Nowadays, naming a new business is a much harder feat than it may have been in the past. Not only do you have to find a name that represents your business and brand, and one that hasn’t already been claimed by the increasing number of businesses out there, but now you have to consider how a name will fare in the online world too.
With the majority of businesses now online, it becomes ever more difficult to claim the exact match domain for your business name, not to mention Twitter handle and other relevant social accounts and marketing channels. For some, the availability of a domain name has the power to send you straight back to the drawing board, while others choose to get creative if their first choice isn’t available or is too expensive to buy.
Domain name alignment
When a business’s online domain exactly matches the name of the business, it’s said to have domain name alignment. Lets take our own business as an example. We are called Simon Antony Limited (Simplepage is one of our brands), so we got the domain name simonantony.co.uk, simonantony.com, simonantony.net etc. As we have the same domain as our company name, it therefore aligns perfectly. Had one of those domains already be in use elsewhere, we may have needed to change to something else i.e. simonantonylimited.co.uk or simonantonywebsitedesigners.co.uk – obviously not as easy to remember nor aligned with the company name.
Generally, most businesses will have exact alignment between their domain and company names where possible, but there are some cases, in which a complete misalignment is present. There could be a number of reasons for this.
Symbols in the brand name
Traditionally, domain names only contain letters, numbers and hyphens. Some international top level domains allow characters such as é or ð in order to reflect language alphabets, but the .co.uk extension does not. Symbols are disallowed altogether, which makes it difficult for businesses whose brand may contain one to have a suitable domain name. Most commonly this is seen with the ampersand (&).
B&Q DIY supply chain B&Q is an interesting example of domain name misalignment, as their website can be found at www.diy.com. It’s unclear why the alternative www.bandq.com(which they do also own – it redirects to diy.com) wasn’t the first choice, but it’s possible that the marketing department just decided to be creative and when you think about it, their business is geared around DIY so it makes perfect sense (clever marketing at work).
B&Q’s Twitter handle (@BandQ) does not match their domain, but does match the brand name. Arguably, there’s a simple and logical reasoning behind this, being that the brand mightn’t be findable on Twitter at @DIY, as users would be much more likely to search for ‘b&q’. For the domain, however, search engines are intelligent enough to understand that the company B&Q ‘lives’ at www.diy.com, and so have no issue in returning the correct result for branded searches.
H&M Clothing retailer H&M is another example of an ‘ampersand brand’, and for their website they decided to do away with the ‘and’ altogether, opting simply for www.hm.com. The URL www.handm.com is not accessible, as it appears to be blocked by the robots.txt file, but Google returns the site in search results with ‘H&M’ as the title tag, suggesting that the company does in fact own that URL. H&M’s Twitter handle is also just @hm, giving consistency across the company’s entire digital presence. H&M’s misaligned domain ‘hm’ is probably close enough to the brand and company name to avoid any confusion, unlike B&Q’s ‘diy’. Both of these businesses are large, national corporations that are without a doubt household names. The brand are well known enough to offset any potential confusion that may or may not be caused by domain name misalignment, however the same is not true for smaller, independent businesses.
Domain is already taken
This is possibly the most obvious reason that domain name misalignment may occur i.e. some other bugger already has it. With larger businesses, this is often less of an issue as funds are typically available to allow the domain owner to essentially name their price and purchase it outright. It doesn’t always work out for big brands though, and a good example of this is the rock band, Oasis.
Their website domain is www.oasisnet.com, as they appear to have been unable to convince the dating website currently occupying www.oasis.com, or the ‘Oasis Silicone Systems’ company before them, to sell.For smaller businesses, if the first choice domain is already taken, not for sale and/or unaffordable, there’s not a lot you can do about it. Second choice options could include adding a hyphen in between words, or adding a location after the company name. Or, you could opt for the creative option and choose something completely different from the brand name, yet still relevant to the company, much like what Alphabet, Google’s parent company, have done with their domain abc.xyz.
Usability could be another reason for domain name misalignment. If an aligned domain is going to be difficult to say, type or remember, a company may decide to use something different. For instance, a long acronym could be less than ideal as a domain.Of course there are exceptions to this, for instance the RSPCA (www.rspca.org.uk) is unlikely to be unknown as an acronym, but for lesser known organisations, it could be an issue. Having a domain that’s easy to remember is for some marketeers, arguably a less relevant problem in the modern digital world, as many internet users now utilise search engines to find the websites they want and search engines are smart enough to understand domain name misalignment. In our view however, it makes sense to get a domain name that represents your business as closely as possible.
So, does domain name alignment actually matter?
In short, the opinion here is that no, it does not matter if your website’s domain does not exactly, or even remotely match your registered company name or branding.
Many years ago, it used to be the case that having an exact keyword match domain would significantly increase your site’s organic visibility for that particular term or phrase. For example, www.pinkwellingtonboots.com may have unequivocally ranked #1 for the search term ‘pink wellington boots’, and www.hunterboots.com (the original manufacturer of the classic rubber boots we know and love) would have had little chance of knocking it off the top spot. Now, however, this is not necessarily the case.
Search engines are more concerned with the actual relevance of content on a web page to the searcher’s term, than whether or not a URL matches. This said, in theory a company’s website should always rank for branded search terms, regardless of domain, as it is themost relevant result possible.
Those who work in branding may argue that every representation of a business whether it be online, offline and anywhere in between should be 100% consistent in order to build trust and confidence in the brand. Is it possible that an internet user could be apprehensive about visiting www.diy.com when looking to buy a trowel from B&Q? Yes, it’s entirely possible. Does this have a direct effect on B&Q’s net trowel sales? No, probably not.
Most internet users will access website via a search engine, rather than by directly inputting the URL, which lessens the importance of domain name alignment.
Despite the fact that some boldly claim non-matching domains “may spell disaster” for businesses, its’ difficult to envisage what form this disaster might come in. It certainly doesn’t seem to be the case for huge brands like B&Q or H&M. So, to all the small, start up or independent business owners out there who’re losing sleep over misaligned domain names the simple answer is don’t. The likelihood of domain name misalignment having any negative bearing on your website or your business is small, and any negative effect you did experience would be equally as small.
If the domain to match your business’s brand is unavailable, take it as an opportunity to be creative.