When your domain name is taken, what’s the alternative?
This is a guest post from Joseph Peterson to explain how to rank the best domain name alternatives, when the preferred domain name for your business is already taken. Joseph is a thought leader on naming and domain names, weekly contributor at industry leading blog DomainNameWire and has participated in our two expert roundups on the new TLDs (Top Level Domains). As a branding consultant he continually meets businesses which aren’t able to get their ideal domain name. So now what? In the following he walks us through the “fallback options” to take an analytical approach how to pick the second best domain name.
Listen, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news; but your Brazil travel agency will never live at Amazon.com. Apparently some e-commerce outfit got to the rain forest first. Now what? Time to consider your fallback options.
Within this article, I won’t tell you which domains are bad or better or best, which you ought to use or care about. Individual situations differ. A doctor writes prescriptions one on one. But here I will say something obvious: People do rank their choices.
Equally obvious: Society’s habits change over time. So I’ll drop some hints about how domain preferences have changed, haven’t changed, and most likely will and won’t change in the future. Beyond that, I propose a less obvious thesis: How other people rank their domain choices will affect how you rank yours … and how they rank you.
Understand why naming is a game of billiards
Permit me a metaphor. Naming is a game of billiards. Our first idea collides with fact after fact, rebounding on a different course following each encounter. The usual trajectory is one of ricochet:
“Perfect! No? Now what? Not that either. Next, please! Maybe. What else? We’ll see. And? Hmm …”
We’ve all imagined some perfect name and looked up the ideal matching domain name only to bounce off obstacles. Prior registration. High asking prices. Unresponsive owners. Trademark conflicts. Thick online competition. Name ambiguity. Distant TLD release dates. Prohibitive renewal fees. Existing websites. Robinson Crusoe, living on a desert island, may name his startup whatever he pleases and suffer no consequences. Not so the rest of us.
Our billiards table is a shared competitive landscape. Seldom do we get that clean shot that puts the 8 ball straight into the corner pocket. Usually we look around, assembling a mental list of possible targets, ranking the most awkward candidates below whatever seems more likely to succeed. We take aim, shoot, miss, and move on. Perhaps we sink an early target later. Perhaps someone else claims it sooner.
What is your Fallback Hierarchy? Going from your dream to the alternative domain name
For any given person, specific domains fall into place within an ordered wish list – a “fallback hierarchy”. Take your unattainable dream domain, Amazon.com, for example. Suppose you modify it. How? Purely to illustrate the concept, let’s say your neighbor’s hierarchy looks like this:
- AmazonTravel.com + Amazon.Travel
- AmazonTravel.com without Amazon.Travel
- Amazon.Club + AmazonClub.com
- AmazonTravel.Club + AmazonTravelClub.com
Meanwhile, if we look at mass behavior, statistical patterns emerge. Various domain styles are more favored more often. They can be arranged in a loose hierarchy with the most popular at the top. Simplistic though this is, let’s assume your neighbor in the previous example was entirely representative. In that case, the group’s preferences can be aggregated, abstracted as forms from the “Amazon” kernel, and extrapolated to other domain name cases:
- [ ] .COM
- [ ] .NET
- [ ] Travel.com + [ ] .TRAVEL
- [ ] .CO
- [Keyword] [ ] .COM
- [ ] Travel.com without [ ] .Travel
- [ ] [Hyphen] Travel.com
- [Creative Misspelling] .COM
- [ ] .CLUB + [ ] Club.com
- [ ] Travel .CLUB + [ ] Travel Club.com
Again, that example is merely a prop to point at. Actual people (myself included) would prioritize such names differently. We’d probably assert other domains missing from the list above. Which brings up a significant point …
Nobody will ever consider all options. Domain suffixes (TLDs) are now so numerous that professionals cannot list them all from memory. Even confining attention to the left of the dot, the number of theoretical possibilities is virtually infinite. You won’t give most name variants a chance because you won’t even imagine them. In any case, if a supercomputer or an army of recording angels were to place the list of all conceivable relevant domains before our eyes, we’d never read it fully. Instead we’d settle on a suitable domain 20% of the way through and never glance at the 80% remaining.
