Being in tech — especially if you’re in the B2C world — gives you a lot of freedom the rest of the business world doesn’t get to enjoy. You’re primarily dealing with people who understand basic workflows, you can generally expect their browsers to be updated, and most importantly for us, people in tech tend to be far less resistant to new things than the rest of us. So when it comes to finding the perfect domain name for your next project, there’s a lot of freedom.
… perhaps too much freedom. With 400+ TLDs available at iwantmyname, choice paralysis can definitely set in. Here’s some help to get you through it.
.com is the safe way to go
There’s nothing wrong with choosing a .com for any project. It’s the most trusted, most expected TLD on the planet, and that’s not likely to change in the near future.
Here’s what Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, wrote in 2015:
If you have a US startup called X and you don’t have x.com, you should probably change your name. The reason is not just that people can’t find you. For companies with mobile apps, especially, having the right domain name is not as critical as it used to be for getting users. The problem with not having the .com of your name is that it signals weakness. Unless you’re so big that your reputation precedes you, a marginal domain suggests you’re a marginal company. Whereas (as Stripe shows) having x.com signals strength even if it has no relation to what you do.
And here’s what Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, wrote in 2017:
I know, it’s 2017. Why are we still talking about .com? The internet’s been around 20-plus years. Why does .com matter so much when there are so many TLD extension options? The answer is, .com is the most recognized and most accessible TLD. Cognitive fluency dictates that we should go with something easy, that people have an association with, and .com is still the primary TLD. If you want to build up a very brandable domain that can do well, you want a .com. Probably, eventually, if you are very successful, you’re going to have to try and go capture it anyway, and so I would bias you to get it if you can.
Basically, if you can find the domain you want in the .com namespace, you should get it and never look back.
Why .com isn’t always the answer
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” – Yogi Berra
The problem with the .com namespace is that everybody is already there. And when everyone packs into the same room, space becomes hard to come by. Do a basic search for a short, memorable name ending in .com and you’re likely going to come to an “already registered” notification. If that’s the case, your only option is to buy the domain on the secondary market for whatever the asking price is — expect a 4-5-figure sum.
Unfortunately, shelling out thousands of dollars just isn’t in many startup budgets. Here’s what Christopher Steiner, YC S2011, wrote:
The crop of new Y Combinator startups is a reasonable proxy for the elite, top end of the startup pool in a given year, so it’s instructive to look at how YC companies have selected their names.The percentage of Y Combinator companies with dot-com domains has been following a downward trend since the the winter class of 2014, when dot-com domains comprised 80% of the class. Before that point, almost all classes were well into the 90-percentiles for dot-com names, with seven classes at 100%.The last three classes at YC have been: 79.4%, 75.3% and 68.0% dot-com domains.
In the startup world, .com is becoming less common simply because of supply/demand economics. And eventually, that could start bleeding into the “mainstream” internet.
“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need” – a British guy.
Try something local
After .com (and possibly .net), the next thing to think about is your reach. If you’re starting a project with a global scope, narrowing yourself to a particular location isn’t a great option. But if you’re building something with a specific population in mind, using a local or ccTLD TLD is a great choice because it helps Google geolocate you.
For example, if you’re building an app that finds the best burgers in Wellington, grabbing a .nz domain would be a great choice. It’s a widely used domain extension in New Zealand, and it lets Google know that you’re more relevant in NZ than burger-finders elsewhere.
One thing to note is that if you’re using one of the new city TLDs, you’ll have to [manually geotarget it](https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/62399). Here’s the official word from Google](https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2015/07/googles-handling-of-new-top-level.html?utm_source=scotch.io)
Q: How are the new region or city TLDs (like .london or .bayern) handled?
A: Even if they look region-specific, we will treat them as gTLDs. This is consistent with our handling of regional TLDs like .eu and .asia. There may be exceptions at some point down the line, as we see how they’re used in practice.
Note that you can get into some trouble if you try to get too fancy with your locale.
Here’s an example from Matt Cutts of Google:
For example, Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts talks about a business wanting to use the .li ccTLD where the .li would stand for Long Island. However, .li is the ccTLD for Liechtenstein, and the usage for that particular ccTLD is overwhelmingly sites about or targeting Liechtenstein. So using .li to stand for Long Island would be trying to change the intent of that ccTLD and would not be in the best interest of searchers and would likely not produce the best search results for a site that wants to target Long Island.
Beware spam indicators
Even if Google isn’t necessarily going to penalize you, it’s probably not helping your cause if the TLD you’re using becomes synonymous with spam. Fortunately, nearly every domain registry is on the up-and-up. But some are… a bit lax in their policies. As Spamhaus puts it:
Top Level Domain (TLD) registries which allow registrars to sell high volumes of domains to professional spammers and malware operators in essence aid and abet the plague of abuse on the Internet. Some registrars and resellers knowingly sell high volumes of domains to these actors for profit, and many registries do not do enough to stop or limit this endless supply of domains.=
Keeping up with these trends can be difficult though, so when you’re searching for your next domain name, just take a glance at these three lists:
- Spamhaus – The 10 Most Abused Top Level Domains
- Symantec – The “Top 20”: Shady Top-Level Domains
- SURBL – URI Reputation data
Don’t worry too much
If .com is out and you’re not looking for something local, don’t get too caught up in trends or gimmicks. Just choose something that feels right for your brand. Sliceline (from Silicon Valley) would’ve done great with a .pizza domain. It’s not exactly creative, but Philips is using led.lighting as the domain for an LED education landing page.
This take from James Robinson at Pando just feels right:
For someone like Michael Heyward, who co-founded anonymous social networking app Whisper in 2012, as a mobile first company, he says, there was not an ounce of trepidation at not having the Whisper.com domain name. (Whisper.com itself is a junk address, filled with spam links.) Heyward says that 99 percent of Whisper’s exposure comes from its app. The company has a Whisper.sh landing page, to showcase popular posts from the app and publish legal and company information. In 2014, Americans spend more time in apps than they do using the Internet on desktop. With social media sites becoming a greater engine for content discovery, new sites such as Quartz are popping up that don’t really even have an official homepage.
People don’t discover new sites like they used to. They get recommendations, see funny social links, and use Google to find what they’re looking for. And in those cases, domain.anything is just fine. Put a good thing into the world, and with enough effort (and luck), you’ll get rewarded.