Choosing a domain name for a new client is a difficult task. Domain names are the crux of a website’s existence. A bad name can create a negative impact on branding and the ability to strengthen the domain value. A good domain name is essentially priceless (tacky but true) in name, branding, ease of understanding, and catchiness.
This article piggybacks on another Smashing article but it stops short of domain extensions. Here, we are going to discuss generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), country top level domains (ccTLDs), new and exciting domain extensions for 2009, domain hacks, and internationalized domains.
Learning this will make you even more of an awesome designer or developer for clients. You need to think of a variety of domains and possibilities for new sites, as well as uniquely branding corporate websites with domain extensions. Domain names are not a lackluster industry, it is a hidden industry that is vital to the success and maintenance of the Internet.
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1. Boring Stuff First: Short Background Information
The birth of Domains
In 1983 the Domain Name System (DNS) was invented so people did not have to remember a long string of funny numbers. DNS inherits its structure from an even older systems but it was with the birth of the DNS that we are able to type in letters instead of numbers.
When domain names become fashionable, domains owners needed to control the rights of their domain names, and an administrative authority was necessary. Fifteen years later ICANN saw the day of light and its governing purpose is to coordinate all the unique domain names on the web today.
Current use of domain extensions
Today there are a few groups of domain extensions: gTLDs, ccTLDs, and the personal domains. The most well-known generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) is the .com, an international extension for everyone from large corporations to small personal websites. Being the most popular extension in the world, it is increasingly difficult to find a .com domain name. It has led to new and creative ways of setting up domain names. The .com will always be in demand but it is not as sought after than in the earlier years.
Other domain extensions that are frequently used on the web today are: .net, .org, .co.uk, .de, .fr and .it. As you can see, there is a healthy mix of both generic top-level domains (gTDL) and country code top-level domains (ccTLD) among many of the websites of today.
Registering a Domain Name
There are two alternatives to register a domain name: 1) via a web hosting provider, or 2) through a legitimate domain registrar. A registrar has the ability to manage gTLDs but not all ccTLDs. Each country decides which registrars that are allowed to sell its ccTLD; check the country’s domain website where country domains may be bought.
Fun facts about domain names:
- All 3 letter possibilities are gone on .com
- All 4 letter words are depleted on .com
- The most popular registered domain name length is 11 characters
- There are 255,000+ domain names that are 32 characters or longer
- All of the top 10,000 family names are registered as a domain name
- The most common letter to start a domain with is S
- More than 270,000 domains contain the sequence SEX
2. gTLDs: Generic Top Level Domains
Generic TLDs are divided into three sets: unrestricted, sponsored and geographic. Unrestricted gTLDs can be registered by anyone who wants one. The core group consists of .com, .info, .net and .org. Sponsored gTLDs have been underwritten by an organization or private agency; .aero is an example for the air-transport industry. Geographic gTLDS are not common, only .cat and .asia exist today, but they are to be used in connection with a geographical, ethnic or cultural group.
List of gTLDs
The domains are marked as restricted or unrestricted. Registricted domain registers must meet certain conditions to receive such a domain; unrestricted is okay for anyone. For example, If you have clients that fall into hospitality or museum industries, you can help them obtain a restricted domain.
- .aero - air transportion; restricted
- .arpa - reserved by the Internet Architecture Board; restricted
- .asia - Asia-Pacific region; restricted
- .biz - business and commerical use
- .cat - Catalan language and culture
- .com - commerical, personal, or any use; unrestricted
- .coop - cooperatives; restricted to Co-Op organizations
- .edu - post-secondary educational institutions; United States only; restricted
- .gov - United States government orgs at the federal, state, and local levels; restricted
- .info - informational use; unrestricted
- .int - international organizations established by treaty; restricted
- .jobs - employment-related; restricted
- .mil - US military; restricted
- .mobi - mobile device based; restricted
- .museum – museums; restricted
- .name - individuals; unrestricted
- .net - originally for network infrastructures; today unrestricted
- .org - originally for organizations; today unrestricted
- .pro - professions; restricted
- .tel - services between telecom and the Internet; restricted
- .travel - travel agencies, airlines, hotels, tourism bureaus; restricted
Most major companies register a .com domain. But is it really necessary for your website? Well, a ccTLD does just fine if your target audience is in a specific country, otherwise it is advisable trying to find a .com domain. .com’s are also the most easy to understand for users and therefore good for branding purposes.
Pros of gTLDs:
- Suitable for an international market.
- There is a familiarity with .com which you will not find with any other extension.
Cons of gTLDs:
- Can be difficult to find a good and available gTLD.
