We’ve all grown comfortable with existing Internet domains — which have suffixes like .com, .net, and .edu — to the point where they seemed fixed in the universe like the North Star. But this week and next, a slew of new suffixes will hit the market. More will pour in over the coming months and years.
Just one registry (a company from which you can buy a domain), Donuts, dropped .bike, .clothing, .guru, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles, and .ventures onto the market on January 29 and plans to make seven more available the first week of February. In all, Donuts has registered 105 suffixes. And there are many more registries offering new domains as well as large companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.com that have staked early claims on some of this new turf. In a Jan. 21 press release, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the domain issuing authority, said “”There are now almost five times more generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs, industry jargon for the suffixes) than there were only a few months ago …”
With all this fresh territory opening up, business owners might be tempted by the expanding set of choices to stake out a beachhead, either to extend their reach or as a defense against someone else squatting on what should be their virtual real estate. But potential buyers should take note of the following seven considerations before jumping in with both feet:
- Customer trust — Consumers have grown used to the existing set of domains, and with that familiarity comes trust. The new domains are unknown and may cause potential customers to hesitate before establishing a relationship with a site with an unfamiliar gTLD. A recent study found that consumers are in fact wary of the new domains. Businesses planning to make use of the new suffixes should develop a clear program to transfer the trust they’ve already established with customers to the new site.
- Investment protection — Although it’s not entirely clear that domain age matters, even Google’s own search engineer seems to indicate that it does. Assuming, then, that time in grade matters for search rankings and traffic, visibility that has been built up over time in one domain will not easily transfer to a new domain. So, if a business depends on retail traffic coming in the virtual door, it should tread cautiously before adopting a new domain, even one with a catchy suffix.
- Cost control — Existing domains like .com and .org, which can be obtained from hundreds of registrars, typically cost about $10 per year to maintain. New domains may cost a lot more. For example, bespoke.bike, which is already taken, costs $29 per year at United Domains. Even rogerkay.bike, which is eminently available, costs $29. By contrast, rogerkay.com (taken) is only $9.90 on the same site, and rogerkay.net (available) goes for only $14.90. But rogerkay.cab, which uses one of the new domains, will set you back $39 per year. And some domains, notably .sucks, are much more expensive than that. The problem becomes obvious once the company name is appended to the suffix (e.g, Apple.sucks). But there’s more: for trademark holders, pre-registration pricing for new domains starts around $200 and rises to as high as $25,000. Choosing “priority” pre-registration for a “sought-after” domain can run as high as $13,000 per name. But even paying this princely sum is no guarantee of obtaining the name. When more than one party pre-registers the same name, it goes to auction, with an unknown (and potentially very expensive) outcome. Before stepping up to buy one of these new domains, businesses should read all the fine print carefully. Note: after the initial hype dies down, inflated domain prices should come down, perhaps in a year or two.
- Partner motivation — Many of the new gTLDs will be operated by new registry operators. Although most are legitimate, some may not have much substance behind the fancy front. In certain cases, a registry may be focused on making a quick buck from initial registrations in order to flip its gTLD for a profit. Businesses expecting to enter into a long-term partnership with a registry operator should choose one with a track record.
- Partner reliability — Even with the best of motivations, new entrants in the domain business can make a number of mistakes that lead to failure. At the moment, even though lots of registry contracts have been signed, many of the new domains aren’t ready to do business. In addition, inexperienced operators may have issues with reliability, suffering downtime due to cyberattacks or technical issues. Such interruptions may prevent customers from reaching their desired sites, with the resulting loss of business. Thus, it is prudent to choose a gTLD operated by a known, reliable operator.
- Potential for hijacking — With all the new domain names, there’s going to be a lot of confusion. For example, ICANN has allowed both singular and plural forms to coexist. Thus, .hotel and .hotels as well as .hoteles and .hoteis will likely go live in 2014. Customers looking for jillsbnb.hotel may end up at jillsbnb.hotels, and Jill will lose a customer. A gTLD without this type of adjacent conflict, like jillsbnb.com, will likely result in less confusion.
- Name length — Although short domain names may appear desirable, longer ones often work better. For example, O.co didn’t work at all for Overstock.com. People kept typing in O.com, which Overstock didn’t own. In addition, longer names can include keywords that will come up more often in search results. Keyword-rich domain names attract higher click-through rates. If used, short names should be minimally confusing and avoid conflicts with existing and new domains. Businesses choosing a new name should follow established best practices.
Choosing a domain name is important in establishing a business’s online presence, and making the right choice is not entirely obvious. Caution is advised. As in real estate, location matters, and it’s essential to check out the neighborhood before buying in.