Also available as podcast (Episode #90)
What Website Domain Should I Use With My New RIA?
Choosing a website domain (i.e. the “.com” part of your website) is an exciting part of the process of transitioning your practice to an independent path. Being able to create your own brand, and how you market your services is a motivator for why financial advisors seek independence. Your website, and the domain name clients and prospective clients will use to find it, is an important part of it. There are both logistical and creative considerations to be aware of when working to acquire a domain to use.
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What website domain should I use with my new RIA? That is today’s question on the Transition To RIA question and answer series. It is episode #90.
Hi, I’m Brad Wales with Transition To RIA where I help you understand everything there is to know about why, and how to transition to the RIA model.
If you’re not already there, head to TransitionToRIA.com, where you’ll find all of the resources I make available to help you better understand the RIA model. This entire series is available in video format, podcast format. I have articles, I have whitepapers.
Today’s episode will probably be a quick one, but this is one of the more fun aspects of potentially moving your practice into the RIA model.
While the title of this episode is, “What Website Domain Should I Use With My New RIA?,” this also applies if you were to join an RIA, and that RIA’s value prop allows you to use your own brand.
This is one of the fun topics of going independent. There are a lot of variables that I talk about on these episodes that go into what it takes to transition into the RIA model: how to solve for compliance, how to solve for technology, those sorts of things. Those are very important. They’re just not things that typically get you excited. They’re the necessary blocking and tackling.
What is exciting about this topic is the idea that you are launching your own business, you are going to have your own brand in the marketplace, how you’re going to position the brand.
Depending on the affiliation model you’ve been at so far in your career, you possibly haven’t been able to do any of that, or maybe if you have, it’s been very limited.
Being able to say, “How am I going to market my firm? What am I going to call my firm?,” that’s the exciting part of making a transition.
Part of establishing a new brand is having a website domain that goes with it. You might think there’s not much to that, but as you’ll see on today’s episode, I want to go through a couple of important tips.
I’m not a marketing guru, and I don’t claim to be a marketing guru. But having started my own business years ago, I understood how important this is. Whether it’s a new RIA, or you join an RIA that you’re going to use your own brand, this is part of the process.
What we’re talking about is the “.com” of a website. The domain, which is sometimes referred to as the “URL.” Such-and-such-wealthmanagement.com.
You must own a domain to be able to use it with your website. The question is, “How do I obtain that? What should I be aware of?” That’s what we’re going to talk about here.
A custom domain can be very helpful in your business development efforts. Consider two advisors in the marketplace. They both focus on dentists.
The first, because they’re already an RIA, can use their own brand and their own domain name. Their domain is, just making this up – I’m sure someone already has this – is DentistFinancialAdvisor.com.
The other advisor, also working to attract dentists, works at one of the large wirehouse firms. The best they’re allowed to use for a domain is the equivalent of largebrokerdealer.com/privateclients/northeastregion/boston/such-and-such-group.
That happens. Look up advisors at large firms. That’s typically the type of website page they have. It’s a convoluted domain name, which no one is ever going to type in individually. You’re never going to mention that to someone and expect them to use it.
Of those two advisors, who has the better advantage in the marketplace to be able to get clients to go to their website and take interest in their services?
Who looks more focused on dentists? The one that’s literally DentistFinancialAdvisor.com, or the one with the convoluted long domain name?
If you’re in the latter boat, the good news is with a move to the RIA model, you’re going to have some options of what domain you could potentially use. Again, that’s what we’re talking about here.
I’m going to run through a couple rules to keep in mind when selecting a domain.
Tip #1 – You must use a “.com” domain.
First, you need to have a .com.
Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, it was very limited. Your options we’re mostly a .com, a .net, a .org, and maybe one or two other ones. Now, there are dozens, if not hundreds of potential domain types you could use.
I’m of the belief the marketplace puts a higher value on a .com. Even if something is available as a .net or a .co, or a dot whatever, try your best to find an available domain that is a .com. That’s a table stakes rule.
By the way, I should back up. For those of you that have never acquired a domain, the way that works is you go to what’s referred to as a domain registrar. Arguably the most famous of those is GoDaddy, though there are several others as well.
You go to a domain registrar and you type in a domain that you’re hoping is available. And what I mean by available is, if someone has already purchased it, it’s not available for you to use.
