In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) introduced a generic top-level domain (gTLD) program. Its aim is to expand the existing set of 22 top-level domains, which appear at the end of website addresses — for example, the popular dot-com domain.
To deal with the shrinking number of viable dot-com and dot-org names, ICANN created a gTLD program, which allows organizations to suggest new names for consideration; more than 1,400 were approved and released in 2013, according to Inc.
For companies, this influx creates an interesting question: Is it worth ditching dot-com?
A History of Naming Conventions
Original gTLDs all came with specific purposes: Those ending in dot-com were meant for commercial enterprises; dot-org were for nonprofit organizations; and dot-net were for companies involved with networking technology.
Over time, however, most of these domains became unrestricted, meaning any business or individual could purchase a name. Sponsored gTLDs, such as those owned by Microsoft and by Apple, also exist. While the iPhone manufacturer needed approval from ICANN, it now controls the creation of any new websites with the dot-apple extension.
It’s also worth mentioning country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs), which are two letters long and refer to a specific country or territory. Some, like Canada’s dot-ca, require owners to reside within the country; others, like the popular dot-co, are open to public registration.
Is Dot-Com Too Common?
When it comes to searching for a new domain name, the expanded gTLD market offers more choices for businesses. But is moving away from dot-com really worth the risk? It depends.
Domain names that end in dot-com or dot-org are much more expensive to purchase than names using less familiar endings, such as dot-shop or dot-mail. But this perceived value in the traditional gTLDs is largely based on tradition, since Google has since changed its search algorithm to avoid unfairly penalizing new domain names that use the nontraditional gTLDs. In fact, the search company shelled out $18.6 million for its own new gTLDs in 2012, according to Search Engine Watch.
Among the startup set, nontraditional gTLDs are all the rage. A recent gTLD Strategy post found that over half of last year’s “most innovative companies” applied for new gTLDs. While it’s unlikely they will dump their dot-coms, there’s real interest in brand-aligning entire domain names — for example, using Amazon’s dot-imdb extension or Google’s dot-chrome.
The Business of the Domain-Name Game
A number of sensible naming rules already exist for companies seeking a new domain name.
First, make sure it doesn’t accidentally spell something offensive or hilarious, as is the case with technology recovery company IT Scrap. On paper the name looks fine, but www.itscrap.com doesn’t do this brand any favors.
Customer Development Labs makes the point that businesses should also test potential domain names before committing to a contract.
A domain name not only needs to identify a company by brand or by service but also must be memorable, easy to spell and easy to recognize when said. In addition, it’s worth finding out what kind of image, emotion and competitor associations occur when the name is seen. With a few domain-name choices and a survey service, such as Mechanical Turk, companies can save thousands in registry fees for expensive — but ultimately forgettable — dot-com names.
It’s worth noting that new domain names may cause some disruption for businesses, thanks to “name collisions,” according to WHIR. These collisions happen when aging company systems run afoul of new public-domain names. For example, a business that uses dot-mail extensions in web browsers in order to grab internal mail requests may find confidential traffic accidentally routed outside its local network. Web hosting providers — many of which now offer domain registry services — need to be aware of this issue, and companies should make sure their provider is prepared for any confusion related to the influx of new gTLDs.
New gTLDs don’t have the same historical clout as dot-com or dot-org, but they are less expensive and won’t be penalized by Google. These names offer companies the chance to snag a name that’s memorable and unique on both sides of the dot.
The new gTLDs aren’t overthrowing the old standbys overnight, but they will likely become an essential part of any comprehensive Internet-marketing effort.