8 Companies Who Didn’t Own Their Domain Names

Conversion Rate Optimisation

How important is it that your website URL matches your company name?

Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of Buffer, doesn’t think it’s that important when starting out.

Having a matching domain name seems to have no bearing at all on whether you will succeed with your startup”.

He cites several hugely successful businesses who didn’t use name.com in the beginning, including Twitter and Dropbox.

However, an unmatching domain or not owning your top level domains (TLDs) such as .com or .co.uk can cause issues. Buying your optimum domain after the business has launched frequently costs more money but worse, it can cost you customers and reputation. An unconventional TLD can even be a major threat to business continuity.

Read on for the stories behind these eight companies and their domains:

Adapted company name

  1. Buffer; bufferapp.com

  2. On 10 March 2015 Buffer announced that they had acquired buffer.com. The previous owners were SealGuard Heat Sealing Buffers who were, understandably, reluctant to part with the web address.

    Buffer has changed domain names once before. It started out as bfffr.com and then bufferapp.com. At this time buffer.com redirects to bufferapp.com. So why did Buffer want buffer.com?

    Buffer tells of the confusion the competing web addressed caused: “our customers landed on buffer.com and tried to call them to discuss a credit card charge.” This was greatly damaging to Buffer’s customer service delivery. It’s likely that potential leads were also landing on the wrong website and phoning the wrong company as a result.

    Buffer realised that this problem could continue and eventually decided they should in fact acquire the .com domain. It took several more years before they were able to reach a deal.

  3. Roost; goroost.com

  4. Roost, the web app for push notifications, makes do with goroost.com. Previously their website was roost.me, this now redirects to goroost.com.

    Roost.com is actually owned by a startup who act as a middle man for renting space (parking and storage) in San Francisco. Unhappily for them when I did an internet search for ‘roost’ goroost.com ranked higher. This indicates to me that having the perfect URL won’t win you the top spot in search results.

  5. Firefly; fireflylegal.com

  6. Firefly, a legal services firm, changed its name from Amicus. The change in name was a careful branding exercise, designed to evoke a friendly and illuminating image of the firm. Not holding firefly.com didn’t stop the name change. Instead Firefly’s website sits at fireflylegal.com. In this case the website includes an industry-specific modifier. Although this strays from the name.com format it could actually add clarity to Firefly’s digital presence by confirming it as a legal practice.

  7. Basecamp; basecamp.com

  8. Basecamp, the project management app, is owned by 37Signals. Until early 2012 their website url was BaseCampHQ.com. Co-founder Jason Fried has spoken about why they didn’t start out on their ideal domain name:

    Basecamp.com wasn’t available at the time. We loved the name so we picked a different domain. Product names are bigger than domains.

    Fried was actively pursuing the acquisition of basecamp.com though, ultimately buying it and transferring the product to that domain.

    Is .com still best?

    Up until 2000 the only domain suffix worth a damn was .com. That has changed. Now top-level domains (TLDs), like .co are well regarded.

    In the future we may see brands creating their own suffixes e.g. .nike or .apple. So a product page for Apple might have the URL ipad.apple. Industries are carving out their own TLDs too e.g. .hotel and .info.

    However .com addresses are still highly sought after. The three examples below tell a variety of stories of companies transitioning to .com.

  9. ProductHunt.com

  10. Product Hunt started out on the domain producthunt.co and has since moved to producthunt.com.

    This may have been a strategic move to get the business up and running and then buy the more expensive domain name later. On the other hand, maybe not; Product Hunt was so unassuming about its future success that it didn’t even have a website in it’s first inception. It was simply an email list.

  11. AltaVista.com

  12. Search engine Alta Vista spent four years at the lengthy address www.altavista.digital.com before Compaq bought out Digital in 1998 and in the process acquired altavista.com. By failing to secure the shorter domain sooner the purchase ended up costing Compaq $3.3m. The purchase still ranks in the top 30 most expensive domain names of all time.

  13. Bitly.com

  14. Bitly, the link shortening service, original used bit.ly before switching to bitly.com in 2011. say they chose bit.ly as a domain name because of how it looked and sounded, “evocative of small bits, loosely coupled”. .ly in fact denotes the county code for Libya, which has caused issues for several websites.

    In 2010 Libyan authorities shut down a similar link shortening site vb.ly for apparently contravening Sharia law. The following year Libya shut down internet access for much of the country, raising panic that shortened links using .ly would all break. Bit.ly’s didn’t. They explained in a statement at the time that their two servers in Libya were back up by three more elsewhere and all links were duplicated on bitly.com.

    Ultimately Bitly did migrate to a .com domain as their main hub, indicating that .ly was either too risky or too controversial.

    Despite the potential issues, new companies are still choosing to use .ly TLDs to complete English words e.g. generalassemb.ly.

  15. Apple.com

  16. Apple didn’t own apple.co.uk until 2012. Up to that point it seemed like Apple didn’t care much about domain names. However, given that another legitimate business held the domain for 16 years, we can confidently assume that Apple paid a lot for the domain in the end. Were they driven to do so by a strong business need?

    The co.uk site redirects to .com. As yet Apple don’t own ipad.com or ipad.co.uk.

    Ultimately what Joel Gascoigne said appears to ring true, domain name doesn’t hinder success at the beginning. However, it’s also clear that not owning the domain name that matches your company name can have detrimental consequences.

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