How To Choose The Right Domain Name
How To Choose The Right Domain Name
In the last three years, almost 1,000 new generic Top Level Domains, also called new gTLDs, have become available for registration. This exponential increase from the previous 22 options like .com, .net, and .org. has created a historic change in the way people navigate the web. Companies looking to provide the next big domain extension have sparked a flurry of activity, along with investors looking to cash in on the next domain craze. Before diving into the countless new domain extensions that could make or break your business, Jeannie McPherson, domain evangelist and marketing expert at Verisign, answers some key questions about the new landscape and the implications for businesses and individuals.
Okay, so what’s in a name?
When it comes to domain name extensions, everything. Thanks to nearly 30 years of top-tier news, entertainment and commerce being associated with the .com suffix, users have grown exceptionally comfortable with typing in .com as the default domain extension. Alternatives have sprouted up over the years, but .com remains the most versatile, trusted and recognizable domain extension around the world.
That’s not to say people should ignore all new gTLDs. Some of the new options will undoubtedly prove to be trustworthy and reliable fixtures on the internet. However, users need to make sure they are not investing time and money for naught, and possibly putting their brands at risk. Asking the right questions to ensure you’re getting the facts is key to making the right domain name choice.
Wouldn’t something new and different help me stand out?
Possibly, but going against the grain involves many risks, and it’s important to know what they are. It may be tempting to go with novelty to stand out, but three decades of trust and ingrained user behavior around established domain extensions may be a large hurdle to overcome.
Many of the businesses and organizations that have been enticed to try out new domain extensions are experiencing unforeseen issues, such as customer confusion about their web address, and the technical limitations that compound that confusion. Reports of clients’ skepticism and operational problems, like incompatibilities with commonly used email validation systems, browsers, and other websites, has some small business owners urging caution to those interested in adopting new gTLDs.
Even some of the most experienced companies have found that choosing the wrong domain extension can have big consequences. Online retail giant Overstock.com switched to O.co in 2011 and learned this lesson first-hand. Overstock reportedly lost scores of visitors because customers instinctively typed in O.com and were greeted with an “error” message because it was not an active domain name. The customer confusion prompted Overstock to reverse its rebranding in less than a year – millions of marketing dollars lost and customer confidence shaken.
Aren’t shorter names more memorable, though? If the domain is shorter, does the extension really matter?
Length is only part of the equation. More than anything, you’ll want potential visitors to recognize and trust your domain extension so they will visit your website. User trust in the internet is waning with the daily reports of data breaches and identity theft. Businesses already have so many hurdles to overcome in their daily operations. Why add user skepticism of your domain name to the pile? Unusual domains can create a challenging dynamic that can be overcome, but people need to understand that they are basically signing up for a handicap, and that’s the last thing most businesses owners are looking to do.
My advice is to follow the leaders. Every Fortune 500 company and most of the top startups have .com domain names. Successful companies like Tesla, Facebook, and Apple buy .com domain names on the secondary market, passing up other domain extensions entirely, because they know that it’s a smart and secure investment for their future. Even domain and SEO experts 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.
I’ve heard that using new gTLDs can increase SEO rankings. Is that true?
It’s not quite that easy. Search engines use various methods to determine the relevance and authority of web content, and how to rank it 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 site traffic. The more people visit and engage with your website, the more relevant it becomes to search engines. So, a big marketing campaign focused on driving traffic to your website can help increase its search rankings, but it doesn’t mean all domains that share your extension will see the same benefits.
Also, new concerns have been raised about vulnerabilities resulting from the availability of new gTLDs, and scammers are taking advantage of consumer confusion by using some to launch phishing attacks and other malicious cyber activities. Cybersecurity organizations monitoring this trend have recommended that people block the most abused TLDs from their networks, and individuals are already reporting doing so due to high levels of spam. At this time, it is unknown how many businesses and individuals have blocked new gTLDs from their networks for this or other reasons, or what the SEO affects are.
Locating your website on a new domain name extension may seem like a novel idea, but if it’s on an extension that is a known security concern, that alone could decrease your website’s authority. Or worse, if it’s on an extension that has been blocked, it could potentially make you invisible to search engines. That’s why it’s so important that people get all the facts about domain extensions before investing.
Couldn’t registering a bunch of domain extensions lead to more visits?
It’s more about how you use the domain names. It’s not uncommon for a business or individual to register several domain names for a variety of reasons. Many businesses target specific buyers or interests, so it makes sense for them to register multiple domain names to reflect that targeting. While .com is the preferred domain extension for many businesses, adding other extensions could be a smart play depending on your digital strategy. The key is having a strategy.
Businesses and individuals need to think about how they plan to use the domain names they register and what message they want to send to potential customers. Whether it is a .tv to drive visitors to a video hub, or a .brand for brand protection, a domain portfolio should complement your primary domain name and help advance your digital strategy.
Okay, I’m ready to choose. What’s the next step?
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 business, how they find you on the internet, and how they will remember you. More than anything, you want your domain name to tell the story of your business – one of trust, reliability and longevity.