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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Choosing Domain Names For International Business

For a great many marketers I’m afraid it’s too late when it comes to ideal positioning for your international online expansion. No, this is not another piece about whether you should use local domains or dot coms (my position on that remains unequivocably “go local” as my piece “6 Ways Local Domains Crush Dot Coms” describes). Rather, I’m talking about the international naming of the business and the choice of domain.

I was once invited to a meeting with a client to watch the presentation from a brand consultancy making recommendations on what to call their newly merged business under a new name. It was great fun as they made some scary errors. First, they hadn’t bothered to check if the domain name they were recommending was actually available—it wasn’t. I still shudder to think that brand consultancies can make recommendations to clients without even making basic domain availability checks.

Second, they hadn’t recognized the value of the domains of the two businesses which were about to be merged and were proposing a completely new name with all that means in terms of existing links and the registration dates of the various domains. The moral of this story is that when deciding on branding, always take account of domains since these two things today are inextricably linked—and that’s just as important if not more so in the international field.

Marketers love the single global identity

I’m a marketer by training and instinct (although I’m really a “linguist marketer” which you could argue means that nobody understands my message!) so I do really appreciate the value of a “global” brand. The appeal of a single identity, reinforced throughout the globe with everyone talking about, and linking to, the same message is huge, and I’m sure is one of the defining reasons why dot com-built sites are still the first and safest choice of global marketers. By “safe” I’m paraphrasing IBM and mean “no one ever got fired for recommending a single global name based on a dot com.”

Let’s be clear: this is the right answer for some, but it’s not the right answer for everyone. And most importantly, you still have to consider the global implications of choosing a single identity, rather than opting for something which appeals to the chairman or CEO of the company.

A single name: English or keyword?

If you intend to become a global player, then it makes sense to not simply opt for the first snappy English name which springs to mind and describes the service. For instance, let’s say you were the world’s leading localization consultancy. Using “Localization.com” as your domain name would not be a great idea if you’re planning to run the same domain name throughout the world, since half the English-speaking world would think you didn’t know how to spell and were not very good at “localisation” (note the corrected spelling!). By the way, in case you’re wondering, no one has chosen “Localization.com”—it’s simply used to generate parking revenue!

Equally, if you’re planning on using a keyword as your domain, then try to avoid the following pitfalls:

  • Check its meanings in other languages. I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about brand names which refer to genitals (“pinto”) in some languages or doesn’t go (“nova”) in others. Try to imagine living with a global domain name which had that problem!
  • Check the global trademark registrations. You might save yourself a lot of heartache later.
  • Check the registrations in a wider set of domain names and not just the dot com as you may find that someone is actively using that name in other markets.

Most trademark registrars have online systems where you can check whether there are registrations of trademarks you are proposing to use. As far as looking out for indecent uses of your proposed name, a good way to check this is to set the Google Keyword Tool to “all languages” and “all countries.” If you see large volumes of search for a keyword you think is innocuous, look a bit closer as you might find it has some very unexpected and interesting meanings you’d rather not be associated with.

Safety in abstracts

It can be a universally tough call to find a meaningful domain name which works in English and in other languages without causing problems. One clear option which many adopt is to go for an abstract name. This can either be a completely meaningless word, such as a short acronym which could mean anything, or it could be a concocted name often based on morphing different Latin meanings into something completely new.

If you’re going to specialize in international trade, for instance, then you could abbreviate to use the components “into” and ” trades” and turn them into “in2trayd.” I realize these are a bit odd as words, but they help to make my main point that the advantage of an abstract name is that no one else is competing for it in the search engine results pages. In fact, “in2trayd” has no results whatsoever so you can pretty much guarantee that your website will rank for that relatively quickly.

Reasons to consider local “relevance”

However, if you don’t have the money or resources of a global player or you’re in a particularly competitive market where the suppliers are expected to be local, you might be well advised to go extra local. So, let’s say you’re a flower seller for instance, instead of using your domain “flowerstoday,” you might want to choose “Blumenheute” for Germany. This has the advantages that, not only do you look like a local player in an industry which expects local delivery, but your anchor text which is associated with your links throughout the German market will be guaranteed to feature “Blumen” which is absolutely essential in the vast majority of your target keywords.

What to do if you’re stuck with an unappealing name?

As I said at the start, not everyone has the choice over what your domain looks like in each individual market. If your domain is an apparent misspelling in that market for some reason—as “localization.com” would be in the UK, for instance—then it would be a good idea to buy the relevant “correct” spelling even if you simply re-direct it to your core domain. At least this will pick up links from those people who mistakenly spell their links to your site “correctly.”

If the domain does not feature relevant keywords for the market, that may well be compensated for by your other SEO efforts, but alternatively you could create a subdomain or a blog which carries the search term into the heart of your site.

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