Certain name ideas spring to mind right away. When they’re available and/or affordable, we tend to choose them. Even when a domain is problematic, if we linger over it, then we’ll rank it (and others like it) higher within our fallback hierarchy. Any domain suggested to us by an acquaintance or featured by a registrar on its website will outrank all the domains that don’t arise.
So a fallback hierarchy isn’t simply arranged by quality. It’s also susceptible to registry marketing, gossip, widespread cliches – whatever we’re exposed to. In my example above, I mentioned .CO and .CLUB rather than .PW or .OOO, which predisposes any reader (however slightly) to think of those extensions ahead of others. Indeed, advertising has played a major role in spreading both .CO and .CLUB.
Creativity sends individuals flying in every direction. But lump us together so that our idiosyncrasies are averaged out; then mainly the domains we reach for are a reflection of the internet we see. Naturally we gravitate to the familiar. Whatever domain name styles we encounter most in daily life, those will dominate our brainstorming. The more reputable a known website and the more relevant to our purpose, the more inclined we are to emulate the naming conventions used in its domain. If 100% of the websites you visit and trust DON’T use .TK, which has been 100% free to register for a decade, then .TK may not be your first choice when building a website of your own.
This is why ccTLDs thrive in Europe whilst .US starves in the USA. France visits .FR websites daily. Germany sees .DE everywhere. Therefore when the next person in France or Germany goes to buy a domain, they will consider .FR or .DE. Meanwhile, few Americans could name a .US website today. Therefore few Americans will choose to build .US websites tomorrow.
Why we are so conservative about top level domains
You might call this a self-fulfilling prophecy. Better to describe it as a positive feedback loop. As the online environment changes, our preferences change. And as we choose domains differently, we change the online environment. The status quo is not static. In fact, the engineer in me declares that rates of change in naming styles (including TLD usage) can be tied to website distribution and modeled with differential equations. The name space is a complex dynamic system, partly predictable.
Domain name styles will be repeated in proportion to their visibility as established websites. Within Germany, where .DE is by now deeply rooted, new .DE domains will continue to be planted. If .NET were to begin vanishing from the public eye in Germany, then .NET would slip farther down Germans’ fallback hierarchies, causing it to be chosen less frequently. But with German .NETs fairly abundant and .CLICK scarcely anywhere to be found, .NET will likely outrank .CLICK among Germans’ preferred options and continue to be implemented in new websites that reinforce .NET’s prestige, while .CLICK would be comparatively neglected.
What this demonstrates is the conservative nature of fallback hierarchies, their inertia. Old habits die hard. Established TLDs are constantly reinforced online. The world’s most recognizable brands will rarely abandon domains to rename their websites. Why should they, unless they are simplifying things for their audience by adopting a more recognized domain format? And the sheer quantity of websites worldwide sharing .COM ensures that .COM will remain uppermost in people’s minds.
Individuals will deviate from that convention; but their various deviations will partly counteract one another.
At the pinnacle of any group’s fallback hierarchy, we find consistent characteristics. The name tends to be short, simple, and based on the prevailing TLD – .COM for global or U.S. projects, ccTLDs for domestic audiences, perhaps .ORG in the case of nonprofits. Whatever domain styles dominate current hierarchies, those are the names most people think of, the names people prefer, the names that might well be chosen even if they decrease in popularity slightly. The top spots are the most resilient.
But The new TLDs have actually entered the Fallback hierarchies so don’t miss out
Below those upper rungs on the ladder, however, everything is up for grabs. As we descend farther and farther down the hierarchy, domain styles become more vulnerable and rankings more volatile. In the nether regions, we triple the word count, introduce hyphens, deform the name with misspellings, and rely on more obscure suffixes. All sorts of domain names are jockeying for position. .XYZ and .LINK and .CLICK and .PW and .ENTERPRISES and .GURU and .BUZZ and hundreds like them can’t displace .COM per se. They’re like crabs in a pot, dragging any upward climber back down again.
