Top Level Domains, or TLDs, are domain extensions that can be customised. A domain extension is anything that comes after the dot in a website [www.fakewebsite.extension]. Usually it’s .com (for businesses), .org (for non-profits), .gov (for government sites), .edu (or similar, for academia) or .net (for networks). However, over the past several years other domain extensions have become more and more popular.
The foundations: What’s in a (domain) name?
Wait, I have options?
Yes. With a whole slew of TLDs you can register (417 and counting here) you don’t have to stick with what you know. Here are a few favourites:
The list goes on. There are city name TLDs, professions, activities, you name it. But don’t get too excited yet -- let’s walk through some things you should consider before grabbing .wow.
ccTLD vs. gTLD
The most common domain names other than .com are country code Top Level Domains. That’s anything like .co.uk, com.au, or .sn. Every country has a similar code, and it can be an easy way to grab a domain name if your business is staying local.
For example, if your business is in Japan and called Arbys, you might have a really hard time showing up for anyone who just googles “Arbys” because it’s a popular fast food chain in the US. Registering instead as www.arbys.jp would direct your traffic to you, rather than competing with arbys.com
A gTLD, or Generic Top Level Domain, is a domain extension that is available for anyone to use. There are some free ones, but we don’t recommend using them because they’re often used by spam companies and easily blocked. Most domain names are cheap to get, but essentially go to the highest bidder. So, if your company name is competing with one that sounds really similar, only one of you will get the .com TLD and the other will have to find a different TLD. Domains like .gov or .edu are called “sponsored TLDs” because there are more requirements you have to meet and one sponsoring body who decides whether you can get that kind of extension.
Where to get a domain name
If you are opening up a new store from scratch, you can use Shopify’s Domain Name Generator to find an available domain. They don’t necessarily have all of the fun or wacky TLDs available -- but you can buy a domain name from dozens of sites (here’s a pretty comprehensive one) and connect it with your Shopify account easily. Sites that sell you a domain name will let you know what’s available and what’s not.
TLDs and SEO
This should be the big question for companies considering going with a TLD other than .com. Are you going to show up on Google? There are a lot of elements that go into good search engine optimisation, including your domain name.
At this point though, there’s not a ton of concrete evidence to say what domains are really advantageous. In fact, local TLDs (for example, .Melbourne) can be good for SEO if you’re trying to target a local population. Other than that, Google has said that there is no inherent advantage of any one TLD over another. Most people are still more likely to search for a .com domain, and in that sense, if you have a .com you’re probably more likely to get hits. For example, in the US, 75% of TLDs are still .com.
That being said, we know .com domains are getting harder to come by, and it’s ok to get creative by using a different TLD.
Things to consider when choosing a Top Level Domain
If you choose a gTLD, you risk being considered spam
Even though they’re becoming more common, .com is basically what everyone considers completely normal for businesses on the internet.
Anything that’s not as familiar -- well, a lot of people are likely to be a bit suspicious. Spammers often use irregular TLDs because they can buy a whole lot of them quite cheaply, so if you’re choosing to go with one, you’re going to have to work extra hard to promote yourself as a trustworthy brand.
Best practice at this point is to avoid ones that are too generic, like .website and .country. Before choosing a TLD, check SpamHaus to see if those domains are commonly blocked.
The other issue with having an unusual TLD is that your customers might not remember it. If someone is telling their friend about you but doesn’t have your website right in front of them, they’re likely to assume it was a .com or ccTLD. They’ll be disappointed, and you’ll lose a sale, if they remember the company name but can’t find you.
You’ll also want to keep your name pretty short and snappy. Nobody wants to type something that’s too long, so if the TLD you choose is long, keep the main part of the domain name short to balance.
Have your TLD fit your business
Ok, so this one’s not strictly necessary. You can definitely do something that’s unrelated and it’s tempting to do just that if you’re trying to be memorable. But it usually makes sense to tell people a website that seems to fit together nicely. For example, if you sold coffee mugs, you might want your website to be called www.letsdrink.coffee as opposed to www.letsdrink.party.
Fitting your TLD to your business name is definitely part of the fun of having a TLD. You can often turn your company name into its url, making it easy for all the people you’re pitching to to remember.
That’s a .wrap
Things that were unheard of five years ago are commonplace on the internet these days. Even though we’re still much more comfortable with .com top level domains, that could definitely change. If you can, and can afford it, getting a .com domain is still recommended because it’s more familiar and trusted. But, if it’s taken or you’re trying to stand out, come up with a TLD that makes sense and is easy to remember.
Bonus Read: Here is some more info on distinguishing between top, second and third level domains.
Need help setting up your store?
Elkfox has got your back. We can go over everything you need to get your e-commerce store up and running, including help with domains and SEO. Get in touch.