When the internet was being developed in the 1970s and 1980s, there was only one way to end an address. The .com top level domain (as domain extensions are also known) reflected the exclusively corporate ethos of the internet’s early years. The very first domain name was registered in 1985 to the Symbolics Computer Corporation, and symbolics.com was quickly joined by twenty other .com platforms registered to IT brands.
Of course, this was six years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web, and a full decade before colleges started offering internet-enabled PCs. Yet by the turn of the millennium, demand for .com websites was already overwhelming the market. And while a handful of other domain extensions had been created in the meantime, .com remained the gold standard for corporate and personal sites alike.
Being CC’d in
By the time ICANN was founded in 1998 to regulate this chaotic industry, most countries had their own country code top level domain, or ccTLD. However, ICANN quickly realized the market needed more choice. The cost of .com sites was spiraling, while .com’s corporate connotations didn’t suit art galleries or non-profits. In 2001 ICANN released a handful of new generic TLDs, including .biz and .museum, while .coop and .aero followed a year later. Over 200 new gTLDs were launched in 2014 alone, from .webcam and .wtf through to .coffee and .community.
With over a thousand domain extensions on the market today, selecting the right one has become a significant challenge. At Midphase, we offer our customers a choice of over 300 TLDs, from mainstream options (.net and .online) to niche choices (.ventures and .vodka.) The latter options will only be relevant to a tiny proportion of our customer base, but it’s nice to have the choice!
Making the right decision
Choosing the right TLD isn’t just about relevance to a particular industry. There are other factors to consider:
If you’re only focusing on domestic markets, a .com address will be fine. While this was originally intended for companies, America has adopted it as our default TLD instead of .us. And since search engines prioritize domestic results over foreign ones, a .com address will perform better in Stateside searches. That’s significant for anyone thinking about using a foreign ccTLD to spell out a word or phrase – like an American firm called Mile Wide launching a site at milewi.de. That domain would perform better in Germany than it would here.
Google has publicly declared it doesn’t discriminate against newer or less common TLDs when ordering its ranking results. In other words, the newly-launched .radio TLD shouldn’t be ranked lower than a .org or .biz site. But search engines take traffic levels into consideration, and consumers are wary of visiting unfamiliar TLD addresses. So choosing an obscure domain might put people off visiting a site, indirectly damaging Google rankings in the process.
Short addresses enjoy greater consumer recall, with less chance of spelling mistakes leading to a Page Not Found error. A TLD that denotes an industry or location could support a shorter domain name. For instance, a car tuning firm in Boston could register either cartuningboston.com or cartuning.boston. The latter is shorter and easier to remember, and because it has a far smaller target audience, it’ll be much cheaper and more likely to still be available.
It would be easy to mistype the Comicon web address (comicon.com) or to misread the bitefartcafe.rs URL. It’s also advisable not to share the last letter of a domain name with the first letter of the TLD, since duplicated letters are notoriously hard to read. A TLD that’s similar to the main domain name may reduce legibility when it’s written on a business card, letterhead or email. And wherever a mistyped web address leads to, it’s not your site, costing you custom and potentially revenue.
A .org domain should identify a not-for-profit organization, while .info is intended for websites providing useful resources. Misusing either of these TLDs will confuse site visitors and potentially alienate them. If large numbers of site visitors abandon a website within seconds of arriving on its homepages, the search engine algorithms will assume its content is low quality. The site’s ranking will be downgraded, and it won’t perform as well in future rankings.
Choosing the right domain extension ensures people will remember the website’s address, and feel confident about visiting it. If you’re not sure which TLD would suit your business, research competitors to see how they’ve approached the problem. Alternatively, you could visit symbolics.com. This historic site now displays real-time announcements of brand-new .com and .net domains, as they’re registered around the world. Watch for a few minutes, and inspiration might just strike you…
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