That said, these new TLDs are, in fact, gaining ground relative to awkward, cumbersome styles on the left of the dot. Last week, for example, I reported the rebranding of City.Church, which I was happy to call a “tremendous improvement” over its old address. .SPACE may evict a 4-word domain name. .PLACE may displace a misspelling. And if .BUSINESS or .LINK can persuade us to forget older suffixes like .BIZ or .INFO, then they’ll claim a small but significant victory. Even a slight advantage within the fallback hierarchy can lead to long-term visibility for a naming style as websites are launched and marketed.
It’s crucial to keep in mind this fact: Most websites are not built on first-choice domains. What we normally see online are 3rd and 5th and 13th-choice domains. Are those decisions misguided? Frequently, yes. But frequently sensible. Fundamentally, this situation is necessary. Out of 1000 websites about the Amazon or whose name includes “Amazon”, perhaps all 1000 would have claimed Amazon.com if they’d been able to do so. Inevitably, 999 of them must choose something other than their 1st choice.
Recently I had an unusual naming client – a teenage app designer. We picked a name using .CARDS, since his app is meant to create and send birthday / holiday cards. Now, I’ve been asked if the younger generation is more receptive to TLD experimentation, less attached to their parents’ .COM. What I can say is the following. All the name ideas brought to me by my 16-year-old client were .COM domains. Even after I introduced the possibility of other extensions like .CARDS and .ME, my client ranked over a dozen .COMs above my non-.COM suggestions.
However, those he liked best were registered; and since he had no budget for a domain acquisition, he found himself farther down his fallback hierarchy. Persuading him to accept the .CARDS name was an uphill battle. Even after registering the domain, my client got a case of cold feet, returning to tell me that none of his friends liked the name, that it wasn’t “cool”. When asked what domains his peers considered cool, he pointed to a 5-letter .COM (which I pointed out would retail around $50,000) and to SnapChat.com.
Interestingly, his hierarchy was indistinguishable from that of clients a generation or 2 older. Yet necessity is the mother of invention, and most new projects aren’t well funded. Whether my client’s top choice had been a $50k .COM or an nTLD that renews at $5k per year, regardless of the suffix, he would have chosen something he wanted less. Midway down the fallback hierarchy – that is the engine for online change.
Oedipus wants to kill Daddy, but he rarely does.
Speculating about the future without a glance at history is unwise. With 2015 marking the 30th anniversary of .COM, the internet is no longer new. Indeed, by this stage, alternative TLDs have been introduced again and again; naming choices have been shuffled and reshuffled; hundreds of millions of domains have been registered, renewed, developed, deleted, re-registered – enough to provide a body of evidence about what changes and how quickly.
The mere fact that .COM remains a consistent first choice despite challenges from .INFO (14 years), .BIZ (14 years), .MOBI (10 years), .CO (5 years), .ORG (30 years), .NET (30 years), not to mention .PRO, .NAME, etc. … speaks volumes (See the birth date of all top level domains in this infographic). An incumbent is most likely to lose an election to 1 rival – not to 1.000 rivals, competing amongst themselves. Within the fallback hierarchies of individual voters, something other than .COM will sometimes rank first, as it sometimes ought to. Yet after all fallback hierarchies are added together, it’s difficult to imagine that any TLD would get as many votes as .COM.
Although no suffix has eclipsed .COM worldwide, each has made some mark upon the name space. Those that have been around longest, capturing attention during the period with fewest competitors, have, unsurprisingly, achieved the biggest footprint. Notably, .ORG will often outrank .COM among buyer preferences in philanthropic contexts. And .NET has more than twice as many domains as all the new TLDs combined, its numerous websites giving it a prominence difficult to erase.
Nevertheless, the nTLDs are entitled to claim a patchwork territory. They’ve already begun to feature in individual fallback hierarchies, and they’re being put to use. From the yearly flow of new websites and rebrands, each TLD will scoop up its portion. Most will be .COM – a few .LLC, .FAIL, .MAIL, .EMAIL, and .PINK. Given time, some new TLDs will accumulate enough websites to constitute a legitimate kingdom – albeit a Liechtenstein before a Switzerland and maybe never a China. Most of us will be part of something widespread. Some of us will be content within smaller borders. To both, I’d recommend travel.
