Every website is digitally organized by a Domain Name System (DNS) that is used to best associate a company with a particular identifier that is contained in the actual web address. The highest identifier in this system is the Top-Level Domain (TLD), which we commonly recognize as .com, .org, .net, etc. These TLD’s not only include generic definitions, but also country codes.
For example, if you live in the US and want to visit Google’s French website, you would use the country TLD identifier “.fr” for France. Some popular generic TLD’s include:
Many of these TLD’s have rules for registration. For example, only official government agencies can own a .gov TLD. Other TLD’s such as .com, .org and .net are all available with no rules to entry. In addition, many of the TLD’s have a different expiration date and need to be re-registered at an earlier or later date than others.
SEO, Paid Search and Social Contribution
As more companies use SEO, Paid Search and social strategies to promote their brands, the type of TLD becomes less significant. In the past, high traffic-generating keyword-based .com’s were purchased. Based on Google’s former algorithm, a domain that contained a generic keyword like “dog.com” would be relevant in the search results if someone searched on the term “dog”. But as of October 25th 2011, Google was granted a patent on a new algorithm that allows little emphasis on the keyword contained within a domain. This gives freedom to any brand that does not have a generic related keyword within their domain.
A brand can capitalize on a keyword that produces large volume, but that does not mean a brand cannot survive without that option. In fact, most of the top traffic producing US websites contain words that do not exist in the English dictionary: Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Brands can still achieve success with a healthy SEO, Paid Search and social strategy. For example, the term “twitter” had no search volume before 2006 as it was not yet an actual word, yet the purchase of twitter.com did not hinder the company from becoming a household name and a top 10 traffic producing website in the US.
The most well known TLD is .com. 19 of 20 top US traffic websites contain .com. Searches for the term “.com” exceed any other TLD. .Com is the most sought after TLD, with little to no entry for generic terms with that particular extension. Those generic .com’s also tend to be the most expensive TLD’s on domain registration sites such registration.com and networksolutions.com. Practically all premium domain names for sale contain .com. The vast majority of Fortune 500 companies have a .com TLD. Many people can easily find a company using the brand name followed by a .com in the URL.
- A company with a .com is perceived as more legitimate given the majority of successful companies have their brand’s .com registered in their name
- Traffic volume can be lost from consumers searching for a brand’s .com when that brand does not own a .com
.COM vs. Other TLD’s
Although a company may be able to purchase a different TLD, the problem becomes competition. If someone already owns the .com of an actual company, that company will have to sacrifice the lost traffic to the owner of the website. Supply and demand regulate purchasing a domain. The demand for a .com website is much higher than that of any other TLD. If a website is available that is a generic term, one can expect the price of that domain to be higher for the .com over any other TLD. As people continue to see .com as the dominant TLD, it will remain the most valuable.
Other TLD’s such as .net and .org are virtually the same as .com and are usually the next choice offered by domain registration sites. Wikipedia is a .org website with a top 10 traffic ranking in the US. Websites without a .com will not be penalized by Google in SEO results. As .com’s become less and less available, .org’s, .net’s, and .biz’s, etc. may become a publicly viable solution.
According to Adweek, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) went as far as to add hundreds of new TLD’s starting in January 2012. This may or may not be confusing for people who are comfortable with the current TLD’s, but it may open up more avenues for branding. If less emphasis is placed on .com’s as they become almost impenetrable, other TLD’s may become more valuable with room for generic keywords again.
In a full blown digital age, companies should choose a brand name that has a .com available given that the public sees .com as a staple URL. New brands should not get into the habit of choosing a name first and web address second, but rather the other way around. As .com’s become a dry well, companies will have to get creative in choosing a brand name given that most .com websites are already taken. Existing companies whose .com has been taken should choose a domain that is highly marketed and resonates best with the consumer. Generic keyword influenced domain names have all been chosen and are not as relevant as they were in the past. With SEO, Paid Search and Social strategy such an integral part of promoting a brand, a domain name that does not contain a .com or generic keyword does not mean a brand cannot succeed, although having a .com is preferable and should be sought after first.