Domain lame

We have all accidentally visited the wrong website at some point. Recently I was talking about my blog to someone. They went to visit it, but instead of typing in this blog’s address, doctorvee.co.uk, they made the mistake of visiting this website. It is owned by a certain “Mr DeeJay Doctor V€€”.

When I first bought the domain name for this blog, I considered buying the .com address. But I decided it was too expensive. I preferred doctorvee.net, but that was just as expensive as a .com address. In the end, a .co.uk address gives me a half-decent domain name for a pretty cheap price.

A while back I saw that someone had bought doctorvee.com. Perhaps egotistically, I suspected they had bought it in order to sell it to me for a sky-high price. Turns out it was this DJ bloke. I doubt anyone actually confuses me with him, but it was slightly disconcerting when I discovered that someone was using “my” moniker.

This is a pitfall of modern communications. There are far too many top-level domains floating about the place. I could have hoovered up .com, .net and whatever else. But there doesn’t seem to be much point when just buying a .co.uk does the job for a cheap price.

I’ve just got to come to terms with the fact that I’m not the only doctorvee in the world. On some popular websites — notably Skype, eBay and YouTube — the username ‘doctorvee’ had been taken before I got round to it. I originally stuck with ‘doctorvee’ as a result of a frantic search for an email address that wasn’t being used by anyone else. Of course, all the sensible ones had been taken.

Now that ‘doctorvee’ is, as it were, my brand, I sometimes feel the need to sign up to any web service that is invented just so that I can have doctorvee, just in case I need to use it. I bought duncanstephen.co.uk just so that I could have it. I’ve had it for over two years now, and only recently have I found something vaguely useful to do with it (basically I use it as a place to beg people to give me something resembling a job).

Recently I had to visit the websites of all the local councils in Scotland. In most cases it’s easy enough. Just Google the area and most of the time the first result will be what you’re looking for.

Not always though. There were a couple of near misses. For instance, searches for both Orkney and Shetland took me to tourism websites for those areas. I suppose that is understandable enough. More people are probably interested in tourist information than local government information for those areas. Even so, the council websites were not so far down the page on Google.

Try finding the website for the local authority in the Outer Hebrides though. Before reading on, try it. As I write, a Google search for ‘Outer Hebrides’ will not help you find it. I gave up after the fifth page.

It is a bit of an anomaly. For local government purposes, the group of islands is officially known as Na h-Eileanan Siar, but good luck finding someone south-west of Mallaig who actually calls it that. The official name change only came into effect from 1997.

The area is also well-known as the Western Isles, and funnily while Googling ‘Outer Hebrides’ will get you nowhere, ‘Western Isles’ will do the job no problem without you having to resort to typing in Gaelic.

The domain name is cne-siar.gov.uk. CNE-Siar being short for ‘Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’. But despite having a Gaelic web address, you are presented with a home page written in English, with little Gaelic to be seen.

Indeed, as far as I can tell, the amount of Gaelic content on the entire website is completely dwarfed by the amount of content in English. Even in the Gaelic homepage, almost all of the navigational links are in English, and to pages written in English.

I am sure that residents of the Outer Hebrides are all very aware of the name of their local authority. So in that sense you might wonder why it’s an issue. But what about people who don’t live there and don’t have the modicum of Gaelic required to remember the website address? The blurb on the home page is clearly aimed at the potential visitor to the Outer Hebrides, but thanks to its web address it can’t reach out to them as well as it might.

The name change happened in 1997. I wonder if today the name change would be less likely to happen because of SEO concerns, even with all the attempts to keep Gaelic alive.

The case of a language barrier is almost understandable though. I still struggle to understand why Clackmannanshire Council did not decide on an address such as clackmannanshire.gov.uk or even clacks.gov.uk. Instead, it is clacksweb.org.uk. It’s not even a .gov.uk address. What’s that all about?!