Survival of the Fittest
For any domain name style, online growth depends on 2 things: ranking and volume. High ranking within a group’s fallback hierarchy means that the naming convention will be implemented at a high rate, gaining a large percentage share of new websites within that group’s niche. But suppose the group itself is small. Think of limo drivers and .LIMO. Other TLDs seek a bigger audience. For instance, take .CLICK, a suffix versatile enough to attach to any English name. If .CLICK can clamber up our collective fallback hierarchy at all, then it should surpass .LIMO even if limousine companies rank .LIMO above .CLICK when they go to buy domains. In other words, what .CLICK may lack in ranking within a group’s fallback hierarchy, it could make up for in group volume.
Yet .CLICK isn’t the only “generalist” TLD. While it covets a place among your top 10 domain options, that’s also true of .LINK, .DOT, .OOO, .XYZ, .PW, .PLUS, .PLACE, .SPACE, .ONLINE, .WEB and many more. Also, let’s not forget the more established options: .INFO, .CO, .IO, .BIZ, .ME, .TV, .NET, .ORG, and (of course) .COM. Achieving enough online prominence to rank at all within people’s fallback hierarchies is no small task. For a TLD to differentiate itself from so many others and climb near the top of your hierarchy or mine is an even more difficult feat.
Right now, the primary differentiator between these “generalist” suffixes is simply this: Some are recognized and trusted by millions or billions of people, while others are not. In time, a few of the new “generalists” will gain an upper hand over others. Yet it will be a long while before one of them can equal half the brand awareness .NET has built over 30 years. Most likely .ORG and .COM are out of reach entirely. In fact, many suffixes will languish behind .INFO or .BIZ for the foreseeable future. Does that mean you shouldn’t use them? Not necessarily. Some of you should.
Where these nTLDs can penetrate effectively, many would agree, is within small niches. After all, fallback hierarchies depend very much on context. A plumber arranging his options might rank .PLUMBING (if he knows about it) fairly high. Obviously, .PLUMBING doesn’t belong anywhere in a photographer’s fallback hierarchy; but .PHOTOGRAPHY might show up, provided it can elbow aside .PHOTOS and .PHOTO, .PICTURES and .PICS. For topics like photography, lawyers, and property, competition between multiple similar keyword nTLDs is fierce – fierce enough to slow their climb up the ladder. But where a broad group’s attention can be focused on a single naming style – like .ART for art or .MUSIC for music – I’d expect marketing to spur a quicker ascent up the fallback hierarchy, followed by more rapid website implementation, and greater reinforcement from the feedback loop.
Understand the domain name trends
During the past few decades, fallback naming styles have mutated incessantly in response to domain selection pressure. Darwin would be proud. In my first article on fallback hierarchies, I identified a 1996 trend for adding “1.com” (e.g. Trailer1.com) followed by a 2002 trend for pluralizing with “z.com” (e.g. Trailerz.com). More recently, an “LY” suffix swept the planet. (Trailer.ly and Trailerly.com are both registered.)
Registrants who encounter obstacles invariably look for workarounds – domains resembling their initial idea but available, cheap, convenient. If you’ve ever browsed the web, you’ve seen dozens of popular workaround formats – AmazonUSA.com, Amazon24.de in Germany, AmazonOnline.com, 2Amazon.com, Amazon360.com, GetAmazon.com, and so forth.
Some workarounds look cheap and shoddy, as if the website’s policy is to cut corners. Others appear professional enough to raise no eyebrows. Yet even with these there is a danger. When the fashion for a workaround runs its course and few domains in that format remain cheaply at hand, then the workaround no longer works. Under new naming pressure, registrants discover new workarounds, starting new fads. Society moves on. At that point, if yesterday’s domain style has little intrinsic prestige, it will begin to feel increasingly arbitrary and dated with the passage of time. As a matter of fact, that is how I came to research the “1.com” and “z.com” suffixes. My gut reaction said these domains were clunky and old fashioned, but I was astonished to learn how tightly clustered they were around particular calendar years.
