It may seem incredible nowadays, but the concept of purchasing domain names was often something of an afterthought twenty years ago. The internet was still in a formative state following the World Wide Web’s creation six years earlier, and few people realised that websites would become the public face of most modern businesses.
As a result of a widespread reluctance to establish an online presence, the cost of domain names has fluctuated markedly. Before 1995, website domains were completely free of charge, and could be claimed by anyone who wanted them. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was founded to regulate this online land grab, and modest fees were subsequently attached to the sale of any new domain.
As companies began scrambling to establish an online presence, the cost of domain names soared. Predatory speculators began bulk-buying web addresses that they thought would become popular, using automated scripts and other split-second software tools, before reselling each address for a massive profit. Although the global financial crisis of 2007-8 largely destroyed the market for overpriced domain names, this industry was also affected by the introduction of numerous different web address suffixes – known as top level domains or TLDs for short.
Despite an ever-increasing number of websites and record volumes of online traffic, the diversity of TLDs caused the cost of domain names to fall steadily throughout the first half of this decade. Twenty years ago, there was relatively little choice in suffixes, which meant competition was fierce for anything involving certain words or phrases. To date, ICANN has released a thousand different TLDs, and this vast increase in choice has driven the cost of domain names back towards 1990s levels of affordability.
In the same way that specialised number plates can attract huge values while generic plates are almost worthless, some domains have always been more sought-after than others. The insurance.com address was sold in 2010 for a world-record $35.6 million to a Californian insurance provider, the 360.com domain was bought by a Chinese IT company in 2015 for $17 million, while the $14 million paid for sex.com a year earlier was perhaps less surprising. Because of the marketing truism that shorter web addresses are easier to remember, all 456,976 .com addresses containing four letters have now been claimed – often at significantly inflated prices.
At the other end of the scale, numerous website domains can still be bought for pennies. UK2’s comprehensive portfolio of available domain names includes some real bargains; artisanbakers.online costs just 99p for the first year, while theultimate.site is equally affordable. Conversely, theultimate.com and .co.uk domains were registered some time ago.
Low prices for less obvious TLDs can be attributed to the sheer choice of top level domains available to buy nowadays, which pushes down the cost of domain names with relatively unusual extensions like .me or .biz. Which is good news for anyone looking to acquire an affordable domain name…