Is a Domain Name Change Ever a Good Idea?

Sometimes businesses evolve and need to change their URL. Here are signs that it might be a good idea to consider a domain name change.
Writer/Author/Publisher/Speaker, Garden Guides Press
May 10, 2017

About.com disappeared this week and dotdash.com took its place. The owners of the general interest website that dates back to the early days of the internet decided that it was time for a domain name change.

The market has become exponentially more crowded since About.com began in 1997. To differentiate itself, the company began breaking off into a variety of stand-alone topic sites a year ago. Now all of those sites point to dotdash.com.

“In today's world, the explosion of technology has reached every touch point of our lives, and it won't slow down any time soon," says Sasha Stack, partner and leader of Lippincott, a global creative consultancy that helps businesses build their brands.

“New competitors are disrupting long-standing industries and creating entirely new ones, and brands are being created from scratch, with less investment than ever," continues Stack. “We're also seeing a cultural shift in consumers embracing, and even preferring, brands they don't yet know. All of these factors could make a domain name change a good idea for your company."

Reasons for a Domain Name Change

There are a couple of reasons to make a URL change, believes Stack.

“The primary reason to change a domain name is if a better one becomes available," she says. "For instance, if your company didn't have the pure .com [the exact match for the name of your product, company or app] previously, but now you can. It's also advisable to change the URL if the company itself has a name change and wants the domain to reflect that."

Although a domain name change may seem like a good idea, unless you're forced to change your name due to a merger or scandal, be wary of changing your domain name once you have built up brand equity.

—Gail Z. Martin, president, DreamSpinner Communications

Stack notes that changing a company name and URL is a complex, timely undertaking.

“There's preliminary legal screens to make sure a name has a fighting chance and comprehensive legal searches to ensure a name is securable in relevant trademark classes and jurisdictions," she explains. "There's also linguistic screens to ensure that a name doesn't mean something inappropriate in another language or is too difficult to pronounce. And it's necessary to secure digital assets that support the name, such as social media handles."

Tips to Help You Change Your URL

It's important to change your URL in a seamless way that doesn't confuse or lose customers. The following tips can help you if you intend on making the transition.

  • Inform customers ahead of time. “Have clear and consistent messaging on email, social and web channels for at least several months prior to the change so that people don't get confused," says Aaron Price, CEO of innovation festival Propelify. “We changed our name from Propeller, and even though it's only three letters different, some people were confused by our new name."
  • Be as discreet as possible prior to launch. “Anyone can register a domain, so it's important to not let the public know about the domain name change prior to the official launch," says Stack. "If a company's intended new name leaks and that company doesn't yet own the complementary assets, including the domain name and social media handles, the domain acquisition can become a very expensive and time-consuming task." Domain squatters can hold the domain name hostage until you pay their fees, and the process is time-consuming, because of the work involved in hunting down the squatters and negotiating with them.
  • Choose a name that represents your core culture and mission. “Be authentic to your company mission," says Price. “Remember, you define the emotion associated with the brand."
  • Avoid getting too clever. “Consumers have been trained to look for .com, so realize that other extensions will cause confusion, unless you own them and redirect to your homepage," says Gail Z. Martin, author of The Essential Social Media Handbook and president of DreamSpinner Communications. “Your domain name is part of your branding. It should be obviously connected to your company or product, which will make it easy to remember."
  • Realize you may not get the pure .com version. “Unless you have a five-, six- or seven-figure budget, it's unlikely you'll get a simple one-word domain," says Price. “That's okay. Adding other nouns and verbs can be an easy way to differentiate and maintain uniqueness. Sometimes those simple domains come with trademark headaches, anyway."

Choosing the Best Domain Name for Your Business

When choosing the ideal domain name for your business, Stack suggests making sure that the name is:

  • relevant to a brand's time and place, but has the power to become iconic
  • unique in a brand's context, without feeling contrived or unapproachable
  • able to signal to the target audience(s) that the brand is for them and speaks their language
  • an expansive home for a brand that will continue to grow and mature

While these tips may be helpful, you may still want to tread carefully when changing your domain name.

“Although a domain name change may seem like a good idea, unless you're forced to change your name due to a merger or scandal, be wary of changing your domain name once you have built up brand equity," cautions Martin. “You'll lose a lot of people who won't hear about the change, and you'll have to work to rebuild consumer awareness."

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Photo: Getty Images