Can A Domain Name Be Different Than Your Legal Business Name?
You have just opened a new business and you are trying to find a suitable domain name for your website. One of the first questions you might have is if a domain name can be different than your legal business name.
A domain name can be different than a legal business name but it is not the ideal scenario. Most of the time, you should try to use a domain that represents the shortest version of your company name ( example.com vs examplellc.com).
Keep reading to find out more details about domain names and business names and what strategy is the best based on your situation. I will present real companies’ examples too.
Should Your Domain name Match Your Company Name?
There is no regulation that forces you to use a domain that matches 100% of your company name. The real question is if a domain name serves your overall brand strategy. A good domain name can attract more online visitors or it can help people to memorize your brand easier.
For example, If the company name of an automotive dealer is John Smith Auto Group and he uses automotive.com or auto.com then it would be a great boost for his online efforts.
The domain itself doesn’t protect your brand if you haven’t filled a trademark. In addition, you can violate other entities’ trademark rights. For example, if you register Microsoftcompany.com then this is an obvious trademark infringement and Microsoft can get this domain.
Let’s see how companies choose their domain names.
1.) Croissant, Inc. is a company that offers a monthly membership for professionals that seek shared working spaces around the world. It uses the domain getcroissant.com. I assume that croissant.com was very expensive or was not for sale. Many times companies use a prefix such as “get” when they can’t find a perfect match for their name.
2.) LinkedIn Corporation is running a successful professional network website with millions of users. The domain of the company is linkedin.com and it is a shorter version of the legal name. Always remember the basic rule for a domain name registration, “the shorter the better”.
3.) Business Models Inc. is a management consulting company with the domain businessmodelsinc.com. The decision here was to include “inc” in the domain name because (i assume) businessmodels.com was not available. You should be prepared that usual phrases or keywords will not be available or cheap for domain registration (at least for .com).
4.) Template Software, Inc. is a provider of different software products. The company is using the domain name template.com. I really like the domains that are a short version of the legal company name.
5.) PANDORA designs creates and sells different kinds of jewelry and the headquarter of the company is in Denmark. The domain of this business is pandora.net.Another big company related to music is using the pandora.com domain. There are over 1000 top-level domains such as .com or .net but the average joe is not aware of them. .com is always the best option but .net is a decent one too.
In that case, these 2 companies are in very different industry so there is no confusion for the end user. If you choose some other domain extension other than .com , cross-check if there is a developed site in the .com version with similar products or services.
6.) Observable, Inc. is presenting data in a visually pleasing way. The domain of the company is observablehq.com. Although the observableinc.com was available for registration the leadership decided to use “hq” as a suffix. HQ represents the headquarters and it is a usual option for a company when the exact match domain is pricey or not available.
observable.com is not in use but probably it was too expensive or the owner didn’t want to sell. Observable is a dictionary word so a domain name like that doesn’t change hands cheaply.
7.) American Utility Management, Inc. is a really long name and it wasn’t going to work great as a domain name. The company used initials instead and created that domain aum-inc.com. I am not a huge fan of a hyphen (-) in a domain but it is something you can use.
Should You Register A Business Name or Domain First?
Before you register a business name you should search which domain names that you like are available or if they are on sale at a good price. If the website is a crucial part of your business (ex. e-commerce) then you should register the domain name right away since it is the easier part.
Registering a business name and open your new company should be more time-consuming than getting a domain name in most countries. There is no paperwork or face to face interaction when you register a new domain.
You can bulk check multiple domains at once since almost all the websites that sell domains have a tool like that. Don’t search one by one because you will probably see the message that “domain is taken” and this is discouraging. Create a list with many domains before you actually check if they are available.
If you rely mostly on the mouth to mouth marketing and referrals then a website is not so crucial for your revenue. For example, if you run a small coffee shop then probably people around your area are your main clients. You don’t rely on your website to attract new customers.
For those that are not sure about the value of a domain name, let’s see what Mark Zuckerberg (owner of Facebook) mentioned some years ago for a mistake he did:
Early on we were clueless, all of us came from having users and growing at a sustainable rate. When we were first meeting with Peter, we didn’t have Facebook.com. We were TheFacebook. That’s a winner. (ironic tone)
Q: What would you do now different?
A: I’d get the right domain name. The moral is that we could get the domain. We ended up “tens of thousands” for the domain.Mark Zuckerberg
*This part is from an old interview at Startup School (interview link)
They ended up paying 200,000$ for facebook.com but if they had purchased in the beginning the price would be significantly cheaper. Facebook is an online business so a domain name is really crucial.
More and more people search online for products, services or reviews. Don’t underestimate the acquisition of a good domain. From my side, i believe that even if an online presence is not significant for you now things might change drastically in the future.
Do you Have To Use LLC in Your Domain Name?
There is no law or regulation that forces you to use LLC in your domain name. It is actually preferred by most companies to use a shorter version of their legal business name for their domain. If you wish you can use LLC but as I said earlier it is optional.
Let’s observe some real life examples:
1.) SRAM, LLC designs and manufactures different bicycle parts. The domain of the company is sram.com. The business is many years around so probably there was no problem of registering a 4 letter domain. Nowadays there is no combination of 4 letter domains available to register! If you want to use one you need to buy it from an existing owner.
2.) Percheron Professional Land Services, LLC offers specialized services in different areas such as land management, engineering, and the environment. The domain of the company is percheronllc.com. The leadership decided to add an LLC in the domain since percheron.com is owned by Percheron Associates, Inc.
3.) Emonics LLC is offering IT staffing services. The domain name of the company is emonics.com. I have noticed that most tech-savvy companies avoid using suffixes such as LLC or inc. Sometimes they choose a very creative name that doesn’t mean anything but they can get the exact match domain.
Should You Trademark Your Domain Name
For legal issues, you need always to consult a legal professional and the government entities responsible for each regulation. I will summarize here what I read on uspto.gov (The United States Patent and Trademark Office). A similar approach is followed in every country with small differences.
1.) A domain name and a trademark are different things.
2.) A trademark identifies goods or services as being from a particular source (like a company).
3.) Use of a domain name only as part of a web address
does not qualify as source-indicating trademark use, though other prominent use apart from the web address may qualify as trademark use.
4.) When you register a domain name with a domain name registrar does not give you any trademark rights instantly.
5.) Even if a domain is available you should always check if there is an existing trademark that relates to it. **For example, adidas-nice-shoes.com is available to register but if Adidas finds out that you use it then they can get it from you legally.
**Source: uspto.gov – Basic Facts About Trademarks (check chapter 2 for domains)
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