Electronic commerce: What's in a name? Plenty of headaches

If you want to put your brand name on the Web, be sure someone else hasn't beat you to it. Sandra Vogel reports

Coming up with something unique, memorable, short and yet descriptive to delineate business activity has given plenty of entrepreneurs headaches in the past. Nowadays, no company should go through the naming process without taking the added complication of the Internet into consideration, even if it has no immediate intention of using it.

Despite the vast size and user base of the Internet, web site addresses are at a premium, which affects no user as much as the household, or wannabe- household, brand. No two organisations can share the same web site. A variety of suffixes can be applied to addresses, and these may appear to give scope for name-sharing. In fact, they are more about giving users information about the nature of an organisation.

The most desirable of these suffixes, known as top-level domains, or TLDs, identify organisations by broad, generic type. So .com at the end of a web site address indicates a commercial organisation, .net indicates an Internet service provider or other Internet specialist, and .org is used to identify non-profit-making organisations. Clearly, if you want to get involved in e-commerce, you'll need a .com suffix to make your intentions apparent to your audience. Generally regarded as less desirable are suffixes that go along with a country code, such as .co.uk, indicating a company registered in the UK, and .org.au, indicating a not-for-profit organisation registered in Australia. Again, the scope for commercial organisations in this configuration is limited.

The effects of failing to register the address you want before someone else claims it can be permanent and powerful. Take the BBC as an example. Its public service arm recently launched a swath of web sites, based around programmes as diverse as Blue Peter, Teletubbies and Crimewatch. These are all at the general address www.bbc.co.uk. In addition, there is a series of web sites managed separately by commercial arm BBC Enterprises. You might expect their sites to be found at www.bbc.com, the premier spot, with a global top-level domain. But this address is occupied by a company called Boston Business Computing, based in Boston, Massachusetts. The BBC sites are to be found at www.beeb.com. Confused? Anyone who accidentally types the wrong address into their browser will be, and even though Boston Business Computing has put in a link to the BBC's Web pages at their home page, the problem is one that will not go away.

For the BBC, this issue is probably a mere irritant; for others the effects are more serious. Failing to get the "obvious" web address can cost businesses hard cash, not least because customers looking for a company on the Web for the first time tend to guess at the address. This is exacerbated by the fact that recent versions of Web browsers tend to auto-complete addresses; type "worldbrand" into your browser, and it may add www to the beginning and .com to the end, giving the Web address www.worldbrand.com.

So the more a domain name resembles a brand name, the better. Ideally, it should be exact and end in .com. The case is well made by the web site for the biggest blockbuster movie of all time, Titanic. If you were asked to guess at the address, you would probably offer www.titanic.com, but in fact this address was registered in 1995 to a firm from Austin, Texas, known as Titanic Entertainment. The Titanic Web site is to be found at www.titanicmovie.com.

For prospective e-businesses, there is another important issue involved: the legally thorny and potentially expensive problem of cybersquatters - companies that register web site addresses in the hope of turning in a profit on their sale.

Last year, the UK courts passed a judgement banning two men from operating through a company called One in a Million Ltd. Their business aim was to register domain names that they thought would be in demand by well- known organisations, and sell them on. They reportedly offered the domain name www.burgerking.co.uk to the Burger King chain for pounds 25,000. The case was brought by a range of household names including Marks & Spencer, BT, Sainsburys and Ladbrokes. The big guns won that case, but an appeal is pending; the cybersquatting issue itself is by no means resolved.

If the thought of litigating for the right to trade under your own name does not spur you on to register a web site address, perhaps the threat of global embarrassment will. When John Bunt of Gloucestershire had his car damaged in an automatic carwash, he sought compensation from the garage in question, managed by BP, for his damaged vehicle. When he got no joy he registered the domain www.british petroleum.co.uk and set up a web site that explained his problem. BP managed to persuade the UK central registry to suspend the domain in question, but not after a considerable amount of embarrassment to the company.

So if your company already manages an established brand, think carefully about registering a web site address - even if you don't want to use it straightaway. If creating a new brand, first check that the associated address is available. And as a parting thought, remember that to tie up a Web presence you may need to register several addresses to take account of plurals, national and international variants, hyphenation, and even obvious spoofs.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor