Owning your own dotcom has become more and more difficult over the years.  There are several hosting companies around, and it seems like it would be easy to own any address you want, but that's not reality.  The truth is, finding the perfect dotcom has become almost an impossible task!

Just like in real estate, people try to "flip" domain names.  They purchase a handful at the next-to-nothing base rate offered by domain registrars.  Then they sit on the domains and try to get the people who actually want them to pay extra.  There are high margins in the domain name aftermarket, and your business could suffer terribly because of it.

I own and publish several websites, and it's taken me quite some time to gather up my collection of domain names.  I even own a few un-used names, but more to avoid the hassle of buying them back from someone else than anything.  I've dealt with two situations regarding custom dotcoms over the past week that are educational for anyone trying to break onto the Internet.

Case 1

A startup company created an imaginative name.  They immediately trademarked the name and several variations of it.  Then they proceeded to start publishing the name in context to protect certain copyrights as well.  Everything was going perfectly as they geared up for the first public launch of their new product ... until they tried to register their domain name.

Someone else caught wind of their imaginative name, took initiative, and purchased the dotcom right out from under them.  Now, instead of a trivial $7 registration fee, the business is negotiating to purchase the domain for several thousand dollars.  If you were starting a business, would you want this to be your first transaction?

Case 2

A company has been in business for several years, but recently took a break from building their online portfolio.  Things were going well and business was booming!  Then one day, the new calls stopped.  Even though the company hadn't been focusing on their online portfolio, the majority of their clients had been referred through their website.  In the time between launching their site and the drop in sales, their registration had expired!

Now, to get their dotcom back, the company must pay both the registration fee (trivial) and a steep renewal fee.  They would much rather just repurchase the domain at the base rate ... but the registrar plans to hold it for 60 days before negating their renewal fee.  In a tough economy, would you want to risk your sales channel being choked off?

Both of these cases are true stories.  Many individuals and businesses don't give too much thought to their website - let alone their blog.  It's just another piece of marketing collateral; something static that curious customers can refer to from time to time.  In reality, your website is a large part of your brand.  It is your connection to pre-cold-call clients and managers who Google colleagues before meetings.

If someone else owns your company name in the Internet space, what kind of misdirection could they cause?  What kind of havok could they wreak on your brand?  If someone else buys your domain out from under you, what's to stop them from buying up your customer base at the same time?  Imagine if a local coffee shop were able to buy and post surplus Starbucks signs.  They could either steal Starbucks' customers, or tarnish Starbucks' reputation if their stores aren't up to customers' expectations.

In an increasingly brand conscious world, knowing where your name is and what it means to people is important.  The Internet is very much alive in our lives today and ignoring how your name is represented there can be utterly fatal to your business.