Go to GoDaddy, they have a search feature. Type in a domain you think you might want, and it will tell you if it’s available or if someone has already acquired it.
Sometimes if it’s already owned, there might be an offering price of which you could acquire it from the owner. But the idea is initially try looking for one that is available, that someone doesn’t currently already own.
So again, go to a domain registrar like GoDaddy. It will ask you what kind of domain you’re seeking, a .com, a .net, a dot whatever. Rule number one, though, do your best to find an available domain that’s a .com. That’s what the marketplace puts more value on, it has a more professional look to it.
Now, considering domains have been sold for decades, a lot of them are already taken, most of them are already taken. Try not to get discouraged with your search.
Tip #2 – Chose a domain that is either your brand name, or descriptive of your client offering.
So, the question is, what domain will work for you?
Try to find a domain that either matches the name of the firm you plan to launch, or look for a domain that is descriptive of who you serve, or what your client offering is.
Consider, DentistFinancialAdvisor.com. I didn’t look it up prior to recording this episode, but my guess is that’s some wealth management firm, and they have a different actual name of the firm and a different brand, but because that’s their niche, the domain that they acquired, that they use, is descriptive of who their clientele is.
So, as you explore names to try to register as your .com, either think about something that goes along with the name of your proposed firm, or is descriptive of the services or the clientele that you’re looking to attract.
Either approach is not necessarily better than the other, just something to think about. And you’re going to have to be flexible because so there’s many domains already taken. You’re going to have to find something that’s available.
Tip #3 – The shorter the domain, the better.
The next tip, the shorter, the better.
Now, this is easy to suggest, harder to implement.
If you think you’re going to get a one-word domain – something.com – I guarantee you almost every word out there is already taken, unless you invent some kind of new word that’s a combination of things. Something like advisor.com was probably taken 20 years ago.
The next best thing is ideally two or three words in the domain. If you can find one that works for your brand, that works for perhaps a niche that you’re serving, two to three words max is the ideal.
If it’s five, six, seven words.com….first, that looks sloppy on your marketing materials. It’s harder for someone to remember. It doesn’t have the same professionalism that the marketplace reflects on a shorter domain. So, the shorter the better.
But again, it is a challenge because most one-word and two-word combinations have already been taken. You’ll need to be flexible, but the shorter the better if you can.
Tip #4 – Trademark concerns aren’t as much of a worry.
I often hear the advice that when picking a domain you should make sure the name is not already trademarked. That you might one day have issues using the domain, if it’s been trademarked by someone else. Which if coming from an attorney, that’s likely the advice they’ll give.
The more practical advice, in my opinion, is it’s less of a concern. If you have a phrase or a name in one industry, that doesn’t necessarily stop someone from using a similar name in an entirely different industry, because there’s not going to be any confusion among clients.
I’m not a trademark attorney, so I’m not going to profess to know all the details, and you can always complete a trademark search if you’d like. But from a practical standpoint, if someone has gone to the trouble and the cost of trademarking a name, they’ve almost guaranteed to have already acquired the .com that goes with that name.
If you find a .com that works for you, it is very slight chance that someone has trademarked that. Obtaining a trademark is a much longer process, more expensive process than buying a domain.
This is not a foolproof test, but just be careful before you worry too much about spending hundreds, or thousands of dollars doing a trademark search. Again, if someone has trademarked it already, they’ve most likely already bought the associated .com as well.
Tip #5 – Buy a domain immediately if you think you might want to use it.
I don’t know if this is still an issue, but this was a tip I first heard years ago. On the chance it is still applicable, I recommend you take this advice.
When you’re searching for combinations of words in a domain, and you find one that is available, if there’s even a remote chance that might be the one you use long term (you can always buy other domains too, if you eventually find something you like better), buy it right then.
It varies by domain registrar, but domains are roughly 20 bucks to buy, and it’s usually about 20 bucks every year to renew them. They’re very inexpensive to acquire.
There is a central database where all domain registrations are stored. A domain registrar queries the database to see if a domain is available for purchase.
Years ago, some people somehow built bots or some sort of technology that could recognize when the database was checked for a particular domain, but where the person doing the requesting did not in turn immediately buy it.
