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Web Strategy

Domain name crucial when launching a website Add to ...

You've decided to build a website for your business. It's a smart move: All companies, big and small, benefit from an Internet presence, but a significant number of small businesses across Canada either lack a website, or they have no strategy for their online properties. In this four-part, weekly series we'll take you through the initial planning and setup phase, to launch and maintenance.

Part Two: Registry and hosting

Now that the planning is done, you have the blueprints to guide the design and construction of your website.

Before we get to the fun stuff there are two more important decisions to make: what domain name will you register and what web host will you use?

The domain name

This is the website address, or URL, broadly speaking the .com you will use to identify and promote your site. The domain name is usually related to the business name, such as globeandmail.com, but it might also be a unique name that reflects a specific part of the business, such as globetechnology.com.

If possible, your domain name should be similar to any business name you have trademarked or registered. IBM, for example, owns the domain name ibm.com. What if you're IBM Canada? Should you register ibmcanada.com or ibm.ca? Good question. Domain name registry is easy and relatively cheap. It costs about $15 a year to control a domain name, so a company like IBM Canada would want to register both if they are available.

Most dedicated registrars, such as hover.com, offer a simple search tool you can use to check the availability of your desired domain. Just enter the name and click 'search' to see the results. You can also use search tools like who.is (for .com sites) CIRA (for Canadian sites).

If the name you want is taken, you may be able to buy it from the current owner. To find the owner's contact information, do a search at a registrar. You may also be able to contact the owner quickly by sending e-mail to info@domainnamehere.com. If the owner won't part with the domain name or if you're unable to contact the owner, you'll have to come up with a different name.

Your URL should be short, simple, and memorable. If your business has a unique name, it's often the best one for your website but there are exceptions.

If you're Miller Roof Co., which of these domain names would you think is best?

MillerRoofCompany.com? MillerRoofCo.com? MillerRoof.com?

The third choice is probably the right one, but admittedly it's not great. Try saying it out loud. Imagine saying "Miller Roof dot com" on the phone or in a radio or TV ad. If your company name is hard to spell or pronounce, you might need a unique name related to your motto or marketing campaign. The best name for this company might be something like theroofpeople.com.

Remember, your company will be represented by the domain name you choose, so give the decision careful thought. Examine your proposed domain name for hidden words and meanings you don't intend.

The domain name suffix .com remains the standard for business sites, as opposed to .net, .ca, or .org. If the .com name you want is taken, consider a different name rather than using a little-used suffix such as .info. Businesses based in Canada may wish to lead with the .ca name, but most of them should also get the equivalent .com if possible. International visitors will expect to see .com at the end of your name.

Once you've made your choice, you can start building your brand online. As you review your options, remember you can likely afford more than one domain name, and you can always buy more of them later if necessary. You can go to a dedicated registrar to buy a domain or you can register for one when you sign up with a web host, but it's a good idea to keep domain registration service separate. It helps you maintain control of your domain name if you need to move to a new host.

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The web host

A web host stores the files for your website. Hosting companies provide you with a reliable connection to the Internet so visitors are always able to access your site. The host's job is to make sure your site is always operating and loading as quickly as possible when visitors arrive.

While it's possible to do it yourself - to put your web files on a computer in your office and hook it up to the Internet - it's not the best choice for most small businesses. Technically it's more difficult, and many hosting companies offer basic services for as little as $5 a month. This gets you an always-on connection, a limited amount of traffic, and the storage space required to hold your files. You simply go to the host's website, punch in your domain name, and sign up.

Popular hosting companies such as GoDaddy.com, JustHost.com, and BlackSun.ca offer a wide range of services, including many you will never need. The only features you must have at the outset are e-mail accounts, file storage space, bandwidth (web traffic) and good technical support.

If you don't need the other options, or you don't think you do, say no. You can always add more features later.

If you want to use specific software to power your site, you will need a host that supports it. You may even wish to choose a host recommended by the software maker. Some popular software, such as blogging tool Wordpress, can be used as a " hosted service." Hosted services provide the file storage and the bandwidth needed to run the site.

If you use a hosted service, you may not need a web host at all. Your domain registrar would just "point" your domain name at the hosted service site, which does the rest.

There are more options ahead and more decisions to be made, but you're nearly ready to go. The fun and creative part - design and construction - comes next.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Earlier stories from this series can be found on the Web Strategy section of Your Business.

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