Many Newspapers Have a Domain Name Problem

By: Steve Outing

A feature of most of the new generation of Web browsers allows users to type a simple company name to get to that company’s Web site. Type simply “ibm” and you get the IBM home page, http://www.ibm.com. Type “sony” and you get the Sony Corporation home page. Type “newyorktimes” and get — oops, an error message. Or “wallstreetjournal” or “miamiherald” — sorry, you’re out of luck.

In a survey last week of newspaper new media managers who participate in the online-newspapers Internet mailing list, I asked if their organizations owned the “.com” domain names for their newspaper brands. If you are the Sacramento Bee, you would own sacramentobee.com, for example. I found that a majority of newspapers do not own the domain name for their full brands, often solely using a shortened version instead.

A typical example is the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, which use the domain names www.herald.com and www.elherald.com. The Knight-Ridder-owned Florida newspapers do not own the domains miamiherald.com nor elnuevoherald.com. So if a Web user who doesn’t know the address (URL) of the Miami Herald simply types “miamiherald” into her Web browser, she won’t get to the newspaper’s site and will have to divine the address some other way — perhaps guessing that it’s www.herald.com, or going to a search site like Yahoo! to track down the paper.

Problem? Yes!

Is this a problem? Some of the managers I surveyed think not, but I disagree. Here’s why:

Experienced Web users know by now that many sites use abbreviated URLs, and have figured out ways to find sites. When “newyorktimes” fails, they’ll find that “nytimes” or “nyt” does get to the right place. But millions of new Internet users are being taught about the new Web browser feature and know to simply type in a company name to find a site. If your publication does not own “newspapername.com”, then users who aren’t regular visitors will have a hard time finding you.

Most newspapers don’t use their full name in their domain names because it would make their Web addresses too long. The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal uses as its primary URL projo.com, which is easy to remember and quick for a user to type. But the Journal also owns providencejournal.com, so when a Web user types in the newspaper name, they are automatically directed to the main Journal home page. This is the model that all newspaper Web sites should follow, in my view.

The consequence of not owning the domain name with your full newspaper name is primarily lost audience; people who try to find your site by doing the obvious (typing in your paper’s name) are thwarted and may never find your site. But there’s another danger, represented by the experience of the Detroit News. That paper uses the domain detnews.com. Type in “detroitnews” (or the full www.detroitnews.com) and you’ll find yourself at another Web site operated by another company (which owns that domain name). Web users expecting to find the site of the Detroit News by typing “detroitnews” find themselves at an unrelated site.

In my survey, I found a few newspaper online managers who had not considered this issue before and reported to me that they now plan to register additional domain names with their full newspaper names, then redirect traffic from those domains to their primary (and already well-known) addresses.

The cost of doing this is minimal: $100 up front in registration fees for the first two years per additional domain name, and $50 per year thereafter. For most companies, it’s a small price to make sure that Internet users can find them. Comments Neil Chase, an assistant professor teaching new media at Northwestern University’s school of journalism, “It seems crazy to invest in setting up a site and then not spend a small extra amount to buy a front door that will let people come in. Unless someone else already is using the name, I can’t imagine these huge media companies wouldn’t get names like rockymountainnews and newyorktimes and point them to the right sites.”

Says Matt Cohen, chief technology officer for New Century Network, “There’s really no reason (other than the hundred bucks) for sites not to register anything they think users might type in — perhaps even common misspellings!”

Some papers already do it right, of course. The domain name for the Washington Post is WashingtonPost.com, so a user typing in the newspaper name gets to the right place. That domain name is also the name of the service, so it’s simple to remember. Type in “denverpost” on your browser and you’ll get to the Web site of the Denver Post. That’s much better than the Rocky Mountain News (another Denver daily), which uses the not so memorable “denver-rmn.com” address; “rockymountainnews” gets you nowhere.