- Will not rank as high as ccTLD’s when it come to regional searches. In Sweden, .se domains are more valued and trusted than a generic TLD.
3. ccTLDs: Country Top Level Domains
Depending on your site and its potential clientèle you might have thought about whether you should get a ccTLD or whether you should look elsewhere when seeking for a domain name. There is no set rule for how one should when it comes to ccTLD’s. One of the most influential countries in the world, the United States, hardly even uses its ccTLD .us.
Europe Union member countries also use the .com for sites mainly in English and country’s ccTLD for sites written in native languages. For example, if you have an Italian website with an Italian target audience, then the .it extension better choice. If the audience is international, a .com extension is preferred. Not all ccTLD’s are open for international registration, so investigate before you make a decision.
Pros of ccTLDs:
- There is more trust in ccTLDs
- The website will most likely rank better in that specific country (regional targeting)
- There will be more available domain names to choose between
Cons of ccTLDs:
- You may get lower search engine results in the United States and Anglophone markets. But this also depends on the location of the hosting server, geographic nature of inbound links, and if the content is in English.
- Some ccTLDs have restrictions regarding DNS providers.
- In extremely small markets, e.g. TT, the benefits are limiting. Unless its for domainhacking, a .com is better.
- Annual registration prices are usually higher with ccTLDs. A few countries offer free domains like .tk and .cx but it is not common.
- Commercial sites face more scrutiny that they comply with local laws.
- It is hard to manage a portfolio if you have domains with many providers.
- Payments for registration and renewals may be difficult; some DNS providers only accept wire transfers or Paypal. Incorporate those costs into domain renewals for your clients.
A Quick Look: The Top ccTLD Registries During the First Quarter of 2009
By the end of the first quarter of 2009 we had roughly 74 million ccTLD registrations which is an 18% increase compared to the same quarter in 2008. At the moment there are over 240 ccTLD extensions on the global market.
However, out of these 240 ccTLDs, the ten biggest (presented above) represent 64% of the total number of registrations. The .us domain grew fastest with a 12% increase quarter over quarter. Special promotions drove sales, especially in China. The Chinese ccTLD experienced its slowest growth in twelve quarters, with a four percent growth (can be attributed to both sales and recession). Overall, the 25 largest ccTLD’s experienced a substantial amount of growth from Q4 2008 to Q1 2009.
4. 2009 Domain Extensions Registrations
We are running out of good .coms (if you do not want to spend a fortune at auction, that is), which is the reason to look at alternative domain extensions. Many ccTLDs are now open for business internationally and more and more countries are looking to open their extension for international registration as well. It generates more revenues for the countries. Mexico will open theirextension to the public in fall 2009. Is “domain hacking” is the way of the future?
Mexico opens up to the public (.mx)
For the last 20 years it has been reserved for Mexican citizens only but people that like to invest in ccTLD might want to keep their eyes open after this summer. The current schedule known as sunrise and sunset periods:
Pre-Sunrise: Before March 1st, 2009: To participate in pre-registration phase of top-level .mxdomain names, you must already be registered under one of the other classifications (org.mx, com.mx, net.mx, edu.mx and gob.mx)
Sunrise: May 1st to July 31st, 2009: People already owning a domain name in any of the five sub-extensions will be allowed to register the same name under .mx. If two people have the same domain name, the one with proof of having the longest will get to keep it.
Waiting Period: August 1st to 31st 2009: Domain registers will go through everyone’s applications.
Landrush: September 1 – October 31, 2009: Anyone can register an available .mx domain during this period.
Cameroon Opens Registrations (.cm)
Not too many exciting things are happening with the Cameroon extension since few words end in ‘cm.’ Apart from being an abbreviation of centimeter, ‘cm’ may not the be best option for new hacks.
Sunrise period: June 15th to July 14th, 2009
Landrush Period: July 15th to 31st, 2009
Go Live period: August 1st , 2009
The Netherlands meets us half-way (.co.nl)
The Netherlands does not open up their .nl extension but the .co.nl extension just recently was opened up for international registries. It is not intended to replace the .nl extension but the “.co” could be attractive for people already using a ”.co.xx” address which means that it could be successfully used to attract business and visitors from for example the United Kingdom and India. The opening of the .co.nl was divided into three phases:
Grandfather: November 18th 2008 – 15th of January 2009: People holding an .nl domain were allowed to register the same domain with the new extension.
Sunrise: February 10th, 2009 – 10th of March 2009: Trademark holders had the opportunity apply for a domain on afirst come first served.
Landrush: March 17t to 31st, 2009 – open to all, priority will be based on lottery.Go Live: April 15th , 2009 onwards: .co.nl domains are open for everyone to register.
