Owning Your Own (Web) Name: Why You Must Grab It NOW

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If your name is still available, snap it up. Now. Please! There will never be a better time.

I’m referring to your web-name. Specifically, to the Internet “domain name” that matches your “regular” name. Your “regular” name is the one by which people introduce you.

For example, if your name is Ed Smith, then your web-name is “EdSmith.com”. (Or it might be “EdSmith.NET”, “EdSmith.ORG”, “EdSmith.INFO”, or other versions depending on the letters that follow the dot.)

These web-names are immensely valuable. Yours, in particular, is priceless to you — even if you haven’t thought much about it.

These high-value names are disappearing. Fast. Most of the most common ones already are taken. Especially the ones with dot-COM extensions.

If your name is Ed Smith, Mary Jones, Tom Scott, or anything else common like — say — Gary Matthews, then good luck getting it. There’s already a website called EdSmith.com. MaryJones.com is for sale in the mid-four-figures range. (But you can bargain for it, if you want it badly enough.)

But here’s the thing: You’ll hear all the time that “all the good web domains are already taken.” There’s some truth in that — just enough truth to be dangerous.

Because the web-name you should want (your own name) may not be taken.

I’ve been checking, and I’ve found that a high percentage of my friends — including those with perfectly ordinary names — still could register their corresponding web-names. I also have friends with unusual names who were shocked to learn that theirs are taken already.

And if yours isn’t taken, now is the time to grab it, and hold onto it. Even if you aren’t going to use it anytime soon.

Domain registrations have slowed down, globally. This is in part because so many of the best names are spoken for. It’s partly the global recession that’s still playing out. It’s partly the burgeoning of social media: Too many people believe that a Facebook page or Twitter feed is a substitute for owning your own web-name.

They’ll soon learn better. Many will learn the hard way, too late. The global financial crisis will ease up. The Internet will keep growing. Good web-names will become even more scarce.

Three reasons to hurry: (1) If your web-name isn’t already registered, then it’s cheap — for now. (2) You’ll need it, and want it, eventually. (3) By the time you do want it, it will be gone. Forever. Unless you act soon.

 
Asking the Wrong Question

When I discuss this issue with friends, they’re usually asking the wrong question: “Why do I need a website?” Well, maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. Okay, you almost certainly do — but that’s a separate question. Let’s just pretend, for argument’s sake, that you don’t need one.

The fact remains, you should own your own name (your web “domain”) even if you never are going to have a website. So the question you should be asking is, “Why should I own my own name?”

 
Asking the Right Question

So why should you own your own name? Several reasons, in no particular order:

1. Anyone on earth will be able, easily, to contact you.

Think about this. As the Internet grows, it already is the world’s largest address book, phone book, and contact database. With the spread of personal computers, it became all-encompassing. Now, with smartphones and tablets taking over, it is becoming more and more immersive. These trends will accelerate with Google Glass and similar technologies, including some we haven’t thought of yet.

It’s already true that the main way people look up businesses and individuals is by searching for them on the Internet. We call it “googling”, though that may include Bing, Yahoo, or other search engines.

If you, for whatever reason, need to be contactable, then the easiest, most effective way is to own your own “domain” name.

If you then use this name to create a dot-COM website, anyone can find you, either by searching for “Your Name” or entering “YourName.com” in any browser address bar.

But even if you have no website, anyone still can find and contact you through your web-name: They just look you up in the global “WhoIS” database (www.WhoIs.net). This assumes you don’t sign up for “private registration”, which costs extra anyway.

But you may prefer private registration, so people trolling the Net don’t see your home address and phone number. In that case, you will need at least a simple web page (not really anything elaborate enough to call a website). It can consist of an “about” page telling who you are and what you want people to know about you, plus a contact form by which they can reach you. The form can hide your actual address, phone number, email address, and whatnot. But people who need to reach you can do so.

And it will work from anywhere. Forget Facebook. Forget Google Voice. Forget the Internet White Pages. You now are in control of your contact information. Forever.

2. Your email address can be YourName@YourName.com.

This is related to point one, but it warrants its own bullet. If your name is Gary Matthews, there’s something intoxicating about telling people they can reach you via your email address, “Gary at GaryMatthews-dot-com”. Substitute your own name for this example, and think how cool this would look on a business card.

Already have a Gmail or Hotmail account to which you’re devoted? No problem! Set “YourName@YourName.com” to forward incoming mail to your primary, day-to-day account. And set the latter account to send outgoing mail with “YourName@YourName.com” as the return address. All the big web-mail services make it easy for you to do this.

Coolness aside, a big practical advantage is that you can own the YourName.com address for the rest of your life. If you decide to switch from Gmail to Hotmail, or if Google and Microsoft both go bankrupt (it could happen!), you won’t lose your address. Just reset the forwarding address to whatever new service you like, or start using your own account as your primary. You have total control.

Plus, you aren’t restricted to “YourName@Yourname.com”. Owning your own name, you can create as many email addresses as you want. For example, you could create “JunkMail@YourName.com”. Then, whenever you fill out one of those pesky Internet forms that makes you give your email address, so they can send you newsletters and blog updates you don’t want, just give them your junk mail address. Don’t forward this one; just check it once or twice a year and empty the whole thing.

