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What's in a name?

Life online; Web addresses

WHEN IT COMES to finding a particular firm's website, I tend to be quite impatient. I can't be bothered with search engines, and try the company's name first.

In time, an obvious website address may become less important as online directories become more routinely available. But for now, it can be exasperating when the web address turns out to be something really obscure, with lots of dashes, dots and stray bits of the name. Sometimes there is no choice - the obvious variants were all taken by someone else. But all too often several simple versions of the name are still available, though the firm only registered one.

There is no reason not to have several different addresses, all pointing to the same website. These days .co.uk domain names cost next to nothing - they can be acquired for as little as £10.

There are many examples of firms which have registered just one possible version of their name, leaving other - sometimes better - variants still on sale. Ask yourself how people think of your firm - are you commonly known by an abbreviation? Do people always use the full title, or do they drop words like 'consultants', 'limited' or 'associates'? If there are two words, where might someone put the punctuation?

A firm called John Smith might register www.johnsmith. co.uk (or .com), john.smith, john-smith or john_smith. No consensus has yet emerged on which punctuation is best; the best recommendation has to be to go for as many variations as are available. If you are feeling a bit mean, you could do a straw poll of your friends and colleagues and see which would be their first guess. All too many firms have gone for the equivalent of www.j-smith-ltd.

Keep an eye open for appropriate new suffixes to keep your portfolio up to date - .eu becomes available in July, and other variants like .ltd.uk and .plc.uk are already on sale.

Once you have started registering domain names, you could try thinking of snappy phrases for websites and registering them in the hope someone will cough up thousands of pounds to buy them from you.

www.america.com is up for sale for $30M. If you spot the next trend and get in there first, you might have a nice reward.

Lisa Russell, editor, nceplus

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