New Domain Name Extensions:
Should Your Business Switch from .com?
When you first set up your company’s website, you probably didn’t think too much about the letters after your website name. You added .com. (or possibly .biz) because there weren’t many other alternatives. However, starting early in 2014, hundreds of new options became available, increasing not only the possibilities for website names, but also the complexity in deciding which one to choose. Here’s some background on the issue and what it can mean for your company.
What’s a gTLD?
When the Internet was first getting established in 1984, a few top-level domains were set up -- those letters at the end of every web address: .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, and .org. Dot net was added shortly after. Although the use of .edu, .gov and .mil was restricted to specific types of registrants, .com, .org and .net were called generic top-level domains (gTLDs) because they could be used by anyone.
Over the years, a few more domain names were added, but the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit group that manages domain names, approved more than 1,300 new domains in late 2013, and is releasing them in batches over the next couple of years.1 The new domains range from .academy to .zone, with hundreds in between, including .florist, .luxury and .realtor. See complete gTLD list. There have always been domains for countries, like .ca for Canada, but the new domains also include extensions in non-Latin alphabets like Arabic and Chinese, making the Internet more easily accessible to businesses all over the world.
The new possibilities also include “non-distributed” domain names that can be purchased by major companies as part of their branding efforts, and are not available to the general public because they are trademarked. Apple has already purchased .apple, and Microsoft and Sony were approved for .xbox and .playstation. While a regular gTLD can usually be purchased for less than $100, these non-distributed domain names cost $185,000 each.2
How Will This Change Affect Your Business?
Increasing the number of available gTLDs means that a business now has a wide range of possibilities other than .com. For example, if you own a flower shop in New York City, instead of FancyFlowers.com, you could now choose FancyFlowers.florist, FancyFlowers.NYC, or even FancyFlowers.cool. But would you want to? Here are some things to consider:
- Would your customers be able to find you? In the example above, choosing one of the non-traditional extensions would probably make it harder for potential customers to find your website (although search engines like Google could help them). Instead of having to remember only your name, they’d also have to remember your extension. People are so used to using .com that it may take a while for them to make the change. When Overstock.com changed its web address to O.co in 2011, it had disastrous effects. Despite a major marketing and rebranding campaign, more than 60% of people intending to go to the new .co website entered “O.com” instead, which wasn’t registered to Overstock. Six months later, the O.co rebranding experiment was abandoned.
- It could cause confusion. A 2014 survey of small and medium-sized businesses owning websites showed that 81% of them predicted the new gTLDs would be confusing to their customers, and 4 out of 5 preferred to stay with a .com web address. In a 2013 survey of marketing professionals, 62% of respondents believed the new gTLDs would make the Internet more difficult to navigate. However, the marketers thought people would eventually get used to the new extensions, making them good marketing tools at some point in the future.
- It's too soon to determine its impact. It’s unclear at this point what the impact of new gTLDs will have on search engines, because the words in a domain name are only one of many factors considered in search rankings. A Google video says the company will go through a process of “trial and error” after the domains are released to see how to find the best results. 3
- It is an avenue for extortion. You might want to buy the rights for more variations of your name to prevent “squatters” from buying them and extorting a large sum if you decide to use them in the future.
- .com portrays a more secure and reputable website. A survey by SCORE and Verisign showed that 94% of internet users felt safe visiting a .com website, while only 33% would feel safe visiting a website with one of the new extensions. If people hesitate to click on your web address because of security concerns, it could have a big impact on your bottom line.
What Will It Cost?
Purchasing a gTLD is usually not expensive. Online registrars like GoDaddy.com, Name.com and Network Solutions can sell you the license to use a website name for less than $100. (Like anything else, price is driven by demand). If you’re a new business just establishing a web presence, it shouldn’t cost any more to buy one of the new gTLDs than it would to buy a .com. However, if you’re an established business featuring your web address in all your marketing materials (as you should), re-branding can be expensive. Besides the cost of paying to re-do your website, think of all the locations your web address appears: business cards, brochures, banner ads, social media, and more. All these items will need to be revised. Then there’s the cost of a marketing campaign to communicate your new web address to customers, prospects and the world in general.
What’s a Business to Do?
The possibility of having a terrific web address that perfectly describes your business is tempting, and experts agree that the new gTLDs will eventually transform the way we use the Internet. But before you jump in with both feet, consider whether the time is right and whether there will enough return on your investment. It may be smarter to wait for the new gTLDs to get established and accepted by the general public before becoming MyBusiness.cool.