Back in 2014, a study found that there were absolutely no four letter combinations left for the dot-com domain extension. Each one of the possible 456,976 unique combinations of letters was already registered. Up until this point, four letter domain names were all the rage because they were easy to remember and quick to type.
Names like Hulu, Etsy and eBay were hugely popular for anyone looking to establish a business online. As we near the end of 2015, the available dot-com domains are even more limited, with nearly every real word and common combination of real words being unavailable.
So, what are your domain options as a business and how can you be sure that your choice of domain name will align with future domain advances?
The Domain: A 30-Second History
Long before the last four-letter combination was registered, startups began to face the problem of all the “good” names being taken. Even less popular generic top level domains (gTLDs) like dot-org and dot-info were starting to run short on available names. So, many businesses went in a different direction.
Longer, keyword-rich domains became popular. For example, a water filtering company named WaterClean would have the domain WaterCleanwaterfilter.com. The thought was that using certain keywords in the domain name would help search engine optimization efforts. Matt Cutts of Google verified this at one point to be a workable strategy, however Google has since changed course on keyword-rich domains.
Recognizing the problem that it was hard for businesses to register a name in the more common gTLDs, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decided to release even more gTLD extensions focused on niches, like dot-autos, dot-attorney or dot-restaurant. Others specify a region like dot-berlin, dot-wales or dot-nyc. Some even lend themselves to a specific event like dot-blackfriday, or a specific brand like dot-bmw, or even to a less serious approach like dot-ninja.
While these new gTLD extensions may be fun, are they right for your business?
Sticking with the Dot-Com
For experts like Paul Graham, sticking with the tried and true dot-com is the way to go. In fact, he insists that if the dot-com domain is not available for a company name, a company should simply change its name. He argues that most people recognize this extension as being the most professional. Customers know they can trust example.com over anything else simply because of the domain extension. In some ways this is true, as people have come to associate dot-com with the Internet.
CEO and founder of Legal Robot Dan Rubins stated as much in an interview with Domain Name Wire where he explains why he purchased LegalRobot.com from an individual rather than go with a new extension.
“As a tech startup, we can get away with a lot of domain name shenanigans – .io, .ly, .co, .ai … but .com is still the best choice (if you can get it) because it’s the default in most people’s mind.”
However, being committed to a dot-com domain can often result in an exorbitant price tag. The problem is that most startups don’t have the capital to spend on acquiring the dot-com domain. The good news is that there are viable alternative options growing in status everyday.
Choosing an Alternative TLD
While it is no secret that dot-com still rules domain extensions, evidence shows that alternative gTLDs are starting to gain some foothold with 12 percent of recent venture-funded startups choosing an alternative domain extension. The reason for this is simple; the alternatives help newer companies get their name out there. Additionally, as more alternate gTLDs come out, recognition among alternatives rises, making it less important to have the dot-com extension.
These newer domain alternatives could also help a new business get a much-needed SEO boost to help them better compete with already established brands. Country extensions or industry related extensions might be able to better position a company or product than a dot-com domain could.
New gTLDs also make it tougher for squatters to take over a domain and coerce high transfer costs for a startup to acquire a domain from them. If example.com is really what a business needs for their web presence, and they find it is taken, they can opt for example.guru, example.io or any other extension that best fits their company. If the dot-com is important to them, they can use the availability of others gTLDs as leverage in negotiations as well.
While slower than expected, registration of the new extensions is taking root. At the time this article was written, there were almost 10.5 million new gTLDs registered, dot-xyz being the most popular with close to 1.7 million registrations. Even Google is doing it, with Alphabet at abc.xyz.
Rather than going through the process of using a dot-com or other gTLDs to promote their brand, some companies are now opting to use a dot-brand strategy. By applying through ICANN, business owners have the ability to create their own branded domain just like dot-Marriott, dot-Barclays and dot-Xerox. Not only does this strategy give a company immediate brand recognition, but it also comes with additional benefits.
The dot-brand strategy can help businesses better establish trust for their website. Since only authorized account holders have the ability to register domain names with a specific branded extension, it reduces brand abuse by phishers and scammers. This alone helps build trust from your customer base. A dot-brand extension also counters the argument that a respectable business needs to have a dot-com name. Since the application for a dot-brand extension is rigorous and through, it is the highest form of online legitimacy.
The Case for Multiple Extensions
As newer gTLDs grow in popularity, many businesses with an established web presence are starting to see the benefits of registering domains using the new extensions. In the past, companies would often register variations of their domain along with other extensions like dot-org, dot-info, etc. All of these other domains would then point to their main site. This way, they had greater control over their brand and could rescue any visitors who may have been lost because they used the wrong extension or mistyped the domain name in the address bar.
Registering new gTLDs in the same vein will take this even further, while also helping strengthen a company’s brand. A restaurant that has example.com would see benefits from example.restaurant as it helps differentiate them from any other business with the same, or similar, name.
Using some of the more creative extensions will also help how younger customers view a company. Using dot-ninja or dot-guru as secondary domains plays directly into a younger audience, an audience who is much more accepting of domains that are not dot-com as well.
Research shows that 78 percent of Internet users conduct product research online before they buy. That being said, a business needs to take its web presence seriously and that starts with registering the right domain name. As most startups have seen, the choice of dot-com names are running thin and it only makes sense to explore the alternatives out there.
What are your thoughts on the future of domain names? Let us know in the discussion.