Choose a name as you’d invest in a company or a house. Forget resale value. What I mean is: Age gracefully. Your brand’s appeal ought to appreciate or at least remain stable over time. If you buy at the height of a fad, choosing a popular workaround in 2001, then you might live to see what used to be #4 on the fallback hierarchy slip down to #487. Then the audience that had embraced you might come to view you as a dinosaur. Meanwhile, if you adopt an untried naming convention, then pick something with upward mobility, something you believe will climb your audience’s fallback hierarchy and still be found firmly near the top 20 years hence. Or else shun all trends, picking a name too distinctive to be the baby thrown out with anybody else’s bathwater.
Of course, when naming our own project and selecting a domain, we have favorites and fallbacks. Yet these hierarchies aren’t limited to domain purchase decisions. Don’t forget that your audience acts upon instinctive, split-second judgments when choosing to click on 1 domain out of 20 in search results. Before they even visit your website, they’ve formed some first impression of you based on your domain. After all, those criteria and prejudices you bring to the table when brainstorming ideal names are the same values and habits you rely on when surfing the web and deciding which sites to trust. Therefore it’s important for your domain to rank well in other people’s hierarchies – even as society’s tastes change and priorities are reshuffled. Domains tell us who’s out of date, who just showed up, who cuts corners, who’s big and who’s small.
Demographics: Variability & Fragmentation
Different populations manifest marked differences in their fallback hierarchies. Nationality plays the biggest role, with ccTLDs the most conspicuous sign of its importance. Some countries, like the USA, scarcely recognize their own ccTLD, while many in Europe rely upon theirs. France and Germany have consolidated their domains as direct second-level registrations in .FR and .DE respectively, whereas nations such as Mexico, India, and the UK are confronted with not 1 but 2 viable extensions – .COM.MX + .MX, .CO.IN + .IN, .CO.UK + .UK. Such redundancy shapes their options, obstacles, and preferences. Meanwhile, China (which does use its own .CN) expresses an interest in .COM so intense that its spending rivals that of of the rest of the world altogether. Likewise, .CC would figure prominently in Chinese fallback hierarchies, despite having no obvious link to China and being neglected by the rest of the planet.
After nationality, language is the most important factor where fallback hierarchies are concerned. One small sign of this: German speakers are far more likely to look favorably on domains containing hyphens than are Americans, who instinctively recoil from American-Express.com as second rate – a phishing scheme, it might be thought. Languages that cross national borders, such as Spanish and Arabic, are also more likely to leave behind confining ccTLDs and choose a transnational suffix when the project has regional scope. If Italian speakers are your audience, then you can spread out comfortably in .IT; whereas a startup in Argentina might grow restless with .AR, given the scope of Spanish elsewhere. A Mexican football news site with global ambitions might want .COM, or it might want .FUTBOL; but it wouldn’t want to be confined by .MX.
In the years ahead, IDNs – domains using characters not found in our Latin alphabet – may play a more important role online. These allow Spanish to employ its letter ñ and German to write umlauted vowels: ä, ö, ü. For Germans, fallback hierarchies are sometimes complicated by brand protection concerns endemic in the language itself: Not only Schoenberg.com but Schönberg.com and Schonberg.com. Meanwhile, languages such as Arabic, Russian, and Chinese use wholly separate scripts. While it has been possible to create domains in those character sets for many years using established TLDs like .COM, new extensions have appeared that allow the entire domain – on both sides of the dot – to be written in Arabic, Cyrillic, or Chinese ideograms.
As time goes by, the aggregate fallback hierarchies for different language communities will come to resemble each other less and less. They’ll be like an unzipped zipper, still connected at one end. Among the top rankings, certain global extensions will be shared by English, German, Spanish, and Chinese audiences: .COM and .NET, which they all value today. But descending through the fallback hierarchy, we’ll see these populations part ways. Somewhere in the rankings of English speakers, .LAWYER, .LOAN, .LIFE, and .LLC might make an appearance; yet Germans, omitting those, might pay attention to .GMBH, .SCHULE, or .IMMOBILIEN, just as Spanish speakers might consider .CASA and the Chinese might look toward .中文网 and .在线. Today the online landscape looks quite similar the world over. Even in foreign countries, we recognize the TLDs of most websites. Tomorrow, there will still be shared features; but the foreign will be more foreign. And with the lion’s share of new keyword TLDs, the English name space risks becoming the most fragmented and bewildering.
