We’ve seen a deluge of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) recently. In the last three years, almost 1,000 new gTLDs have become available for registration. Considering that there were only about 22 options (such as .com, .net and .org) previously available, this exponential increase has impacted 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. As businesses try to make sense of the countless new domain name extensions and the possible impact on their business, Manish Dalal, Vice-President and Head of Verisign Asia, addresses some common queries on the new landscape and its implications for businesses and individuals.
Does the domain name extension matter?
Short answer: Yes, I believe it does. For over 30 years, .com has been the domain name extension of choice for many top-tier news, entertainment and commerce websites. Despite the hundreds of alternatives that have emerged over the years, .com remains the most versatile, trusted and recognizable domain extension around the world. People have grown exceptionally comfortable with typing in .com as the default domain extension.
I’m not suggesting here that you should ignore all new gTLDs. Some of them will undoubtedly prove to be trustworthy and reliable fixtures on the internet. But you should make sure you are investing time and money prudently and not putting your brand at risk. You should ask the right questions and make sure you have the facts before choosing your domain name.
A new and unusual domain name can be a great differentiator, right?
Possibly. But there may be some risks associated with that approach, so it’s important to make an informed decision. You may want to weigh the benefits of novelty against three decades of trust and ingrained user behavior around established domain extensions.
There can be unforeseen issues such as customer confusion about an unfamiliar web extension, and technical limitations that compound that confusion. There are reports about other headaches such as clients’ skepticism and operational problems, like incompatibilities with commonly used email validation systems, browsers, and other websites. Due to these issues, some small business owners have urged others to exercise caution when adopting new gTLDs.
Even some of the most experienced companies have found that choosing the wrong domain extension can have big consequences. Overstock.com, a US-based online retail giant, switched its domain name to O.co in 2011. As a result, the company lost scores of visitors when customers instinctively typed in O.com only to be greeted with an “error” message because it was not an active domain name. Overstock subsequently reversed its rebranding in less than a year, after losing millions of marketing dollars and dealing with shaken customer confidence.
There are other ways to help a domain name stand out in a crowd. In India, businesses have been creative by using differentiated keywords like Quikr or even “Hinglish” words like Naukri, Suvidhaa, etc. in their .com domain name for customer recognition.
If you have a shorter and more memorable domain name, the extension doesn’t really matter, right?
‘Shorter’ is not always ‘better.’ The important thing is that potential visitors recognize and trust your domain extension so they will visit your website. With daily reports of data breaches and identity theft, people are reluctant to trust the internet. Building a great brand is not easy and businesses already have so many hurdles to overcome in their daily operations. Why would you want to add user skepticism of your domain name to the list? Unusual domains can create a challenging dynamic that can be overcome, but you are essentially signing up for a handicap, and that’s the last thing you should be looking to do.
My simple advice would be to look around you and follow the leaders. Every single Fortune 500 company and a vast majority of the top startups across the globe and in India like Uber, Airbnb and Flipkart have .com domain names. In fact, a number of successful companies across the globe buy .com domain names on the secondary market, rather than look at other domain extensions, because they see it as a smart and secure investment for their future. Tesla, Facebook, and Apple are great examples of this. 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.
But won’t using new gTLDs help improve my SEO rankings?
I wish it were that simple. Search engines use various methods to determine the relevance and authority of web content, and how to rank it for their users. While variables such as content quality, inbound links, website structure, and download speed play a role in determining the rank, one of the most important variables is site traffic. The more people visit and engage with your website, the more relevant it becomes to search engines. This means that a big marketing campaign focused on driving traffic to your website can help boost 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. Some new gTLDs have already been riddled with so many fraudulent and junk registrations that they are being blocked wholesale. 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. This is another reason to make sure you get all your facts before utilizing a new domain name extension.
But still, doesn’t registering a bunch of domain extensions lead to more visits?
It’s not uncommon for a business or individual to register several domain names. There can be a variety of reasons for this. For instance, if a business is targeting specific buyers or interests, it may make sense for them to register multiple domain names to reflect that targeting. For example, a .tv might help drive visitors to a video hub or a country code TLD (ccTLD) could complement your primary .com domain name and help advance your digital strategy in a particular country. Keeping .com as your primary domain extension and adding other extensions as part of a digital strategy could work. But the key is having a strategy.
To sum up…
Consider all angles before you build a strategy for your online presence. A short-sighted decision could end up wasting time and money – or worse – set you up for failure. One good approach is to think of your domain name as a prominent hoarding for your brand. Wouldn’t you want it to be well-lit, credible and instantly recognizable?
A higher quality domain name implies a higher quality brand. It can dictate how people talk about your business, how they find you on the internet and how they will remember you. At the end of the day, your domain name should tell the story of your business – preferably one of trust, reliability and longevity.
Visit Verisign.com today to discover the next chapter in your online story.