Why Online Real Estate Matters for Your Small Business

ScreamToday A Guest Post from President and COO of www.reputationchanger.com, Mike Zammuto.

Have you ever gone to sign up for a new URL for a company website or blog — or perhaps to activate a company Twitter account or Facebook page — and been disappointed to find that the account name or URL you hoped for had already been claimed by someone else? This is, of course, hugely frustrating — because once those pieces of online real estate are claimed, there is really nothing you can do to win them back! Losing out on these key online properties is not just a source of frustration, however. It is also seriously bad news for your online branding and reputation management efforts.

Consider these two facts. For one, the domains associated with your branded terms — i.e., YourCompanyName.com — are the ones that are likely going to show up when someone searches for your small business on Google or Bing. Naturally, you want to make sure that the page is filled out with positive information about your brand! Second, it is far from unheard of for rival companies and even disgruntled employees to seize these online properties and use them for purposes of online defamation and embarrassment; to avoid “phantom” URLs or Facebook pages, operating under your brand name, it is imperative to snatch up these online assets as promptly as possible!

Considering Your Branded Terms

The first question that a small business owner faces is simply this: Which online assets do you need to obtain? Here it is important to think through all of your branded terms. Obviously, you want the domains associated with your company or brand name. If your brand is something somewhat generic — if you own a Chinese restaurant called China Buffet, for example — you may also want to register some geographically specific online assets (i.e., ChinaBuffetNYC.org, or ChinaBuffetAsheville.net) in order to distinguish yourself.

It is not just your brand name that you should consider. What would it mean for your company, were your key executives to become subjects of online defamation? Protect against this by buying the online domains associated with your most visible leaders. You might even register the assets associated with your products, if your products have specific, branded names — something like “iPhone” or “Big Mac.”

A Word About Exact Match Domains

It is important, here, to note that Google has imposed some regulations against the widespread use of “exact match” domains — which means that if you create websites under YourBrand.com, org, and .net, you may actually end up receiving search engine penalties. Even so, it is a good idea to buy all of these domains. You may not use them all, but simply stocking up on them will prevent others from using them against you!

A Checklist of Assets

Small business owners should begin this process by thinking critically about the branded terms they need to protect — but once this is done, it comes time to actually register for the appropriate online assets. Which kinds of online real estate do companies need to lay claim to? There are a few items worth noting.

We have already suggested that buying the proper domain names is important. You absolutely want to be the one to have control over what is posted to YourBrand.com, .org, and.net, and you want to have similar control over the domains associated with your products and your key executives.

Beyond that, it is important to consider the ways in which a potential customer or client might search for you on the Web. What if your company is called Sammie’s Widget Emporium? Is it possible that some clients will search for you under the name Sammy’s? If so, obtaining the domain associated with this spelling variant might prove helpful.

The geographically specific domains can also prove handy. Again, simply think through how people might search for your company. If Sammie’s Widget Emporium is located in Charleston, South Carolina, there is a decent chance that folks will search for “Sammie’s Widgets Charleston” — and as such, you want to make sure you, not your business rivals, have control over SammiesWidgetsCharleston.com!

More Items on the Checklist

Gaining control of these pieces of online real estate is important, but there are still further assets over which small businesses might lay claim. These are the social media accounts. Again, you may not use all of the social media accounts associated with your brand — but it is prudent to establish your control over as many of them as possible. Your checklist should include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and even Pinterest and Instagram.

Snatching up all of these online assets is something that may take a little bit of time — but it is time well spent. Obtaining these online properties effectively insulates your brand from online reputation assaults down the road. As such, it can afford small business owners some peace of mind about how their companies are portrayed on the Web.

Before becoming President and COO of www.reputationchanger.com, Mike Zammuto worked with a number of leading Internet companies. Reputation Changer offers a variety of online reputation management services.

About Simon Salt

Simon Salt has been creating online content since 1993 and blogging since 2000. He is an author, speaker and digital strategist. He can be found on most social networks as "incslinger". When he isn't working he is either taking photographs or riding his motorcycle - sometimes at the same time.