How important is securing the direct domain name for a new business?
It is something mining giant BHP Billiton is discovering this week, after it emerged the direct domain name for its spin-off company, South32, is already taken.
BHP Billiton spent a long time deciding on a name for the spin-off, so long that the name of the business became commonly known as “Crap Co”.
Finally, BHP Billiton announced on Monday the company it intends to create through its proposed demerger will be called South32.
But the domain South32.com is owned by a US company, Kari Bian Film Company, and currently features a video loop of a woman’s tongue.
According to Fairfax, the Californian company has attempted to sell the domain to BHP for a sum of $10 million.
A spokesperson for BHP told SmartCompany this morning that BHP had looked at South32.com as part of its due diligence but decided it was “not prepared to pay the price demanded by the owner”.
“Suggestions that we omitted to do this are incorrect,” the spokesperson says, adding that a number of URLs for South32 have been registered by the company and will be announced “as the company is established”.
The domain registry through which South32.com was registered has also denied claims of cyber squatting, with a spokesperson for Dark Blue Sea, owner of Brisbane-based Fabulous Domains, telling SmartCompany this morning the domain was secured by Kari Bian Film Company long before BHP’s South32 concept was a reality.
“The domain South32.com was first registered in 2008, fully six years before BHP even mentioned the phrase,” the spokesperson says.
“That some publications have labelled this cyber squatting is clearly not the case.”
The spokesperson confirmed the domain has not changed hands since its registration and says Fabulous Domains “does not own or control the domain” and is not privy to any discussions between the owner and potential buyers.
But two experts told SmartCompany the case has important lessons for business owners looking to launch a new company or brand.
Social media and communications expert Catriona Pollard says all business owners need to conduct thorough research of domain names and other online assets before launching their company or brand.
“When you are starting a business, it is so critical to do your research,” Pollard told SmartCompany.
“In Australia, that means looking at all the registered companies to see who has a name that is similar. You have to do this right at the beginning.”
“But it’s not just about the domain name. You need to look to see what is available on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, the whole of social media.”
Pollard recommends businesses also take a long-term, strategic view. While some new companies may only plan to operate in Australia, she recommends checking to see if the .com domain name is available for your company name, in addition to the .com.au address.
“Even as a small business, you need to think about where this might go, you might want to sell [the company] in the future,” she says.
But independent branding specialist Michel Hogan says securing a direct domain name is only essential for companies for which a direct URL of their name is “pretty critical”, such as online retailers.
But for other companies, such as BHP, which primarily use their websites to provide information, Hogan says not having a direct domain “is not the death knell a lot of people make it out to be”, as search engine marketing can help searchers find the correct site.
Hogan suggests business owners consider how important having the direct domain is to their business model before deciding on a name.
“If it is structurally important, you may reconsider your name,” she says.
“If you are an online retailer, you want a URL that is easy to remember and you don’t want customers to get it wrong. If they can’t find it first go, they will type it in to Google and all the other options will come up. It’s a barrier to get to your product.”
SmartCompany was unable to contact Kari Bian Film Company.