In the last three years, almost 1,000 new generic top-level domains (new gTLDs) have entered the market, increasing the previous 22 options for generic domain name extensions, like .com, .net and .org, by almost 5,000 percent. While expanded choice can be good, consumers, small businesses and website owners may be overwhelmed by the many different options and have a lot of questions about which domain extension is right for them or their brand. Recently I spoke with editors at WIRED about what their readers should ask themselves when determining how to choose the right domain name and it came down to the following seven key questions.
1. Will people know and trust the domain extension I am considering?
There are a variety of trusted domain name extensions used for a variety of reasons. Many people think of established domain extensions like .com and .net when they think of the internet. That’s probably because for more than 30 years the majority of the websites relied on for news, commerce, communication and entertainment have used them. Other domain extensions have gained popularity like .de, the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Germany that is well established and trusted in that country, and .org, a gTLD used by most not-for-profit organizations.
Some of the new gTLDs will undoubtedly become established and trusted fixtures on the global internet. But until they do, businesses should be careful about betting their online brand on a new gTLD. It may be tempting to use a novel, or different sounding domain name extension to stand out, but three decades of trust and ingrained user behavior around established domain extensions could be a large hurdle to overcome.
Even some of the most experienced companies have found that choosing the wrong domain extension can have big repercussions. For example, when Overstock.com switched to O.co, they quickly switched back after people instinctively typed in O.com and were greeted with an error page because O.com was not an active domain name. Overstock reportedly lost scores of visitors, prompting the company to reverse its rebranding back to Overstock.com in less than a year – millions of marketing dollars lost and customer confidence shaken.
2. Do I need to register my domain name on a variety of domain extensions?
It is common that businesses and individuals choose to register several domain names, creating a domain portfolio, to help advance their digital strategies. Many businesses today target specific locations and buyer interests, so it makes sense that they would register multiple domain names to reflect that targeting, whether it is by location, product or demographic. Some businesses and individuals also may choose to diversify their domain portfolios by registering a domain name on a variety of domain extensions. While .com is the preferred domain extension for most businesses, there are other extensions that can make sense.
For example, if your website has a video section, you can register “YourBusinessesName.tv” and point the domain name to that section of your website. The key to building your domain portfolio is to be informed about your options, have a strategy and select domain extensions that serve the particular purpose you have in mind.
3. How can I be assured that my domain name will work?
Every domain extension is operated by a domain registry that is responsible for maintaining and operating the infrastructure that makes it possible for domain names to function properly and be available around the world. For example, Verisign is the domain registry for several TLDs, including .com and .net. The reliability with which a domain registry operates a domain extension directly affects the reliability of all the domain names that share that extension. The expertise, investment and track record required to achieve this day-in, day-out dependability represent a critical, but often forgotten factor in the reliability of every website.
Many website owners may think their internet service provider is responsible for connecting users to their websites, but that is only partially true. Beyond the network connection, it is actually the domain registry that enables navigation to happen, which is why it is critical for you to consider the experience and history of the domain registry for your desired TLD. Most businesses wouldn’t trust their marketing strategy to an unproven agency or junior marketing specialist, so businesses should also be careful about entrusting their most important marketing assets to unproven registries. Choosing a service provider with a proven track record of stability and success is always the smart move.
4. Should I go with a new gTLD over .com if I can get a shorter domain name?
Some argue that because shorter domain names are available from new domain extensions, it makes them more desirable than other more established domain extensions. However, there are many important considerations that should go into choosing a domain name. Length is one consideration, but more important is whether potential visitors or customers will recognize and trust your domain extension. Some new extensions may make more sense than others. However, many domain and SEO experts like Mike Mann, CEO and founder of SEO.com, and one of the world’s best known domain investors, agree that a long .com domain name is better, more memorable and less confusing to consumers than a short domain name on a lesser-known domain extension.
In this new world of more than 1,000 domain extensions, the average internet user could easily become overwhelmed and confused. Many seeking to register a domain name could be unsure about how to choose the most appropriate, trusted and memorable domain extension. And, their visitors or customers could have trouble remembering which domain extension they need to type in to get to the right website. That’s why Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO of Hubspot, and Paul Graham, co-founder of startup incubator Y Combinator, recommend always choosing .com domain names.
