People often assume the uniform resource locators (URLs) used to identify unique web pages only contain one notable element – the domain name. In fact, there are four aspects to a web address. And while the HyperText Transfer Protocol and World Wide Web attributes are fairly universal, the domain name is followed by a highly significant extension…
Domain extensions have been with us since the very first web address was registered in 1985, but they really came into their own after 2001. This was when the newly created Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) began batch-releasing new domain extensions, also known as top level domains, or TLDs. From a handful of generic options like .com and .org, hundreds of alternatives have been released into the global market. These have been met with varying degrees of enthusiasm – it’s doubtful anyone outside the accountancy world was delighted to see .kpmg released, for instance. On the other hand, gTLDs like .jobs and .biz have become fairly established.
For Bing and country
The only real alternative to gTLDs comes from country code TLDs. They’ve been around since the 1990s, with almost every country on Earth receiving its own ccTLD prior to 1998. However, the relative obscurity of certain nations has seen lesser-known ccTLDs being adopted for other purposes. For instance, British Indian Ocean Territory was blessed with the .io address, which is also an IT abbreviation for input/output. As a result, many tech firms chose .io suffixes for their web addresses. ICANN eventually agreed to reclassify .io as a generic TLD, rather than a country-specific one. More recently, regional ccTLDs have been introduced; it’s now possible to register a domain name ending in .paris, .scot or .asia.
With so much choice on the market, how can you decide which domain extension will represent your company most effectively in Google and Bing results? Below are some of the key factors that might help when choosing an optimal domain suffix:
The first websites ever registered had .com TLDs, and this remained a default choice throughout the 1990s. Even in America, where .us had been set aside as the domestic ccTLD, companies chose .com sites to ensure global relevance. As a result, the number of .com domains still available is far lower than for any other domain name. And as any economist will acknowledge, higher costs soon follow when demand outstrips supply.
ICANN’s decision to flood the market with hundreds of new gTLDs was partly driven by the declining availability of .com domains. If you’re looking to set up a new website, it’s crucial to check whether your domain name can still be acquired with a .com suffix.
Having established why .com TLDs command a premium, it’s important to note the supply-and-demand seesaw hasn’t yet tilted towards the latter for many newer domains. In fact, some of ICANN’s approved domains have been undisputed failures. A few were registered for roles that no longer apply; .mobi was launched in 2005, long before responsive web page designs rendered mobile sites redundant. Others have become associated with spam, like .top. And many – including .accountants and .rich – simply weren’t popular with buyers. If you can find one of these gTLDs for sale via an appointed domain registry or third-party seller, you’ll almost certainly be offered a cheap domain. At UK2.NET, we only focus on more mainstream options, so you won’t find .soy or .sucks in our database of available domains…
This is an interesting issue because Google has stated its web crawler algorithm doesn’t differentiate between a well-established domain and a newer one. Despite this, Bing hasn’t been so unambiguous, with a proven track record of preferring more conventional choices. So choosing an obscure TLD might affect ranking results in Bing more than Google.
Even so, both engines take site visitor numbers into consideration. And there is strong anecdotal evidence that consumers are more wary about visiting websites with obscure gTLDs than conventional addresses. As a result, traffic volumes will be lower for sites with unusual domain extensions, indirectly damaging SEO in the process.
It’s almost taken for granted that a domain will end in .com, and many smartphones now display a .com button on their keypads when entering web addresses. Consumers simply have to remember the main domain name to correctly navigate to a .com site. However, a lesser-known TLD requires greater powers of recall and might see people ending up on a competitor site. That’s especially true if the only reason you’re considering a niche TLD because the .com is already in use. And while it’s not unreasonable to hope consumers would remember .biz or .org (both fairly popular nowadays), could you blame them for being confused by .hotels or .theater – the latter an American spelling and therefore incorrect in the UK? Since audiences rarely know what .srl or .idn are meant to indicate, they’re unlikely to remember the correct order of letters in a few months’ time.
The example of .io being reclassified as a gTLD is an amusing anecdote, but it only happened after extensive misuse of a ccTLD by foreign businesses. For years, IT specialists with a .io web address would have been disadvantaged in domestic search results. That’s because Google and Bing instruct their algorithms to prioritise websites with domestic TLDs while downgrading overseas ones. In the same way, you wouldn’t want a .de domain for a British company trading exclusively in the UK, a .tv suffix (belonging to the Polynesian island of Tuvalu) will be less beneficial at home than a co.uk address.
It’s also worth noting the co.uk domain is itself endangered, in the same way, India has gradually replaced co.in with .in. Until next summer, companies in possession of the co.uk ccTLD have exclusive rights to reserve the matching .uk site. After June 2019 it’s a free-for-all – meaning a competitor could lawfully register the .uk version of your co.uk domain…