If you already have a business, you probably want to use your business name for your website and email address. However, this is often not possible, because another company will already be using your business name for their website.
This also applies if you’re starting a new business and have chosen a catchy name. Someone may have already thought of the same name and be using it for their business and website.
In this article, we’ll show you how to check if your business name is in use, where to look, and what to do if someone else is using it.
1. Check for registered business names.
Companies House keeps a record of every UK business, whether registered or no longer trading. You can type in your business name (or part of it, if more than one word), to see matching results.
Note that Companies House only shows UK registered businesses, i.e. Limited Companies, PLCs etc. Sole Traders do not have to register a business name they use for trading, although they cannot use a name that is already registered at Companies House. A Sole Trader will be officially listed as ‘Joe Bloggs, Trading As My Company’.
If you find a business with the same name in the Companies House registry, especially if tit is selling similar products or services to you, THINK CAREFULLY before choosing to use that same name. You will not be able to use the name if it identical to a registered name. But even a similar name may be a problem when you come to market your business.
Endole is a private business which (currently) offers a free search on UK business names using Companies House database. However, it also shows a summary of how well the company is doing, including their last accounts and financial balance. Endole also lists a website, if the business has registered a website with Companies House.
Choosing an alternative business name for online use
If your business name is taken, you need to choose another one, or a variation of it. Remember, your goal is to get your business noticed online. If there are dozens of other well-established companies using your business name, even if their business is different, you need to re-think your online business name. Otherwise you will have to work harder to get your business in the top listings of search engines.
Take ‘Nike’ for example. There are 555 companies registered at Companies House with ‘Nike’ in their business name. If you Google search ‘Nike’ or ‘Nike UK’ you only see results for the famous shoe brand.
Local businesses, trading in one area of the UK, may consider ‘mybusinesslondon.com’ or ‘mybusinessmidlands.com’. A retail shop business could consider ‘mybusinessshop.com’.
With every variation on your business name, go through the same checking process as above, and in the next steps below.
2. Google Search your business name.
Google Search is the ultimate repository of information on the web. If your business name is being used out there, somewhere, Google will find it. Search using both Google.co.uk and Google.com. They give different results.
Google.co.uk and Google.com will both show UK and International websites and web content related to your business name, but Google.co.uk will show more localised UK results.
If your customers are purely UK-based, you may be able to use a business name that is popular internationally (say in the US), but not in the UK.
3. Use a Domain Registrar to search for your website name.
Domain Registrars sell domain names. To do so, their websites have a search facility so customers can see if a domain name they want is available.
Many domain registrars show variations on a domain name. This gives you a choice of your business name with a number of different extensions. These extensions include the well-known ‘.com’, ‘.co.uk’,’.net’ and ‘.org’. There is also a growing number of new extensions such as ‘.music’, ‘.gifts’, ‘.info’, and business-related extensions such as ‘.construction’, ‘.engineering’ and ‘.flowers’.
Top Level Domains
These extensions are known as Top Level Domains, or TLD for short. A ‘.co.uk’ extension indicates a company based in the UK. In fact only UK-based businesses are legally allowed to buy a ‘.co.uk’ TLD. Recently, the organisation that manages every TLD in the world (ICANN) released ‘.uk’. It was said this would be a ‘snappier’ TLD for UK businesses. In reality it means that if a business owns ‘.co.uk’, it now has to buy ‘.uk’ too, at an additional cost. If it doesn’t, another business with the same business name can buy ‘.uk’.
Other TLD’s are not region specific. Anyone can by a domain with a TLD ‘.com’, or ‘.org’, or ‘.net’. However, the meaning of each is different – ‘.com’ is supposed to be for a business, ‘.org’ is supposed to be for a non-profit enterprise or service, and ‘.net’ is supposed to be for an online-only service.
Finding a business domain name.
So which domain name should you choose? Well, at this time, very few businesses are taking the new business-specific domain names (such as .photography) seriously. They are more expensive to buy, and ‘.com’ is still recognised world-wide as the leading TLD to have. Following .com, a location TLD – ‘.uk’, or ‘.fr’ is the preferred choice.
UK2.net has a good domain search. Being UK based it lists the availability of ‘.co.uk’, ‘.uk’ and ‘.com’ first, followed other popular TLD’s including ‘.net’. The search results show if a domain name is taken or available and gives a price, which is a discounted price for the first year.
If your business name is taken in any of the popular TLD’s, type the domain in your browser to see the website. Often, there may be no website for that domain. People and companies buy domains without publishing a website, either to reserve for future use, or to sell on and make money.
Choosing your domain name.
If your business name for a website is already taken, AND the business has a website doing something similar to yours, OR the business is large enough to dominate search engine results, choose another name.
However, if your business name is available, and your customer base is solely in the UK, then you should buy ‘.uk’ PLUS ‘.co.uk’. ‘.uk’ will eventually replace ‘.co.uk’ but you need to have both.
If you want to trade internationally, you should buy ‘.com’ and maybe the ‘.co.uk’ and ‘.uk’ versions too. This will safeguard your business brand.
If you are a non-profit organisation, or offering an online-only service, then ‘.org’ or ‘.net’ is a good second choice.
For now you can ignore all others!
‘.co’ is becoming popular as a shortened version of ‘.com’, but it is actually the Country TLD for Columbia. Columbia doesn’t place a restriction on who can register a ‘.co’ domain. Not yet anyway. There is always the possibility that, in the future, Columbia may restrict registration, or charge a lot more (whatever it wants) for ‘.co’ domains.
What about ‘.eu’? Well that’s a tricky one right now with Brexit underway. The European Commission announced that following Brexit, it would cancel 300,000 ‘.eu’ TLD domains owned by British people. Not very sporting of them!
Registering your Domain Name.
When you have found your available domain name, you can register it with UK2, or you can choose any other domain registrar. UK2 are good, but we prefer to use namecheap.com these days because their renewal charges are cheaper, they provide a cheaper SSL (Security) certificate for your domain. Additionally, Namecheap offer cheap hosting if you want to dabble in making a website.
You can also buy your domain from a hosting company such as SiteGround and will get the domain free for the first year. However, having your domain and hosting provided by different companies can be useful. (Read our article How to Get a Website for your Business.)
4. Get Social Media account names for your business.
At some point you may decide to use social media to promote your business. Most businesses do these days. The major social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, all offer business accounts which are free to sign up to. You only pay if you choose to advertise your business on their platform.
Ideally, you would want your social media accounts to be consistent across each platform – facebook.com/mybusinessname, twitter.com/mybusinessname etc. Like choosing a website name, it’s possible your preferred name has been taken. Try to choose a name that you can use across platforms, such as ‘mybusinessuk’ or .mybusinessshop’.
See our article Using Facebook for your business for information on how to sign up to Facebook.
Visit Instagram Business to sign up for a business account.
Sign up to Twitter for Business for a business account.
Sign up to Pinterest Business for a business account.
5. Register your Local Business with Google.
90% of website searches are done using Google. You want, know you NEED Google to know about your business!
Sign up for a FREE Google My Business account. Google My Business allows you to create a profile about your business which it will show when someone searches your business name.
This is particularly useful if you have a retail shop or office that you want customers to find. Google will show a map to your business. You can also publish your opening hours and show photos of your shop and products.
One of the most useful features is that your customers can leave a review about your business. They have to have a Google account to do so (anyone with an Android phone or a GMail email account). But having reviews, (hopefully great reviews!) show on the Google search page when someone searches your business is free promotion.