Moreover, every Fortune 500 company and most of the top startups have .com domain names. Companies like Tesla, Facebook and Apple buy .com domain names on the secondary market, passing up other domain extension options because they know that .com is a smart and secure investment for their future.
5. Will new gTLDs work with all of the other business applications I need to use for daily operations of my company?
Many businesses and organizations that have recently been enticed to try out new domain extensions are experiencing issues, such as customer confusion about their web address, and technical limitations that compound that confusion. IT Consultant Jon DeMersseman wrote about his frustrating experience with new gTLDs in “The Business Problems with New Generic Top Level Domains.”
He highlighted his clients’ skepticism of his domain name, saying that many were quick to suggest his business card had a typo because “to the average person, domains end with .com, .org, .edu, or .mil.” He went on to point out the problems he had setting up business accounts with his new email address in various CRM systems and other websites. The issues discussed by DeMersseman, and others, unfortunately are not unique. That’s why he advises other small businesses to, “Consider carefully before adopting a new gTLD and go in with eyes open.”
6. Do all domain name extensions have the same level of security?
Unfortunately, as with many new innovations, scammers have been quick to take advantage of consumer confusion around new gTLDs by using some of them to launch phishing attacks and other types of malicious cyber activities. Some cybersecurity organizations that have been monitoring this trend have even gone so far as to recommend that people block certain new gTLDs from their networks, and other individuals have already done so due to high levels of spam. At this time, it is unknown how many have blocked new gTLDs from their networks for this or other reasons.
With daily news reports of data breaches and cyber-attacks, consumers have become increasingly leery about the types of websites they visit. Encouraging businesses and individuals to put their online presence in the hands of unknown, untrusted and unproven domain extensions is advice that warrants a second opinion. It may be more prudent to stick with well-known and trusted domain name extensions until more of the new gTLDs are able to prove themselves as safe and reliable.
7. Will certain domain extensions help my domain name rank better for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search engines, like Google and Bing, have methods they use to determine the relevance and authority of web content and how it is ranked for their users. While there are many variables that go into determining search rankings including content quality, inbound links, website structure, and download speed, one of the most important factors is getting people to visit your website. If more people visit and engage with your website, search engines will perceive it to be more relevant.
Choosing to locate your website on a new domain name extension may seem like a novel idea, but if no one clicks on or shares your link, or it has been blocked, it could potentially make you invisible to search engines. Likewise, being associated with domain extensions that have been flagged as possible security risks could decrease your site’s authority ranking. According to the Searchmetrics SEO Blog:
“One goal of SEO is to link users with the best, most relevant websites out there. Unusual domains create a challenging dynamic, something which can be overcome with strong content marketing and media. However for every unusual domain that succeeds many more fail in gaining the necessary recognition. You’re basically signing up for a handicap and that’s the last thing you need (there will be plenty of other challenges in the SEO game, so choose your battles wisely).”
Today, it is highly likely that the first interaction many people have with a company is through search. Businesses need to realize that when users find them, it will be their domain name they see – the billboard for their brand. Will that billboard have instant recognition and credibility, or will it possibly create doubt?
That’s not to say that people should ignore all new gTLDs. Amongst the hundreds of new gTLD options to choose from, some will undoubtedly prove themselves to be trusted and reliable fixtures on the internet. However, prospective users need to make sure they are not investing time and money, and possibly putting their brands at risk, because they didn’t ask all of the necessary questions to make the best choice.
Ready to Choose
Consider all of the points raised here to help you come up with the best strategy for your online presence. Don’t just jump in blind and possibly waste time and money – or worse – set yourself up for failure. Think of your domain name as a billboard for your brand. Don’t you want it to be well-lit, credible, and instantly recognizable?
A higher quality domain name speaks to a higher quality brand. It’s how people talk about your brand, how they find you on the internet and how they remember you. You want your domain name to tell them that you can be trusted, are credible and are here to stay.
Visit Verisign.com today to discover the next chapter in your online story.