Picture the scene. You register a new business with Companies House, having already confirmed the company’s domain name is available. You set up social media accounts and print marketing materials, before launching a slick new website to the public. And at this point, you discover people are regularly misspelling your firm’s web address in their browsers.
It’s impossible to determine exactly how many customers might be lost in this way, but each failed site visit damages a firm’s profits and prospects. If your company name has obvious or common alternative spellings, there are arguments for acquiring these domain name variations as well. But should you cater to the relatively small proportion of potential customers unable to enter a URL correctly? And if so, how do you go about it?
Harvest Your Misplaced Traffic
Social media accounts, directory listings and online advertising typically share two primary functions. The first is to raise brand awareness, and the second is to drive traffic to your website. Online advertising and marketing campaigns are the digital equivalent of dressing a shop window to attract customers. Yet if people aren’t reaching your website, even compelling sales messages and slick functionality won’t make any difference. If recouping misplaced traffic can be achieved by snapping up some domain name variations, many would argue it’s well worth doing.
Of course, buying domain name variations isn’t an easy process. Firstly, you have to identify which incorrect URLs are being typed in. That’s a hugely difficult task, relying on customer feedback and your own intuition. If your business is called Smyth and Grey, the smythandgrey.co.uk domain can be purchased through UK2 for just £1 a year. However, some people might spell Smyth with an i in the middle, instead of a y. Similarly, American audiences spell grey with an a instead of an e. Straight away, there are four possible permutations of a seemingly simple web domain, which aren’t immediately obvious if the address is being spoken aloud.
Confusingly, one of the four combinations outlined above has already been reserved. It isn’t in use, but it has been parked by a registry agency. Acquiring it would be a more time-consuming and fiddly process than obtaining the other three domain name variations, as well as being much more expensive. After all, a domain’s owner has the right to demand a premium price if a third-party pitches up asking to buy it. Many blue-chip brands discovered this in the 1990s, after speculative investors snapped up company website addresses for pennies before demanding exhorbitant fees to surrender ownership.
What to Do with Your Domain Name Variations?
The founder of Smyth and Grey would have to make decisions about how many domain name variations to register. There’s also a wider question about what to do with these alternate domain spellings. An obvious solution is a 301 redirect, which transfers the vast majority of a website’s ranking power to the redirected page. These automatic links certainly deliver people to the right place, though a friendly message encouraging people to click through to the correct homepage could achieve similar results.
But isn’t that missing a trick? There’s SEO potential on the homepage of incorrectly-spelled domains, even while encouraging visitors to follow a link to the correct location. Think about the imaginative uses Compare the Market has made of its comparethemeerkat.com portal. Some people deliberately visit the incorrect domain name variation to be entertained by its content, and other companies might want to follow this laudable example. Providing it’s always made clear that this address is incorrect, these alternative portals could be used for anything from irreverent market commentary to games and puzzles. Each misspelled homepage could reinforce the brand values of Smyth and Grey in a different way.
It has to be acknowledged that multiple domain ownership brings extra administrative burdens. As well as periodic domain renewals and costs, each site has to be logged with the domain name registry responsible for specific suffixes. Any site ending in .uk is governed by Nominet, and they need to be informed about who owns the site as part of international WHOIS regulations. Other suffixes have their own registries, which poses another question for our mythical Smyth and Grey founder: should they purchase the .com domain and link it to the co.uk homepage?
The Smyth and Grey owners will also have to decide whether to exercise their exclusive rights over the smythandgrey.uk domain. After June 2019, unclaimed .uk addresses will be released onto the open market, even if there’s a co.uk site with the same name. That could cause confusion akin to the 1990s domain land grab outlined earlier.
Each brand or business has to weigh up the costs and benefits of purchasing misspellings of their primary domain. However, the arguments in favour of securing additional domains are certainly strong. If you haven’t purchased your company domain yet, consider the practicalities and benefits of snapping up a few phonetically or visually similar domains at the same time…