Domain names bear a heavy burden. They often provide the first indication to prospective customers of a firm’s identity, professionalism and specialty. Viewed amid a list of other search engine results, this could represent the best (and only) opportunity to capture people’s attention.
Choosing a relevant domain name is a significant decision, particularly as new enterprises often have a relatively undefined identity. Before trading begins, it may be difficult to pinpoint which niches or specialisms a new firm will evolve into. However, the domain name must remain accurate, even if the original business model morphs into something very different. After all, a newly-purchased domain name will frame the company’s online presence until it rebrands, or ceases trading. Changing web addresses inevitably leads to customer churn, confusion and a loss of hard-earned SEO performance in future search results.
Top-level domains represent another aspect of the decision-making process, yet they’re often a last-minute afterthought. Many entrepreneurs visit a domain reseller website like Midphase, enter their preferred domain name, and are amazed to see the sheer choice of top-level domains. We resell around 300 of the best and most popular domain suffixes, yet this is less than a third of the total number in existence.
Choosing a TLD involves making a choice between one of two options:
(a) Generic TLD. As their name suggests, these are abbreviations for companies (.com, .co), industries (.marketing, .vet) or niches (.christmas, .museum).
(b) Country code TLD. Many domestic businesses display their country of origin for commercial or patriotic reasons. America’s ccTLD is .us, France’s is .fr, and so on.
Throughout the 1990s, the choice was limited to a handful of generic abbreviations or a national identity. But in 1998, ICANN was founded as the global non-profit responsible for overseeing this burgeoning marketplace. Choosing a TLD became much more complicated as dozens and then hundreds, of new top-level domains were brought to market. Since 2001, these have ranged from novelty entries (.exposed, .ninja) to serious options (.legal, .lgbt) and bizarre choices (.ooo, .here). More recently, region-specific ccTLDs have emerged; it’s now possible to suffix web addresses with .nyc, .boston, .miami or .vegas.
Choosing a TLD clearly shouldn’t be rushed, or settled on at the last minute. And the sheer diversity of alternatives nowadays raises a number of interesting questions:
#1. Is it best to play it safe with .com?
The first websites ever registered had .com suffixes, and 46% of global sites still adopt it almost by default. Consumers often type .com after domain names as an automatic reflex, and smartphones frequently display ‘.com’ buttons on keypads to pre-fill address fields. Choosing .com is a safe option, but could be pricey – and availability is limited by demand.
#2. How easy is it to accidentally choose a ccTLD?
Differentiating between gTLDs and ccTLDs isn’t always easy. IT companies regularly used .io, effectively appropriating the country code for the British Indian Ocean Territory. ICANN eventually reclassified it. A ccTLD may even damage a website’s SEO since Google and Bing downgrade foreign ccTLDs to achieve optimal local relevance in search results.
#3. Is the TLD relevant to your location or industry?
Friends may refer to you as a baking ninja, but giving your cupcake business a .ninja TLD could confuse strangers. People might assume you’re a computing specialist (the usual target audience for .ninja gTLDs), while others will simply investigate sites with more familiar .com and .biz suffixes. Ask for impartial opinions on shortlisted domain associations.
#4. Does it flow from the domain name?
Perhaps Comicon was being deliberately awkward when they chose .com to end their domain name. The resulting address is unintuitive to say, read or type. Try to avoid choosing a TLD whose first letter is also the last letter of the domain, or which duplicates previous characters – like yournamehere.ee or dresstoimpress.press.
#5. Are there any spam associations with your chosen TLD?
Individual TLDs are brought to market by domain registries, who believe there’s a profit to be made. Once ICANN approves its release, the TLD is released onto general sale. Sadly, some domains quickly became synonymous with spam – an estimated 90% of .gq domains are related to spam, malware or unwholesome advertising. Research this well before buying.
#6. Will the TLD restrict future growth or expansion?
The .store TLD might be perfect for a vintage clothing reseller, until the owner decides that fixing secondhand items is more fun than selling them. Without changing the web address (thereby undoing any SEO benefits achieved since its launch), the domain name won’t reflect the core industry. Many businesses fall into this trap as they evolve beyond their business plans.
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