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Domain Name Strategy and Branding for Non-Profits — Open Run Studios — Online Marketing & Strategy for the Theatre

Domain Name Strategy and Branding for Non-Profit Performing Arts Organizations

In this article, we offer some information to help your non-profit performing arts organization to develop an informed and comprehensive domain name strategy.  Selecting a domain name may seem like a simple task, but a properly formulated strategy can help to build your brand and ultimately to increase patron traffic to your website.

How should my organization choose a domain name?
Your ideal domain name will include the name of your organization, be intuitive for your patrons to remember and not too long. Define the words and phrases that are important to your organization. Keep in mind that the domain name your company ultimately registers will be subject to availability, so brainstorm a list of acceptable possibilities before you begin the search and registration process. Also, consider additional names that your company would like to own. For instance, the company Anytown Performing Arts might also find it in their best interest to register domain names for Anytown Theater and Anytown Dance.

How can I check domain name availability?
Depending upon the name that you are interested in registering, there may or may not be multiple options available. To check, you can use what is known as a WHOIS search. We recommend networksolutions.com/whois to identify domain name availability, but there are hundreds of additional WHOIS search options also available (just ask google).

Is .COM right for my organization?
Traditionally the .COM global top-level domain (gTLD) is the gold standard for internet branding. However, the name also conveys commercialism (that’s what the .COM stands for). As a result, using .COM as a non-profit may amount to a misrepresentation of your organization on the internet. A .ORG domain, by contrast, conveys your organization’s non-profit status, and it can even increase awareness among your patrons that charitable donations are accepted. If you are a non-profit organization we suggest that you use a .ORG as your primary domain name.

What about .NET?
Historically .NET was one of the original top-level domains — it was created in 1985, along with .COM/.ORG/.MIL/.EDU/.GOV. The .NET represents ‘Network,’ and was really intended for use by internet service providers. Later, the popularity of the word internet and the slang term net grew, and with it the popularity of the .NET gTLD. .NET use increased  further when the .COM domain name space became saturated in the late 1990’s. Today, .NET domains are commonly used for online marketing, however, for the purpose of your performing arts organization, it’s off the mark for branding yourselves properly. If you are a non-profit organization, we suggest that you register the .NET domain, but only use it for capturing and redirecting traffic to your .ORG.

Should I register the .ORG, the .COM, or the .NET?
If you are lucky, all three domain variations for your chosen name will be available – in these cases we strongly suggest registering them all – .COM, .NET, and .ORG. If only the .NET is available, consider trying a longer form of your organizations name, such as adding “theatre” or “theater” to the end of the term. You can also try broad variations of your organization’s name as a method for finding availability for all three domain names.

What about .INFO/.BIZ/.TV/.WS and all of the other domain names?
Many WHOIS searches reveal additional registration options. So what are they, and do you need them? .INFO and .BIZ are global top level domains (gTLDs) that were late to the party – they became available between 2000-2001 and have never become as widely used or recognized as .COM/.NET/.ORG. If you are willing to commit to registering a few more domains to protect your organization’s intellectual property, these domains are nice to have, but not absolutely necessary. .TV and .WS have been popularized to represent “Television” and “Website” by marketers hoping to cash in on these names, however they are actually country domain names for Tuvalu and Western Samoa. Registering them is probably not going to be particularly defensive or useful in capturing patron traffic – our recommendation is not to register them – the cost/benefit analysis just doesn’t provide enough value.

Should I register the “theatre” and “theater” forms of my domain name?
Many performing arts organizations love to use the “re” form of the word to officially represent themselves, while just as many others prefer the “er” form.  The question of which is correct is a long standing debate and, needless to mention, both forms are widely used in the United States. If one of these forms is a part of your branding and used in your domain name registration, we strongly suggest that you also register the second form as well. When you do so, you can again create a “redirect” to the correct version of your domain name, while also capturing traffic from patrons who may think that they remembered your URL, but incorrectly rearranged those two letters. A final reason for this type of dual registration, again, is defensive. For $7-10/year per domain, you can protect the intellectual property of your organization while also maximizing your traffic and reducing the chances of cyber-squatting and name competition.

Why should I register .COM and .NET if I’m just going to use the .ORG domain name?
Registering .COM and .NET defensively can keep other organizations and cyber-squatters from registering them and creating another incarnation of your art organization’s name. Domains with similar names can cause confusion among your patrons, particularly if the second organization ranks higher among search engines. When you have ownership over all three variations of a domain name, you can set up domain name redirects to send the traffic to your .ORG address, thus capturing all .COM and .NET traffic (in situations where, for instance, your patron thinks he memorized your URL but assumes the wrong domain) in addition to the patrons who correctly remember to type .ORG.

What if some of the domain names on our list are registered to another party?
The domain name space is now extremely saturated, and it is likely that many of the desirable domain names for your organization are no longer available. When this occurs, you can either find another name, approach the owner and attempt to buy the existing domain name (an option that is likely to be unpalatable to many non-profits), or wait for the current owner to stop renewing the domain name (an option that is most likely to occur if the current owner isn’t actively using the domain name). With domain name purchases we recommend that you do not attempt to approach the current owner yourselves – there are professional domain name negotiators available who can help for a marginal fee. In the case of domains that you would like to watch for expiration, SnapNames offers a service that watches the domain names in question and auto-registers them in the future, should they have expire, for a small fee.

Which registrar should I use to register my domain names?
In the early days of the internet, there was just a single registrar (a company with the authority to add domain names to the shared registry database): Network Solutions. Following deregulation of domain name system by ICANN in 1998, hundreds of new registrars emerged and they began competing on the basis of price and services. While there are many competent registrars at large, our rule of thumb is that Network Solutions ($35/year) and Register.com ($37/year) are expensive and services like GoDaddy ($10/year) are very affordable and competitive (and even more so if you search for promo codes). We like GoDaddy because they allow for nameservers to be reconfigured for free, and this allows all domain name authority to be set up with another ISP, thus lowering registration costs while maintaining maximum control over your domain names. There are even lower cost registrars at large – do your homework before committing to one of them, as transferring between registrars after the fact can be complex and time consuming.

To Recap:
1. Define the words and phrases that are important to your organization.
2. Make a complete list of terms that your organization would ideally like to own.

3. Use WHOIS searching to check the availability of these terms.
4. Choose a registrar (we recommend GoDaddy).
5. Register the .ORG, .COM and .NET forms of your organizations name.
6. Register both the ‘theatre’ and ‘theater’ forms of your organizations name.
7. If you are a non-profit organization, use the .ORG as your primary URL and redirect your other domain names to it.
8. Develop a list of domain names that your organization covets but you were not able to register.
9. Consider putting together a budget and hiring a professional to purchase the most important domain names that were not available to you.
10. Register the rest of your coveted domain names with a service such as SnapNames to acquire the domains in the future should their current owners ever allow them to expire.

Consider reviewing the domain name strategy of your performing arts organization today. If you need help, contact us – we can help.