A fascinating example of how one group’s fallback hierarchy can diverge from the mainstream is provided by .IO. Several years ago, budget-limited techies began using .IO as a workaround. (Actually, it’s an inside joke, a private allusion to computer input / output.) This soon started a trend within the incestuous echo chamber of the tech startup community – particularly once .IO projects received VC funding. As a result, today’s tech entrepreneur may well include .IO somewhere in his fallback hierarchy, whereas the majority of people creating websites would not.
It’s arguable whether .IO is a fad that has peaked or an underground fashion poised to expand beyond its limited audience and go mainstream. I’m assured by people with .IOs to sell that .IO and .COM divide the world between them; there is no third (to paraphrase T.S. Eliot). Personally, I would view .IO as a precursor to nTLD fragmentation. Many of the new TLDs focus on niche groups as concentrated as the programmer scene; and, to the extent that .LEGAL, .LONDON, .NYC, and .PHOTOGRAPHY catch on with their intended audiences, those nTLDs will be repeating what .IO has actually (if sporadically) done among tech entrepreneurs. .IO is a forerunner of what .PLUMBING, .CAFE, or .ART may yet do, or even – right in .IO’s own backyard – .TECH, .STUDIO, and .APP.
It’s only fair to ask: What evidence is there for domain styles being arranged in a hierarchy? Isn’t that only so much authoritarian hubris? True enough that as a consultant and namer, I do my best to impose my preferences on others … when they pay me to tell them what to do, that is. You, dear reader, have not. Jesting aside, as a market analyst and domain investor, I’m an empiricist. I shut up, keep my (good?) taste to myself, and watch what humans actually do.
Any domain investor worth his salt has devoted some thought to fallback hierarchies. When resale is the objective, it pays to pay attention to what buyers want – not what we want them to want. When stocking inventory for sale, it makes little sense to spend much on a domain that would be, at best, some rare person’s 17th choice. Ideally, we invest in names that are likely to be top choices for multiple potential buyers. All the while, the goal is to anticipate the thought processes of unidentified strangers. What obstacles would someone naming such and such encounter? Will they be deflected? At what angle? What domain will they consider next. How much momentum will they have left? Enough to buy at such and such a price, or would that only rebuff them? For domain investors, it’s vital to predict the trajectory of these naming decisions.
How to recognize existing fallback hierarchies
To some extent, common sense and time spent browsing the interwebs will suffice to show fallback hierarchies in action. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that domains like these were not their owners’ first choices:
(No, those aren’t fictional.) Likewise, it doesn’t take a genius to infer which domains those registrants would have preferred. Redirects also provide an important clue. Wikipedia, which forwards its .COM to .ORG, is a prominent example. We can assume AmericanExpress.com outranks American-Express.com because the hyphen-free version is chosen for display.
Another crucial source of data about domain hierarchies would be the market itself. Doesn’t it stand to reason that domain names selling for millions of dollars must be highly prized? Usually they’re the natural first choices of a great many potential buyers. Within a set of domains orbiting a common theme, some will sell for $50,000 and others for $2,500 or $500 or $25 wholesale. Most won’t sell at all. Market demand ranks the various naming conventions right in front of our eyes. Yes, there are flukes; but they recede in importance when the data is viewed from a distance. Simply put, society votes for its favorite domain styles with its wallet – with bids, inquiries, offers, and purchases.
Apart from analyzing and reporting on the domain market, I also talk to buyers during negotiations. One CEO approached me to purchase Narrative.org, which I happen to own. Presumably he’d given up on Narrative.com already; and after I declined to sell, he settled on GetNarrative.com, which follows a workaround convention popular in recent years. Numerous experiences like that one sketch fallback hierarchies in miniature. And, of course, naming and procurement clients bring me their name ideas, preferences, and frustrations so that long discussions are spent ranking domains.
