by Hassan del Campo, Social Mediums

Everyone wants their brand to be memorable. And often, that begins with the website – the most standard tool we have as entrepreneurs. But, sometimes standing out, through your website’s unique domain name, can also keep you out of certain situations – and in some cases, out of someone’s inbox. We learned this after we registered an alternative top level domain, .DESIGN for a business, and discovered that it wasn’t as “user-friendly” as the common .COM or .ORG domains. It’s the small details that we don’t think about, like, how the domain appears on a business card or when creating an online account that doesn’t recognize that particular domain extension.  In some cases, .DESIGN and other alternative domains may confuse people that aren’t familiar with the thousands of less-known domain names. For instance, Linktree (a great tool for Instagram users, by the way) uses the domain name linktr.ee. While it works great for their branding, imagine being at a networking event and sharing a domain like this aloud. It can be a little cumbersome.

micro business monday manhattah.design

But, the real question is, does that even matter? Sure, someone might assume your website is my-company name.com and attempt to enter that domain in the search bar, only to be met with an error page. Are these trivial circumstances worth any attention?

A more serious concern with using alternative domain names is how they are treated by Google’s algorithm. After all, you don’t want to go through the trouble of picking out a great domain for your website and get penalized for it. While there have been claims that certain domain names impact a website’s search rankings, Google affirms that new top level domains are treated equally.

Here’s an excerpt straight from the source:

With the coming of many new generic top level domains (gTLDs), we’d like to give some insight into how these are handled in Google’s search. We’ve heard and seen questions and misconceptions about the way we treat new top level domains (TLDs), like .guru, .how, or any of the .BRAND gTLDs, for example:

Q: How will new gTLDs affect search? Is Google changing the search algorithm to favor these TLDs? How important are they really in search? 
A: Overall, our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org). Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.

Q: Will a .BRAND TLD be given any more or less weight than a .com?
A: No. Those TLDs will be treated the same as a other gTLDs. They will require the same geotargeting settings and configuration, and they won’t have more weight or influence in the way we crawl, index, or rank URLs.

Read more on Google’s blog for webmasters, here.

Google claims its algorithm treats all domains the same. A .POOKIE website should and will have the same potential as a .ORG to rank well on search engines. But, that’s not all. How your domain extension appears to Google is one thing. How it communicates to your customer is another. First, let’s get behind the jargon and explain what are gTLD, nTLD, and ccTLD domains.

Generic Top Level Domains or gTLDs are general purpose domains that function for any type of business, industry, or purpose. These are the .COM, .NET, .INFO and so of the world wide web. Some gTLDs have restrictions, but for the most part, can be registered by anyone.

New Top Level Domains or nTLDs comprise of the plethora of new domain extensions that are available for use. Because the creation of nTLDs rest in the creator’s imagination you’ll discover a wide range of domains to pick and choose from, that can be more reflective of your brand or personality. .YOGA, .GROCERY, and .AUTHOR are among the thousands of nTLDs available for use.

Country code Top Level Domains or ccTLDs represent country-specific domains. Some ccTLDs require that you do business in or reside in the country the domain belongs to, while others are open to everyone, regardless of location. Something interesting to note is how the intended purpose of a TLD can change with use. For instance, .IO is the ccTLD for British Indian Ocean Territory, but was co-opted by the startup and tech communities. In tech speak, “io” references “input/output”, and since the .IO domain has a strong brand recognition to consumers, it’s remained a popular choice.

Some Domain Names Have Special Requirements

Interested in landing a .FILM domain extension for your movie? You’ll have to be a member of an approved film association, body, or union. Domains like .HEALTH come with special requirements as well. Here is a sample of what you could expect:

  • .jobs – must own the .COM version of the business website and have a verifiable email address with that domain
  • .us – must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, U.S. entity (such as organizations and corporations), or a business/corporation with a bona fide presence in the U.S.
  • .nyc – must be a New York City resident with a verifiable address
  • .it – must present valid Italian ID number upon registration
  • .jp – must be a resident of Japan

.COM, .ORG, .EDU 

The most standard domain extension is the dot com, which not coincidentally, has the highest authority and recognition among the top level domain names. Following closely behind are the .ORG, .NET, and .EDU domains – which are widely recognized and reputable to the general public.