A sampling

Here are a few samples, gleaned from my informal survey, of how other newspaper sites are dealing (or not) with this issue:

* Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio): Primary domain used is ohio.com, but the paper also owns beaconjournal.com. Says site director Michael Carmean, “We’re delighted that folks can simply type ‘ohio’ and find our site.”
* Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico): Uses abqjournal.com. Online supervisor Nancy Tipton says that albuquerquejournal.com is too long, and she doesn’t think this is a legitimate issue. “On our comment form we ask people how they found us,” she says. “Many say ‘in the newspaper’ (we list the URL several places in the paper every day); most everyone else says ‘Yahoo!’ or search engine. After they find you once, and decide to go back, most folks bookmark the site or learn the URL.”
* Daytona Beach News-Journal (Florida): Primary domain is n-jcenter.com, but the paper also owns news-jrnl.com. Managing editor of online services Emery Jeffreys says the paper deals with the domain name issue “by promoting ourselves and using our Web address wherever possible. … The arcane names used (by news sites) are sometimes an identity problem, because people don’t often think before they obtain a domain.”
* Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville): Primary domain is jacksonville.com, but paper also owns times-union.com and several others. “We think we’re in pretty good shape,” says a newspaper representative.
* Florida Today: The paper owns flatoday.com, floridatoday.com and spaceonline.com. (Space Online is the name of the paper’s Web site.)
* The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada): Primary domain is theglobeandmail.com, but the paper also owns globeandmail.com and globeandmail.ca.
* Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Hawaii): Owns only the domain starbulletin.com. Managing editor David Shapiro says he plans to register honolulustarbulletin.com, as well.
* Indianapolis Star-News (Indiana): Primary domain is starnews.com. The Star also owns indystar.com and indianapolisstar.com, but has not deployed them yet.
* Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee): Owns knoxnews.com (primary address), knews.com and other domains for specialty Web sites. Online director Jack Lail says, “I’ve been trying to raise the branding identification of our Web sites. However, you raise a good point, one worth the hundred bucks or so for Internic registration.”
* Modesto Bee (California): Main domain name is modbee.com. Online news manager Tom Rouillard says there are no immediate plans to address this issue. “I don’t see this as a major problem,” he says.
* Nando.net: The McClatchy Newspapers new media company uses nando.net as its primary domain name. But it also owns nando.com, so a Web user typing simply “nando” would get to the Nando site.
* Nashville Banner (Tennessee): Uses nashvillebanner.com, as well as other domains for specialty Web sites.
* San Jose Mercury News: Primary domain is sjmercury.com. The company also owns mercurynews.com and mercurycenter.com, both of which take you to the Mercury Center home page.
* Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Washington): Primary domain is seattle-pi.com; also owns nwvoice.com and p-i.com. New media manager Lee Rozen says he hadn’t planned to address this issue, but may now. But, “who can spell Intelligencer?” he quips.
* Vancouver Sun/The Province (British Columbia, Canada): These papers are in good shape. Primary domain names are vancouversun.com and vancouverprovince.com. The Southam papers also own the shorter names theprovince.com and vansun.com, as well as vancouvernewspapers.com.

A .com issue

Of course, sites that have domain names with country name suffixes are out of luck on this issue. The Web browser feature that allows you to type in “companyname” assumes that you are looking for companyname.com. It won’t help if the real site is companyname.uk. Perhaps in the future, browsers will have to read the country domain of the user and search selective for the right end of the URL, suggests Brazilian Internet journalist and entrepreneur Sergio Charlab.

Some non-U.S. Web sites deal with the issue by getting a .com domain in addition to a domain with their country suffix. The Western Producer in Saskatoon, Canada, for instance, owns producer.com and producer.ca, so a user who types just “producer” finds the site. (The agricultural newspaper does not own westernproducer.com or .ca, since “this isn’t a burning issue for us,” says technical services manager Dave Balderstone.)

Need to register a domain name?

In case I’ve convinced you that you need to register an additional .com domain name, here’s where to go to do so: http://rs.internic.net/rs-internic.html

Movin’ On

Michael Carmean is leaving Ohio.com, the Web service of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, to become editor-in-chief of Alabama Live, which is part of Advance Publications Internet (a Newhouse property).

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at [email protected]

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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