes beyond registering a domain name – even spending a lot on a domain in an alternative extension won’t save you from its ill effects.

O.co was such a case. O.com is a reserved domain that can’t be acquired, but that didn’t stop Overstock from spending $350,000 to acquire O.co. O.co performed so horribly for Overstock.com (losing 61% of traffic to the reserved .com) that after the massive amount of money they spend to rebrand themselves, they had to spend another massive amount to rebrand back to Overstock.com. On top of the $350,000 spent on O.co. Ouch!

Many entrepreneurs with web 2.0 domains have used our domain acquisition services to buy their matching .com domain, and in every case, the cost of the domain is much higher than they expected. Why? Because whoever owns the .com will have seen their traffic increase due to the success of the other extension and will increase their price.

Why Pay More?

After the initial cost of a better domain, you’re paying the same that you’d pay registering a domain name that’s weaker while your business continues to benefit from the better branding forever. Any marketing efforts your brand is attached to are improved with a better looking brand as consumers will take it more seriously. If you use a weak domain name, you would need considerably more marketing/branding efforts to get the same result.

Keep in mind, consumers are bombarded with marketing and exposure to different businesses and services, and they’ll use anything they see or hear to make a judgment call. The public backlash against really poor names like Cuil and Qwikster have shown that consumers indeed do pay attention to the name.

In order to be taken seriously, you have to look the part, and having a better domain name helps to achieve that. Settle for whatever you could find available and you could be among the millions of businesses online that never gained any traction and ultimately gave up.

From that perspective, registering that available domain might very well cost you your business.

The True Cost of Personal Branding Vs. Business Name

One thing you might consider doing if your ideal choice is taken is to just slap your name in front of it, or just get your name if it’s available. Your name may in fact be the best option for you if you are looking to brand yourself an expert or go-to person in a particular industry. If you’re a coach, author or musician for instance, having your name at the forefront is likely ideal.

That said, business names often get taken more seriously in the short term. They can often seem more unique given the sea of people branding under their personal names. Plus, down the road, if you plan on selling your business (and you do, right?), it’s incredibly difficult to sell a business built around a personal brand.

If you want to grow your business beyond just “you”, branding under your name can make this difficult. While well-known people often do have blogs or websites under their names, when it comes to actually selling products and services, they typically do that through a company name.

Once you’ve determined which type makes the right sense for your business, stick with a domain of that type. Don’t sacrifice getting the right kind of name simply because your ideal option in it is taken and a decent option of the other type is available.

Domain Names Are Not the End-All Be-All

There are certainly other keys to success online and having a great domain name alone does not guarantee it (see Color.com). That said, if you start off with registering a poor domain name, you will need to have more of those other keys to succeed, and those can be a lot harder to get than a simple one-off expense of a few thousand dollars.

In the end, you may find that an available domain IS the best option, but don’t let it be without considering the tens of millions of taken domains that are for sale. Otherwise, it can be far too easy to find yourself in the online equivalent of “the middle of nowhere”.

Need Help Finding the Right Domain? At Frontspace, we work with you to understand what you want your brand to accomplish, then put our extensive expertise and tools to use to find and select the best 10-30 domain options for your business. This service costs only $600 – a tiny fraction of the cost of trying (and often failing) to market a poor quality brand. We can also provide general consulting if you are already considering some options and want input from a seasoned branding and domain expert to make the right choice. Contact us today to get started.

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With exposure to computers since early childhood and the internet since before it boomed, Steve developed an interest in domains in the late 1990's. He later decided in early 2004 to explore this interest and start buying domains with the intent to sell them. With little money to start, through trial and error, a successful hobby provided a growing side income and then exploded into a career when in 2007, Steve officially left the working world and became a full-time professional in the domain industry. Steve’s most notable sales are Poker.in in 2007, which still holds the record for highest public .in domain sale at $60,000, and SixDegrees.org in 2005, bought by Kevin Bacon who then co-founded the charity Six Degrees.
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