Once I phoned Fife Council and the guy on the other end told me to go to fifedirect.com to find all the information I needed. Aside from the dreadful customer service (what if I didn’t have easy access to the internet? Might that have been why I was phoning?), it was just plain wrong. fifedirect.com is occupied by a squatter. Perhaps he meant fifedirect.gov.uk.

It would be wrong to imagine this is a problem affecting government only. In the mid- to late-1990s, when many businesses were taking their first tentative steps onto the web, marketing departments ran amok, getting in the way of common sense. Instead of publicising a simple web address like [brand-name].com, web addresses were sometimes centred on the contemporary marketing campaign.

For instance, Boots spent years trying to encourage people to visit wellbeing.com. How are any customers supposed to remember that? Today, it redirects to boots.com. Much better.

To this day, B&Q’s web address is diy.com. I’m sure they’re very proud of the fact that they own diy.com, but does it not dilute the brand? Absurdly, B&Q’s website does not even mention the term ‘DIY’, except in reference to ‘diy.com’. Sensibly, bandq.co.uk redirects to diy.com, but bandq.com takes you nowhere.

All-in-all, what a minefield. There can be few things more important when setting up the website than getting a decent address for it. But it is surprisingly common for a decent website to be let down by a bad web address.

8 comments

  1. What you failed to mention and which detracts somewhat from your whole point is that Western Isles Council (officially but not so popularly known as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) has two URLs. The other is http://www.w-isles.gov.uk. See what happens when you do not do all your homework?
    But you are right also. It is a SEO failure by them if a search for Outer Hebrides does not bring up both.

  2. The Clackmannshire one is epic. Why on earth would any government organisation not take the relevant.gov.uk domain? Then again, almost all small organisations that aren’t dedicated online businesses are pretty ropey when it comes to the web.

    I’d stick up for B&Q though, as if your company name is an acronym containing an ampersand, whatever you do on the web will look silly. You can go for bandq.com, which sounds more like the line for my complaints booth than anything else, or you’re stuck with bqonline.com, bqdiy.com, etc. It’s also good from an SEO perspective to be top for searches like “DIY online retail”.

  3. Iain — You seem to have missed my “whole point”. The point is that I shouldn’t have to do homework to find out what a website address is!

  4. Very interesting problem – incidentally I searched for “Outer Hebrides council” and the right website was the first result – although not speaking gaelic, I wasn’t sure until I clicked through.

    If you were just passing your website around online, then the actual URL would be immaterial. The problem comes when the real word intervenes.

    I have a fairly common name and the number of people who try to use by gmail account is astonishing. I’ve had to reply to people who have received job applications with my email address – I can’t imagine that went down to well. Hope the other paul got the job.

    My dad registered @diddy on twitter not realising in America diddy is the common name for P Diddy and is getting loads of followers – who become really annoyed when its my dad and not an american superstar.

  5. Interesting post. I believe a “pixlet” is a way of rendering image files that Apple were working on in the past… I’m waiting for the company to decide they want to kick start the project again and offer me ten grand for my domain name. I seem to get a lot of hits for “lastyearsgirl.com” anyway, so I must be doing something right.

  6. “Once I phoned Fife Council and the guy on the other end told me to go to fifedirect.com to find all the information I needed. Aside from the dreadful customer service (what if I didn’t have easy access to the internet? Might that have been why I was phoning?)”

    As you know, doctorvee, I work for Fife Council. I had occasion to phone Fife House last year to get a phone number for somebody and got a snooty receptionist tell me it was all available on Fish (the council website) and that I shouldn’t be phoning her as I could use my computer.
    I had to tell her some of us actually have work to do and don’t sit in front of computers all day.
    (This is quite apart from the fact that Fish is awful to use.)

  7. Interesting how you mention squatters, I’ve been having to deal with them for quite some time now. For example when the first ever .me domain on my usual domain registrar, looking at the price of about £11, I thought to be quite a large amount, despite the fact that I could in fact get olly.me as a domain…shame because it could have come in handy now.