Naming a startup or small business is tricky.
The company’s name sets the tone for how customers and prospects perceive the company and is a critical part of the brand.
Of course, you also want people to remember your brand, so there’s a lot of pressure to find the perfect name.
When we name companies or products, we always see whether the corresponding domain name is available. Finding an available domain name is often more difficult than finding a great name. It’s one reason we turn to the crowdspring community when we need a new company name – leveraging the power of 210,000 creatives from around the world is much better than reading every dictionary in existence only to learn that every word in Swahili has already been registered. Trust me, I’m nearly fluent in Swahili (I say this only half-jokingly) after looking up thousands of possible domain names.
One reason domains have become more scarce is because today, it’s easier to create a website, and new names are being registered at an increasing pace.
Suddenly your first twenty name choices already exist as a .com, and you may find yourself compromising on a name that doesn’t fit, or a domain that is too long to remember.
Even worse, you might find yourself in a domain dispute- an increasingly troubling problem (10% increase in domain disputes in 2016 according to World Intellectual Property Organization).
One good strategy is to avoid generic names or domain/trademark lawsuits by using different top-level domains (TLDs).
A top-level domain is the last part of a domain name- it’s everything that follows the dot (.com, .gov, .org, etc.). Typically, TLDs are separated into two categories: generic and country specific. TLDs like .fr for France or .biz for business have become more common over the past few years as companies looked at strengthening their SEO. Moz explains this in a post about CcTLDs, or country code top-level domains:
Important in international SEO, ccTLDs are the single strongest way to show search engines and users where the site originates. This means that, all things being equal, example.fr will likely rank better in a French user’s SERP than example.us or example.com
But is this the only way to differentiate your company and strengthen your ranking?
You don’t have to resort to country level domain names to differentiate.
In 2016, over 50 new TLDs became active, and more are expected to open in 2017. According to United Domains, TLDs like .music, .app, .sport, .hotel, and more gained popularity in 2016 in order to create more industry focus. New TLDs are gaining traction quickly, which means that they’ll become even more competitive with time.
With more room for creativity in naming and more simple domains, it’s going to be even more important for entrepreneurs and small business owners to understand all of the new opportunities that come with the new TLDs.
Here are three things you should think about to take advantage of new TLDs:
1. Consider smarter domains.
It can be difficult to remember or spell a long domain, and even harder to put a one on marketing materials like infographics or business cards. With the availability of new, more specific TLDs, companies should consider switching to a smarter domain if their existing domain isn’t working for them.
We see many companies whose names are different from their domains – this creates a lot of confusion and frustration, and ultimately harms their brand.
This problem is further amplified if you have a company logo with your business name but are operating the business under a different domain name than the name of your company (and logo). Imagine a business card design with a logo showing one name and a URL under a completely different name. It’ll just confuse people.
Today’s search ranking factors no longer give a huge boost to .com domains, even though most SEO practitioners continue to believe .com, .edu and .org TLDs do offer some advantages. Here’s an example of a recent anecdotal study showing that a new TLD can rank high on search results.
The main issue with non .com TLDs isn’t whether they can rank higher – it’s whether they’re commonly associated with spam. Certain TLDs are havens for spammers and as a result, tend to do worse in search results.
One of my favorite examples of a company that made the switch is American Health Associates, a veterinarian and animal hospital group from Oregon. They switched their domain from americanhealthassociates.org to aha.vet once the new TLD was available. Practice Manager Jim Johnson explains their reasoning:
Actually, we changed our domain name not specifically because of the new extension, but simply because that allowed us to have a shorter name in general. Our domain used to be animalhealthassociates.org, which is hard to type, hard to spell over the phone, etc. When the new domain names became available we were able to snag Aha.vet which is obviously much easier to work with.
In the end, the veterinarian group was able to better communicate with the community and introduce more people to their domain, making them smarter in their branding and marketing strategies.
2. Use landing pages more effectively.
Another useful strategy is to use landing pages effectively when your domain can’t cover certain areas you care about.
For example, over the past decade, crowdspring has helped tends of thousands of entrepreneurs, small businesses, marketers and agencies with professional, custom logo design. Most visitors looking for logo design start out by browsing either the crowdspring homepage or the custom logo-design landing page.
But we’ve also created dedicated topic landing pages for prospective clients looking for branding and brand identity help elsewhere. For example, people searching for a chicago logo design company, a San Francisco logo design company, or London logo design see specific city landing pages tailored to those searches. There’s no need for us to get domains for each of those landing pages – we use the URL structure to define smart URLs and instead create those landing pages under our main domain.
3. Extended domain ownership.
With more TLDs to choose from, there’re now more options to extend your brand to more specific verticals.
When purchasing a domain, it’s important to consider the different variations on the domain and TLD to make sure that a competitor cannot directly copy your company and confuse your customers. For a while, companies would simply buy the .com TLD and a few variations on spelling the name.
It’s extremely important to protect the identity of your brand, making it imperative to think critically about the potential popularity of other TLDs and how those could affect your company if the name itself is hijacked. In addition to brand protection, extended domain ownership gives companies the opportunity to own product-specific domains, which give companies the ability to differentiate and target their products/customers uniquely.
For example, a small record label may start in the United States with the domain recordlabel.music. As they sign more artists, they begin to expand to other countries. In order to increase their website ranking in other countries, they may use recordlabel.italy.
Maybe they want to run a marketing campaign to sign artists in Chicago, for which they use recordlabel.chicago. The record label might even begin to sell merchandise, using recordlabel.fashion.
To avoid damage to their reputation, they may register (and not use) recordlabel.isbad. No matter the reason, the record label is acting on the advantage that they bought multiple TLD variations of their domain when they purchased their original domain, recordlabel.music.
With extended domain ownership, they can expand as quickly or as slowly as they want without the threat of competitors.
I’m not suggesting you register every TLD variation of your company’s name. There are way too many variations for most companies to do this smartly. But do think about the most logical, strategic variations and consider whether registering those could help you.
4. Brand specific TLDs.
In addition to the new TLDs released in 2016/2017, companies can now register brand specific TLDs.
Unlike other TLDs which use common words or abbreviations we all know, brand specific TLDs are proprietary and can only be registered by the company that owns that name.
Buffer, for example, cannot own social.hootsuite, since Hootsuite is company name. Buffer can own social.buffer, and use it for either specific purposes like special marketing campaigns, or simply to redirect customers in search results.
Either way, brand specific TLDs create a larger opportunity for companies to create a focused, brand driven presence on the internet. Since there isn’t direct competition for brand specific TLDs, it’s easy to forget about them- making them even more intriguing when used.
With over 4 million companies already using the new TLDs, TLDs will only continue to expand.
Startups and innovative companies looking to rebrand will make the trend more and more popular this year as they look to find something unique that makes them stand out in a sea of search results.
Instead of paying large sums of money to buy an old domain, smart marketers can identify new TLDs to build a more cohesive brand identity.
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