Domain strategy: why starting off on the right foot is critical

Stu Homan, director of domain management, MarkMonitor, explains how brands can optimise their domain portfolio to ensure they’re getting the most from their assets.

Developing a domain strategy is probably not high on your agenda as a marketing professional. Yes, domain management is important, and yes, your business needs a plan of action. But practically speaking there are undoubtedly dozens of equally urgent and critical tasks that you need to complete first. Especially if your business is in its infancy or you’re launching a new brand.

Building a solid foundation

Yet the fact remains, developing and implementing a domain strategy early on in the organisation or brand lifecycle can yield significant benefits for your organisation. Why? The simple answer is that your domain forms the core of your brand identity and should inform your wider brand protection strategy. Whether you have dozens or hundreds of domains, each adds value to your brand and helps your marketing team build awareness. Even if you’re not transacting online, your business needs a presence as it’s vital to brand building and awareness. Domain management also builds a foundation for preventing brand abuse and mitigating risk.

The basic premise of any domain strategy is deciding which domains to keep, which to register, and which to recover, all with the wider aim of defending your brand online from exploitation. So where do you start?

Keep, register, recover

When it comes to brand health and wider brand protection, understanding which domains add the most value to your organisation is vital. This is especially important if further down the line your domain portfolio has grown to hundreds or thousands of domains, encompassing different brands, products and campaigns. The same logic applies to registering new domains, either as a new business or expanding current coverage. You need to carefully select which available domains will be valuable or critical to the business, which domains should be monitored for 3rd party activity, and which domains can be safely ignored.

Practically (and economically) speaking, it is impossible to defensively register every domain name. On the other end of the spectrum, you can’t afford not to register anything either. Somewhere in the middle lies the compromise. However, deciding which domains to register can be a challenge, which can largely be overcome by evaluating the risk associated with each domain and the likelihood of future infringement.

In cases where registered domains are infringing upon your brands, you can choose to begin recovery proceedings, whether that’s through a cease and desist letter, uniform dispute resolution (UDPR), uniform rapid suspension (URS) or other tactics such as anonymous acquisitions.

For those domains you decide to keep, you should focus on how you can fully optimize these assets. For instance, is the domain pointing to live content? Are you tracking traffic to the website? Are you fully securing your most critical domains with registry and registrar locking? Do you have SSL certificates in place? Once you’ve made the decision to keep the domain, you should also strive to fully optimise your assets.

Importantly, working with domain and brand protection experts can certainly streamline these processes and help your organisation prioritise all domains, available or registered, and begin the process to optimise their value.

What to consider in a domain

Regardless of whether you’re a start-up or well-established organisation, managing a domain portfolio can be a challenge, especially in the strategic sense of deciding which domains to register, keep and recover. Depending on the size of your business, you may have multiple domain names (often in the hundreds) in your portfolio.

In the early days of your domain strategy, you need to consider a number of factors that will shape what this strategy looks like. First and foremost, consider how much business you do online. If your business model is based on online commerce, your domain name and wider portfolio will be absolutely critical to the health of your business.

Second, think about the industry in which you operate. Your domain or domains will help you stand out in the market, which is especially important if it’s a crowded one with a lot of competition.

Then you need to look at geography; both in terms of where you’re based and the markets or regions where your customers are located. This will inform the types of domain name extensions that will best suit your business, and also influence how you view the balancing act between the number of defensive registrations you pursue and your willingness to use the various recovery options.

You should also consider your appetite for risk. This ties back into your comfort levels when it comes to recovering domains; do you have the in-house capabilities or relationships with third party experts to initiative recovery? Do you know what steps to take, again either in-house or working with a partner?

Finally, you can consider aligning your domain strategy to your IP strategy. That means using existing policies around elements like your trademarks to help create your plans and policies governing domain management.

Moving forward

There’s no disputing the importance of having a domain strategy, or the role it plays in helping brands streamline, optimise and get full value from their domain portfolio.

Developing this strategy early in the lifecycle of the brand, campaign or company ensures the business is always looking at the wider brand protection picture. In this way, you can better determine which domains add more value, how they can be leveraged and how to ensure your organisation is protected from infringement and brand abuse.

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