Having your own domain name, even if it's not perfect, is far more important than building your online presence on top of another service's URL, e.g. yourshop.shopify.com or facebook.com/yourcompany. This practice of building your brand, service or web presence on another organization's platform is an example of "sharecropping". It can be problematic for a number of reasons.
The other platform you're hosted on controls how your presence can look or function (e.g. templates and tiered feature offerings depending on how much you pay). The other platform can change services or raise rates, leaving you little recourse since not accepting/paying could mean losing your site.
The other platform can control how much exposure you get. There've been lots of articles about issues with brands on Facebook getting ever-lessening exposure of their content to their fans if they don't pay for advertising. The other platform can limit your access to analytics, making it hard to know how large your audience actually is, what they're doing on your site, or where they're engaging when they're there.
Or the other platform could simply take your site offline without much notice, explanation or recourse if you are deemed to have violated terms of service or other issues. It can take a lot of time and frustration to get these issues sorted out, and all the while your site is unavailable to anyone.
You can always switch domains later, but start with a web address you can control and build up your search engine visibility. A very specific domain name is less important than it was 10 years ago because more people use search engines or recommendations from friends via social sites like Facebook and Twitter.
If someone isn't using the domain I want, can I have it?
No. Well, not without the owner agreeing to transfer it to you.
If a domain is registered to someone else, they have paid for it and own it. Having an active website is not required to own a domain. As long as the person pays to renew ownership, no one else can have the domain, even if they don't appear to be using it, unless that person agrees to transfer or sell the domain, or lets it expire. (Or, in some cases, if their ownership or usage of the domain violates someone else's trademark.)
Asking a registrar to take a domain for you won't work, either. We have no more legal right to remove it from the owner than you do, and this applies globally, not just in a specific country.
Think of it in reverse: if someone else decided they wanted your domain, would you be okay with us just taking it from you and giving it to them, regardless of what you were doing with it?
This is part three of a six-part series to help you find your ideal domain name. Continue on to the next part or jump to another part in the series:
- Someone has registered the domain I want. Help!
- How do I pick a domain that people will remember?
- Why it's important to have you own domain and web presence
- What is domain squatting/cybersquatting?
- Someone has registered a domain with my trademark. What do I do?
- How do I find out if the domain I want becomes available?