To some extent, registration volume itself shows the popularity of various domain name styles. But many of the most prized names are necessarily limited in number. It would clearly be wrong to assume 4-letter domains are more in demand than 2-letter domains simply because there are more of them. Another difficulty: Some topics are so large that they kick up a dust made from thousands of horrendous domains, which conceal the styles actually favored. Also, various registries have artificially inflated their numbers as a marketing ploy – .XYZ most notoriously of all. Active websites, on the other hand, provide a much more credible indicator of how popular a domain style is. Any domain that has been developed must have ranked somewhere in some buyer’s fallback hierarchy. So any naming trends among developed sites – whatever we think of them – must be taken seriously.
Longevity affords us another clue. Some domains were first registered in the 1990s and have been maintained ever since, often changing hands many times. Not only were such names among the first ideas ever to spring to mind; but their value has been reaffirmed by many people over the years. Each week, I document bidding within the expired domain market. When particular domain styles show up again and again as they’re repurchased by new owners, especially in fierce bidding competition, then it’s safe to assume such domains still have a prominent place in people’s hierarchies.
Any fallback hierarchy is (conversely) also an upgrade hierarchy. So we have another very compelling source of evidence: Domain purchases meant to improve an existing website’s online address. These show clearly that one domain style is preferred over another. Moreover, these aren’t knee-jerk decisions; rather, they’re expensive corrections whose importance has been calibrated against long experience using a lesser domain. Last week and the week before, I reported upgrades that shorten a name, others that eliminate hyphens, and still more that reach for a TLD with wider reach.
Those same articles detail many instances of brand protection – some of them ill advised. With hundreds of new TLDs to worry about, companies must choose their battles more carefully. Knowledge of fallback hierarchies can help distinguish between (A) domains nobody but a cybersquatter would want and (B) domains someone else is likely to choose in good faith for an unrelated project. How likely that is to happen depends on fallback rank, group volume, and the status of higher ranking domains. So, you see, for brand protection, risk management depends very much on fallback hierarchies.
Decisions involve compromise
Remember that a TLD is itself a brand. When you choose a domain name, half of the branding is done by you; and half is done by everybody else. After all, you do share half the domain with others. .ORG, unlike .COM, has a non-neutral center of gravity, thanks to numerous nonprofit projects built upon it. Those associations either reinforce or detract from your project’s goals. At the opposite extreme sits .TK. After being given away for free for many years, .TK was used for so much spam and malware that few serious projects will risk touching it. .COM encompasses so many stakeholders of every possible description that its only connotation is universality. If a .COM website were implicated in some heinous scandal, it would be like adding a drop of poison to the ocean itself; the .COM brand would be entirely unaffected. Newer TLDs remain what people make of them. Some keyword nTLDs have strong intrinsic meanings, giving these name spaces a definite identity going forward. Yet with so few websites using the new suffixes at this point, any website that makes a large impression (good or bad) will exercise a disproportionate influence on the way that nTLDs’ brand is regarded. Perhaps this is your golden opportunity, your chance to shine. Perhaps it’s an arranged marriage to who knows what other brands. Chew on that for a moment.
In practice, regardless of what we do, decisions about domain names tend to involve compromise. Obstacles can be overcome; but there will always be risks, costs, tradeoffs, and unknowns. Domains are easily found and cheap, but perfect domains will either be expensive or else difficult to locate / create / validate. Nothing can change that reality. The best way forward is to thoroughly evaluate your options; prioritize them; and ultimately decide based on budget, taste, timeline, risk tolerance, and luck.
Back to the billiards table … Expect multiple players to take their own shots, sometimes pocketing what you were eyeing. Expect once promising targets to reappear in less promising contexts. Expect new targets to emerge as the vantage point shifts. Expect not 15 but 1500 targets / obstacles. Time rearranges our options. For now, it’s your turn.
What a great walk-through. Now it’s your turn. Let me know below what you did when you found out that your preferred domain name is taken.