When those bad actors saw that, they would go in and buy that domain for themselves, figuring the person requesting it might come back soon to try and buy it. The bad guys would acquire it for $20, and then attempt to sell it to the person that initially wanted it for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
That’s a game that was played. I don’t know if it’s still played. I hope the registrars have found a solution to that. But just to be sure, if you find a domain that even remotely might work for you, buy it. It’s only ~$20. You don’t have to renew it next year if you don’t want to. It’s not going to cost you much. Don’t wait on it if there’s any chance that that domain might work for you.
Tip #6 – Make sure ownership details of your domain are kept private.
This next tip is particularly relevant to those of you that are in a captive environment now, where part of your transition – and this is standard in the industry – is that you would work through all these pre-transition steps without your current firm knowing.
For some of you, if your current firm found out you were looking to make a move to the RIA model, unfortunately, some firms would terminate you on the spot.
So all these steps that need to be taken care of, you’re doing behind the scenes, after hours, on weekends, etc. That’s nothing shady. That’s unfortunately how the industry needs to operate in many cases because a lot of firms will not take kindly if they find out you’re looking.
Accordingly, if you buy a domain name, and that information gets recorded in the domain database, isn’t there a chance – albeit remote – that your firm somehow discovers you have acquired a domain that would indicate you’re probably going to start your own firm (because it’s the brand of your future firm, or it’s DentistFinancialAdvisors.com, etc.?)
While the chances of them realizing it are slim, it’s not a risk worth having to worry about.
Most domain registrars nowadays offer a solution. GoDaddy calls it “domain by proxy” where instead of your personal information being listed as the owner of a domain in the central database, it is GoDaddy’s information listed (but behind the scenes you are the owner.)
That’s also for your privacy. Your name, email address, whatnot, is not out there for public consumption. People can’t grab it and perhaps start sending you spam email.
Main takeaway, there is a way to protect yourself so your firm can’t stumble across that you’ve been buying domains for this future venture.
Domain registrars typically charge a little extra for this privacy feature. It might be another roughly $10 per domain per year. It’s money well spent. No matter what domain registrar you might use, make sure they have some sort of similar privacy feature.
Tip #7 – You can buy a domain before hiring a marketing/website company.
If you launch your own firm, your own brand, you will likely be hiring a marketing firm to help you with, among other things, the creation of a website.
You do not have to acquire your domain through that marketing firm that you hire. If you haven’t yet acquired a domain, they can surely help with the process. But you do not have to wait for their assistance before you can begin searching for, and potentially buying domains. You can do everything I’ve been talking about on this episode whenever you want.
Go to GoDaddy, or whatever domain registrar you want to use, and search for available domains. Buy one if you find one you like. If/when you engage a marketing firm in the future to create your website, there are instructions you tell the registrar (domain name server instructions) that connects your domain to wherever your marketing firm is hosting your website.
Main point, you can begin this process without engaging a marketing firm. I’d even encourage you to regardless, because on the chance one day you want to go in a different direction and change the marketing firm you’ve hired, you don’t want your domain to be tied up through them and must unwind that.
Just acquire domains on your own. Even if you think you might not transition for 6 months, 12 months, 6 years from now, you can always try to acquire domains now while they are still available.
But your brand, how you’re going to present yourself, what your logo’s going to look like, what your website domain is going to be, what you’re going to put on everything, how your clients are going to find you, that’s a fun part! And you can begin that process now.
Even if you’re not sure yet if you’re going to go to the RIA model, on the chance you might, you are going to need a domain. You might as well start playing with that now.
Don’t get discouraged though. It’s possible that the first dozen domains you search for are already taken. Just keep trying different variations and hopefully you can find something that you’re proud of, and that is available for purchase.
You can acquire it now and use it at any point in the future, as long as you keep renewing it every year. It’s always yours to have in your back pocket.
As I said at the top, my name is Brad Wales with Transition To RIA. Today’s topic is part of the transition process of going into the RIA model. That’s what I help advisors with. Understanding all the things you need to be doing to transition your practice into the model.
At the top of every page is a contact link. Click on that, you can instantly and easily schedule time to have a one-on-one conversation with me. Does the RIA model make sense for your practice. If so, how do you transition to it?
Today’s topic is just a small slice of that, but it is part of the process. I’m happy to have that conversation with you.
With that, I hope you found value in today’s episode, and I’ll see you on the next one.
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