(There are other ways to do this. I also use throwaway services like MailCatch.com. But most of the big corporate junk-mail solicitors are onto that trick, and require a “real” address. If you own your own name, you can beat them at their own game.)

You can create email addresses for your friends and family. Any number of special-purpose addresses for yourself. You won’t think of all the possibilities until they’re actually open to you. But this is cool stuff.

3. If you don’t own your own name, someone else — sooner or later — will.

Even if you have a rather unusual name that no one has registered yet, it’s pretty likely there are other people with the same name. Google your name; you’ll be surprised. And if your name is at all common, like “Gary Matthews”, you’ll be even more surprised. According to one website, there are 479 Gary Matthewses in the USA, plus 200-something people named Gary Mathews (with one “t”). Around 700 of us in all, just in this one country. Many, many more if we count the rest of the planet.

But even if no one else has your name, someone else may register it. Possibly so they can sell it to you later, once you realize how important it is. (But you can beat them at that game by registering it now.) Or they may have some other agenda — one not necessarily in your best interest.

When Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes gave birth to their daughter, Suri, they didn’t bother to register SuriCruise.com. So someone else did. That someone then created the infamous “Countdown to Legality” website, showcasing the days, hours, minutes, and seconds till Suri would turn 18.

So far as I can tell, that site is now gone — or perhaps merely moved to another domain. My guess is that Tom hurled lawyers and dollars at the problem till the problem went away. If you have as many lawyers and dollars as he does, maybe you don’t need to worry about things like that. Maybe, for that matter, you aren’t as tempting a target, either.

But you needn’t be a celebrity to care about what others may do, on the Internet, with your name. A kinswoman of mine has an unusually beautiful, but not-too-uncommon name: At least 10 other people in the USA have it (according to Names.WhitePages.com). Several years ago, I went looking for her on the Internet and found that, sure enough, there was a website named with her name plus dot-COM. But it wasn’t hers.

My relative is a librarian (now retired) and a writer of poetry and other excellent works. Her stuff is great; she can and should publish it, and she aspires to do just that. As an author, she’ll have an image — her personal “brand” — to promote and protect.

As it happens, the other person with the same name (and website to match) was a writer of erotic fiction. Many lengthy samples were posted on her website.

Let me add that this other lady’s writing struck me as really good! I read enough to decide it was art, not porn — that the sensuous imagery was there to enhance poetic and spiritual themes. Whether my writer-relative would have agreed with my literary verdict is another question. Maybe yes, maybe no. But either way, she isn’t — so far as I know — a writer of erotic anything. She may not want that associated with her personal “brand”.

Now as it happens, that website no longer exists, and the associated domain (matching my relative’s name) is once more on the market. So the name you want isn’t always gone for good. The person who owns it may decline to renew it, in which case you can still grab it before someone else does.

4. You can leave it to your heirs.

The idea of “digital property” isn’t yet strongly imprinted on public consciousness. But it will be. It’s often said that web domains are a form of real estate: They’re the cyberspace equivalent of land. Once you own a parcel (a web-name), it’s yours (as long as you pay the dirt-cheap annual renewal fee). It will grow in value, even if you do little or nothing to monetize it. But especially if you do.

Within a few years, I expect a new social trend: Young people who are raising families — and lucky enough, or smart enough, already to own their own web-names — will name their children after themselves just so those children can continue to use those web-names after the parents are gone.

It’s already true that plenty of foresighted parents register their children’s web-names as soon as those children are born (or before). And in some cases, the availability of web-names may influence the choice of names for their children.

If you own your own name now, there’s a good chance that your children (or perhaps their grandchildren) will one day name their children after you so they can use the web-name they inherited from you. If this strikes you as far-fetched, look around: Do you see anything happening now that you would have considered far-fetched, say, 10 years ago?

5. If, after owning your own name for a while, you decide you don’t want it — you can sell it.

Well, generally you can sell it, anyway. I paid a pretty penny for “GaryMatthews.com”; but I’m pretty sure that within a few years, I’ll be able to sell it to one of the other Gary Matthewses for a lot more than I paid. (Don’t even ask: It isn’t for sale, and it won’t be for sale later. Because no matter what you’d be willing to pay me for it, just owning it is worth more to me.)

6. Owning your own name is cheap.

Well, it’s cheap anyway, if someone else doesn’t already own it. If you have to buy it from a previous owner (the way I bought mine), all bets are off.

But if your name isn’t already registered, you probably can get it for under $10.00. Plus there’s an annual renewal fee. Maybe $14.00 or $15.00 if you pay full price. Less if you renew for multiple years at a time. Since you plan on owning your own name forever, that isn’t a problem.

How do you register your web-name? Just do an Internet search for “domain name registration”, and you’ll find hundreds of places wanting to help you.

I currently use GoDaddy.com as my domain registrar. But I’ve heard great things about NameCheap.com and other registrars. (I’ve also heard some pretty awful things about some of them, so please take care.)

And if you find the prospect intimidating, contact me using this website’s contact page. I’ll talk you through the process or discuss your options. No charge! If you like the free service I provide, you can thank me by hiring me to design your website. If you want a website.

But remember, you don’t necessarily need a website. You should own your own name anyway. It just makes sense.

You can read about my own struggles with this issue here, here, and here.


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