If your city suddenly decided to double the amount of waterfront property available for development, would you buy or would you be skeptical? That’s what’s happening on the Internet. More top-level domain names are being created so businesses can finally get those prize web addresses they’ve always wanted. For small businesses there are 2 things to consider before rushing to preregister your new domain name: credibility and whether or not it will actually help your business.
Our domain name universe is relatively small. We have top level domains (TLDs) such as .gov for government agencies and .org for non-profit organizations, but when it comes to online commerce, .com is king. With nearly 53 percent of market share worldwide, .com has a significant margin over the second place .net, used by 5.6 percent of website addresses globally. There is a change underway, however, to break up the .com homogeneity and create a more dot-specific Internet for businesses.
What’s in a Name?
The .com overcrowding makes it difficult (and expensive) for businesses to get their top choice domain name. While this may seem insignificant, a good domain name can bring in a great deal more traffic. Fan Bi, cofounder of Blank Label, a Boston-based online retail company, didn’t buy his first pick domain, blanklabel.com, because it was too expensive. Instead, he settled for blank-label.com.
In the end, that small hyphen proved problematic for business. “You get much more word of mouth if it’s a name you can easily say without having to spell it,” said Bi. After a good deal of negotiating, Bi bought blanklabel.com and just 3 months after the change, website traffic shot up 25%.
A Growing Universe for Small Businesses
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has the power to expand our domain name universe, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. There’s a plan in the pipeline to create thousands of new TLDs, including names such as .sport, .nyc, and .lol. Big companies such as Google and Amazon have already pre-registered hundreds of names but what does this mean for SMBs?
According to ICANN, this expansion will provide greater “choice and competition” for businesses and serve as a “platform to innovation.” For small businesses, it’s an opportunity to trade in their long, hyphenated .com addresses for new domain names closer to their first picks—but will it work? And is it necessary?
Credibility is a problem. Take the .biz extension introduced in 2001 as an alternative for businesses. ICANN hoped it would help relieve the demand for .com addresses but it never caught on—today, .biz is used by only 0.9 percent of all websites. The truth is, when it comes to business, .com is still number one in people's minds.
Search Engine Dynasty
That being said, it’s more likely that domain names will become irrelevant before people begin to change their minds. For a computer, the deluge of domain names means nothing—fractions of a second—but for humans, who increasingly rely on search engines to find the websites they’re looking for, it makes all the difference.
When you launch your web browser, chances are it opens right to a search engine. Say, for example, you type in “Central Park”; instead of having to remember the address (www.centralparknyc.com) you click right to the official site. The point is, it’s becoming more effective and convenient for people to use search engines and, as a result, TLDs are fading into the unseen structure of the Internet. With this in mind, creating a stronger search engine optimization (SEO) campaign is perhaps the better investment.
For a small business with its heart set on a particular web address, this could be a great option. For most others, it probably isn’t worth the $185,000 application fee. Although certain big companies are heavily investing in new generic TLDs, small businesses should approach the expansion with skepticism, unless one desperately wants mybusiness.ninja. Time will tell if this is Boardwalk and Park Place, or another .biz waterfront that turns out to be swampland.