What is a Domain Name?
A domain name is quite simply the way people find your campground on the internet. It’s what they type in the top bar of their browser when they already know where they want to go. There is no searching, and Google is not involved here. In most cases, these are people who have already stayed with you before or saw your domain name on a piece of advertising. Things like business cards, billboards or rack cards are typical examples.
Domain names can serve many different purposes that we won’t cover today. The two most often used by campground owners are building a website or setting up email addresses. Imagine a domain name like a street address. Your potential guests could be driving up and down every street in the area, struggling to find your park, or you could simply give them directions. Likewise, with a domain name, your customers could be searching all over Google for a place to stay, or they could already know your domain name.
Up until a few short years ago, Google often used your domain name as a way to gauge where you should appear in search results. Google would look at that domain name and infer that if you had the word campground contained within it, that you were most likely a campground. As a result, they would rank you a little bit higher when people were looking for one. Unfortunately, that tactic led to people trying to take advantage of domain names to mislead Google and the practice today has almost no effect on your position in search.
When you buy a domain name today, you should simply make sure you include the name of your campground. Do not shorten the name, use abbreviations or include numbers. Imagine you are the owner of Dolphin Heights Campground. A good domain name to purchase would be dolphinheights.com since we just established that you don’t need to include the word campground any longer. It’s not a bad thing to add the word, but the shorter it is, the easier your guests can remember it. A bad domain name would be registering something like dolphinhghts.com for the sole reason of making it shorter. You have succeeded of course, but in the process made it more confusing for guests. Now you have to spell it every time they ask what your website is.
What if I am a Franchisee?
This issue is a more common question than most people realize. When you join a campground franchise organization like Kampgrounds of America or Leisure Systems, one of the first things they do is provide you with a website. It’s usually something like koa.com/campgrounds/name-of-your-park-here, which is a legitimate domain name. The problem is that it isn’t a domain name for your campground; instead, you simply have a page on koa.com which is the actual domain name. It also makes it harder to direct one of your customers to your website, when you have to explain such a lengthy one. It could result in them spelling it wrong, or putting a forward slash in the wrong place.
What we won’t discuss in this article are the reasons you should have a separate website if you are a franchise. Instead, we are merely discussing why you should have a different domain name. Many campground owners get these two confused, and it is easier to do that than you might imagine, especially when you have never dealt with things like this in the past. Remember, a domain name is an address the customer uses to find you. A website is what they see when they get there.
You should always have a domain name of your own, even if you never intend on building your website as a franchisee. You can use that domain to set up a simple redirect to your franchise provided website. Here’s an example using the same campground that we did in the example above. Let’s say that Dolphin Heights Campground just signed a franchise agreement with Kampgrounds of America. Their new name is the Dolphin Heights KOA. Instead of immediately hiring a website developer to change their old site into something that reflects their new branding, they can temporarily have it redirect to their koa.com provided website. That means that when someone types in dolphinheights.com they will instantly see koa.com/campgrounds/dolphin-heights instead.
Where Do I Register a Domain Name?
There are dozens of different places to accomplish this. You should probably choose a company who you have heard about before. When our clients ask, we usually recommend Google Domains. This choice will also make it much easier to set up professional email addresses, which you can also do directly through Google. We’ll cover those in a separate article, though. There are other options out there, and many people will go with the most familiar name they know, GoDaddy. I can’t point to a particular reason I prefer Google Domains over the likes of GoDaddy, I usually just shy away from the companies people use solely based on their advertising.
Regardless of the place you register a domain name, you will run into many of the same things. First up is the cost of registering a domain name for your campground. Under no circumstances should you be paying a company more than $15 a year to register a domain name for you. Unless you are trying to register one of those fancy new ones like dolphinheights.campground for example. We don’t recommend this, so you should keep that $15 figure in mind. Many companies will try to charge you more for registering a domain name. Almost all of these businesses offer the same benefits, so do not overpay.
I Registered Mine, Now What Do I Do?
If you are a franchise and do not have any plans to hire someone to build you a separate website, this next step is pretty easy. Head to the place where you registered your domain and login to your account. In most cases, there will be a setting you can turn on within that account to make the domain forward to another one. Type in the address of your franchise provided website, check for errors, and turn it on. Nearly instantly you should be able to type in your domain name and see it work the way you want.
For everyone else, the answer will change depending on what you do next. It depends on whether you have an existing website, are building a new one or just intend on setting up professional email addresses for now. A good next step is to place a phone call or send an email to the person who will be helping you with technical issues in the future. This person could be a website designer you hired, or simply a friend who has offered their help. You can contact us too; we’ll be glad to give some quick advice if we can, without any cost.
One thing you should never do, though, is allow someone else to control your domain name. Rare exceptions include companies like Insider Perks or Pelland Advertising who have worked with many campgrounds before. This statement is not to say that everyone else who you might come across cannot be trusted. You don’t have a way of knowing who those people are without some frame of reference, though. I can’t tell you how many clients we have worked with that will tell you horror stories of losing access to their domain names. Times they were forced to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get one back. Perhaps even more common is simply not being able to contact the person who registered it for you.
Now you know how to get started with a domain name for your campground. Onward and upward to the next great adventure on the road to success.