On the other hand, there are some domain extensions that, while created with the best intentions, may have earned a negative reputation among some consumers. Examples of these include .BIZ, .INFO, and .ZIP. You can thank unscrupulous salespeople for that.

There are literally thousands of different extensions you can use for your domain. The choice is yours. And there are good reasons why choosing a new top level domain makes sense. However, coolness factor aside, there are some important things to note.

Functionality beyond branding

The general intended purpose for an alternative domain name is to identify to which industry or category a website belongs. The best-case scenario is when your domain communicates where you come from, but also what you represent. This requires an understanding of how your domain will read in search engines, how well the domain represents what you offer, and how effective your ccTLD or nTLD contributes to your branding.

Using keywords in your domain won’t boost your SEO alone, but effectually making a long-tail keyword out of your domain name generates good relevancy signals on search engine results pages (SERP). Do you ever notice how Google bolds keywords typed in the search bar as it returns search results? These act as signals to help a person decide how relevant your webpage is to their search inquiry. This is why the meta tag descriptions and headers on your page are digital real estate you can’t afford to pass. 

By itself, using a new Top Level Domain isn’t an effective strategy to rank favorably. Content matters. If the owner of pet.shop suddenly switched their website’s content to a blog about the Star Wars space opera franchise, the domain would no longer be relevant.

vegan.maret is available

An nTLD such as *vegan.market clearly identifies a website, for an online or offline market, where one would expect to find or get information on vegan products. Having the keyword serve as the domain can do wonders for generating clicks from a search engine results page, which is a critical step to launch your sales journey. But as the example above indicates, it can come at a cost. Even still, Google wants you to know that branding is more important than keywords. So, just because LAsBestVegan.market is available, doesn’t guarantee more traffic than Bobsveganmarket.com. If Bob has a strong brand, Bob’s will always come out on top.

The person closest to the customers wins. In the world of alternative TLDs “getting closer” means having a memorable domain that sticks  to the mind of the customer.

What makes nTLDs so attractive likewise influences its value. The dot com version of your domain may be costly to acquire, currently used, or already parked somewhere by a domain speculator; in which case you would have to pay whatever amount you can negotiate to use it. The other alternative is to find an nTLD or ccTLD that gets the job done, at a fraction of the cost. And because there are so much to choose from, with more nTLD submissions on the way, it likely makes more economic and strategic sense to acquire one now for your business or brand.

Other uses for nTLDs

Your business operates elsewhere.

Not all entrepreneurs use a website as their primary platform. Apps, for example, live in the marketplace. Their associated websites are likely secondary, but useful, storefronts that offer another way for customers to interact with the brand.

The Call-to-Action.

Your own creativity is the only limitation for devising strategic uses for alternative domain names. And one such way is a domain that doubles as a call-to-action.

Consider the scenario of Shoe Planet, a fictional mom-and-pop shoe store looking to build its brand and increase sales. The fall/winter holidays are fast approaching and the store decides that, while their old techniques of advertising brought reasonable results, it was time to do something different. The store comes across the .BLACKFRIDAY domain and seizes the opportunity. Shoeplanet.blackfriday is born and is promoted on all of their advertising channels right before and during Black Friday. With one click, visitors arrive at a landing page displaying Shoe Planet‘s deals for Black Friday. The .BLACKFRIDAY domain suggests a special sense of urgency that also sticks to the mind of the customer, effortlessly. And because the aTLD is specific to their business name, the cost is nominal.

Introduce a New Product or Service.

Businesses that wish to integrate horizontally can boost their brand without deviating from the brand name.

Can I create my own domain extension?

Yes. But, according to Name.com the application for new top level domains has closed for the time being. If it’s any consolation the fee to enter the last round was $185,000. Yikes.

As the popularity spreads in nTLDs you can expect costs to eventually rise as well as domain speculators (or hoarders) to grab the “good” ones. The question then remains, is it worth it for your business or brand to claim one? If so, betterstart.now before it’s gone.

*Also note that both lavegan.market and losangelesvegan.market are available and significantly cheaper. Play around with specific keywords that are relevant to your particular business and you may find nTLDs that fit your budget and function better. 

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