A Domain By Any Other Name

By Lauren Simonds | Posted March 14, 2005

Just about any small business owner who's tried to find an available domain name ending in .com can tell you it's like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Nearly every word you can come up with has been dot-commed, and that's left SMBs looking for other top-level domains (TLD) suitable for marketing their business. Since there are a limited number of TLDs, it hasn't been easy. But things just got a bit easier for professional and service oriented SMBs.

EnCirca, an ICANN-accredited registrar based in Reading, Mass., is now selling the top-level domain .pro. The .pro domain became available to licensed professionals last summer (the TLD is owned by Registry Pro), but qualifying for and buying a .pro domain name was complicated and expensive.

Domain Levels
The .pro domain name hasn't caught on in any great way mainly because the registration process was very convoluted. According to Tom Barrett, EnCirca's president, the .pro suffix was available only in four professions (lawyers, accountants, doctors and engineers) and as a third-level domain, meaning: law.pro, cpa.pro, med.pro, and eng.pro.

To qualify for a third-level domain, you had to provide legal proof of licensure. A third-level domain name, which, for someone named Smith, looks like this: Smith.law.pro, Smith.cpa.pro, Smith.med.pro or Smith.eng.pro.

Only after registering (and paying) for a third-level domain name were you eligible for the more desirable second-level domain name, i.e., Smith.pro. That second-level name acted as an alias, sending anyone who entered it into a browser to your third-level domain site (i.e., Smith.med.pro).

Still with me? Hang on, it gets worse.

Now, if you didn't want an alias, your other option was to buy another third-level domain name from a different profession, i.e., if you originally bought a med.pro, you had to then buy a cpa.pro or eng.pro — which also required another proof of license Ultimately, you'd end up paying $497 a year for three domain names. Is it any wonder the .pro domain name hasn't taken hold?

Taming the Domain
EnCirca claims that you can now register for second-level domain names without all the unruly complications — or expense — of the past. "This is the first time professionals will be able to purchase a .pro name without having to provide a license," said Barrett. "The .pro name is now available for all kinds of service professionals who want to brand themselves as experts within their field." Barrett said this domain could benefit SMBs in a wide-range of industries and professions not previously supported including:

Architects Optometrists
Certified financial analysts Pharmacists
Certified financial planners Physician assistants
Dentists Physical therapists
Educators Podiatrists
Human resource experts Psychologists
Insurance agents Public relations professionals
Nurses Realtors
Nutritionists Veterinarians

Search Engines and Keywords
Barrett claims that the .pro domain name gives small business professionals a more cost-effective means of competing and of marketing their business on the Internet. "Every word in the English language is registered as a .com domain name," said Barrett. "It might cost you $20,000 to buy "broker.com," but you can buy "broker.pro" for $49."

Barrett also says that businesses using a .pro name will appear higher in Web search rankings because search engines place a higher weight on a domain name that matches a keyword. "Small business professionals have not been able to competitively market themselves in the .com realm, but a .pro service name like www.loans.pro is memorable and carries the same online 'weight' as a .com domain name."

Pricing
Through March 31, you can buy a second-level .pro domain name (for example, www.fitness.pro) for $49 per year. After March 31, the price reverts to $99 per year.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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