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The Importance of Top-Level Domains

by Matt Romagnoli - September 17, 2019

The Evolving Utility of Top-Level Domains

The importance of top-level domains shouldn’t be understated. Over the last 10 years, the options for a TLD have greatly expanded. The traditional TLDs still hold a ton of value when registering a new domain. It isn’t a very long list, especially for the options available to the public. It’s also a list you’re probably pretty familiar with.

  • .Com: Commercial (Open to Public)
  • .Org: Organization (Open to Public)
  • .Net: Network organizations (Open to Public)
  • .Gov: U.S. Government
  • .Mil:: Military
  • .Edu: Educational institutions (universities typically)

Some other domains that became popular later included .info, .io, .biz. However, .com is still the ideal goal when registering a new domain. .Org and .Net are both a close second. This traditional thinking has held true and continues to largely because of the implicit trust factor a .com or .org website provides to the user.

TLD Graphic

Technology can change fast. Human nature though, we don’t take to change as quickly. When your average user attempts to go to a website, they’re extremely likely to default to the .com variation of a URL. They’re also more likely to trust a .com, .org, or .net link simply from exposure and familiarity. It’s what they’ve seen, it’s similar to other sites they’ve visited, and it’s known to be safe. This is slowly changing but in many ways its equal to a cultural shift in scale. It’s a change literally across every user of the web. It’ll take some time before .brand is as common as .com at the high end of rankings. It’s worth noting Google’s SEO algorithm doesn’t give more or less weight to the TLD.

Change For the Better…Right?

ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers control top-level domains and has slowly introduced new TLDs. With the introduction of 1000+ new TLDs, ICANN categorized TLDs into generic (gTLD), country-code (ccTLD), and sponsored (sTLD). Country-code is geared toward region-specific and sponsored is for specific services or resources like .museum or .post (postal services).

The generic top-level domains have expanded from a small initial list of a few dozen to over 1000. That’s a lot of domains. With so much variation it can be difficult to stand out and get it right the first time. It also means lots and lots of new TLDs alongside millions of websites. While an ideal situation would be getting that perfect .com or .org, that doesn’t mean the new gTLDs should be overlooked or neglected. Quite the opposite is true. Many factors can come into play here as well. Budget, existing strength of your brand, current web, and social media presence are just a few.

When registering a new domain it can potentially be quite difficult to get the .com or .org domain you need for your branding. Deciding on a domain, in the context of your branding is an important decision that happens early in the decision-making process. No one wants to put work into a domain that isn’t ideal or hoping to retain their current traffic and growth rates to a new URL.

What Next? Do Research. Get Creative.

You’re launching your site and need a domain. On your desk is a few .com variations you’re thinking about. Next to it is the young, new marketing guy or gal’s .brand, .store, .pizza ideas. You have a budget in mind and aren’t quite sure where to start. Your domain in many ways is a representative of your brand on the web. While you’ll build your traffic through marketing and SEO strategies the URL is a direct extension of your brand. Trust, reputation, and familiarity are important factors as well. The TLD at the end of your URL is going equally represent those factors.

Using a new gTLD like .brand or .store might work really well if it is an exact match domain to your brand’s name. If your brand name is The Pie Store getting the domain pie.store might be the best option. This becomes that much more relevant if you already have your brand established. Considerations here include keywords, competition, common searches, and negative associations (looking at you .biz). Alternatively using a traditional TLD while utilizing a new TLD for unique or pop up websites for events is an example of the new TLDs utility. BMW celebrated its centennial as a company with next100.bmw. The URL, anchored by its gTLD, is memorable creating exposure and recognition for the brand. Marketing for the event and brand are enabled too with a shorter, easier to remember URL with a distinct top-level domain. Growing a brand online may benefit more from a TLD that fits is than one that won’t stand out.

Tools for the Job and How Arcane Can Help

It’s here where the tools available to you online come in handy. Using tools from Google, Facebook, and Arcane’s Brand Generator can help you hone in on that domain (and brand) that will hit the sweet spot. Taking the time to lay out which direction is right for your company and brand in regard to traditional TLD vs a newer TLD is critical. This is one of the first steps that lead to defining your brand online.

There’s a future for the new TLDs. It’s inevitable. Change is slow though and it’s important to take current and upcoming trends into account when determining your brand, domain, or TLD. Making sure all three match your current brand and your brand’s direction is a crucial part of being successful in an online marketplace.