5. Domain Hacking: Get Really Creative
There’s a whole world of domain extensions you probably didn’t know about. Now, how do you use these extensions to your advantage?
Go domain hacking. No it’s not actually hacking someone’s domain name and stealing it. It’s the process of using real words but part of the word sits in the domain extension. One famous example is DesignM.ag. See the .ag? Their website is registered in Antigua and Barbuda.
Domain hacks find their extensions from the rainbow variety of ccTLDs. Again, you will need to check on the country registrar for information on how to register the domain and where it can be hosted.
Steps to take:
- Create a name
This is your chance to shine with a client if they are insistent on something extremely unique and interesting. Most ccTLDs allow for two letter domains (.com, .net, .org do not). The best example is ma.tt, the man behind Automattic/WordPress. You can try Xona, a popular domain hacking tool. I tried it out with WebHostingSearch and got some fun results; the best being the .ch extension.
- Register with approved DNS providers
- Brand like hell
Because people most commonly understand .com and .net, getting people to remember a new domain extension and your domain name will be tricky. Part of using a domain hack is for branding, make sure that is stressed in all aspects of the new site.
Common list of domain extensions:
.ag – Antigua and Barbuda. Good for words ending in ‘ag.’
Examples: Designm.ag, Namet.ag
.me – Montenegro. Used for vanity sites or great with ‘me’ phrases.
Examples: Move.me, Search.me, Fa.me, David.me
.us – United States. Great ending for ‘ous’ ending words or using the word ‘us’ itself
Examples: Del.icio.us, Call.us, Email.us
.fm – Federated States of Micronesia. Used for FM radio stations. No words end in ‘fm’ so it’s domain extension really strong for online radios than anything else.
.gs – South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands. Works with words ending in ‘gs.’
Examples: blo.gs, rankin.gs
.at – Austria. Popular as a ccTLD; used in phrases ending in ‘at’ or words with ‘at’ in it.
Examples: Losef.at, Bureaucr.at, IM.at
.it – Italy. Heavily used for Italian sites; used in phrases ending in ‘it’ or words with ‘it.’ Not very popular as an extension representing ‘information technology.’
Examples: Beat.it, Forget.it
.be – Belgium. Another popular country extension for local sites; works with phrases with ‘be’ ending; words that end with ‘be’
Examples: Tu.be, Ado.be, Bee.be
.to – Tonga. For phrases ending in ‘to’ or using the two letter word.
Examples: Go.to., Pin.to
Pros of Domain Hacks:
- Fun, creative way to express a domain name
- Opens up for a plethora of options compared to .com or .net names
- Becoming more popular; acceptance within the community is growing
Cons of Domain Hacks:
- Must be well branded.
- Needs to be promoted for people to understand a new name.
- International, English based sites may have harder time ranking in search results.
- Has SEO disadvantages. Search engines do not care about domain extensions. With Ma.tt, the SEO value is in “Ma” not “Matt.” You may lose traction when it comes to extremely competitive keywords if the phrase is domain hacked. For example if we turned WebHostingSearch.com into WebHostingSear.ch, we lose the value of “search.” Our domain will also be registered in Switzerland and can pose issues as mentioned above.
6. Internationalized Domain Name (IDN): Special Characters in Domains
Since we are covering everything related to domain names, the last type of example to show are the internationalized domain names, known as IDN. IDNs utilitze non ASCII characters in the domain name. Considering non English words use ä, ö, å, é, è and non-Latin scripted languages are entirely non ASCII, IDN is a way to create usable domain names. Here is an example of a Swedish website.
Swedish spelling: Västerås.se – This is how a native will spell the word.
IDN spelling: xn--vsters-buam.se – This is the ASCII translation the characters Ä and Å for those that use special characters.
Standard spelling: Vasteras.se – This would be the standard spelling if we were to remove the special characters Ä and Å and call them both A.
Notice how all three domains lead you to the same website. As Västerås is a large city in Sweden, it was a good idea to get both domain names in case people were not sure how to replace the Ä and Å into English.
Pros of IDNs:
- Having the IDN allows you to keep control of your brand/corporate identity.
- Easy to type in for native speakers.
Cons of IDNs:
- Not all email boxes or web browsers support non ASCII characters.
- Security issues: homograph spoofing. It is easy to take a real domain and create a spoof with different Unicode letters that are seemingly the same. For example the letter ‘a’ can be U+0061 (Latin ‘a’) or U+0430 (Cyrillic ‘a’). A visitor would never see the different in these letters while typing, thus creating a major security problem for websites.
- Most keyboards do not have special characters, so it can confuse visitors.
We hope this article enlightens your knowledge of the plethora of domains available today. Remember a great web designer deserves a great website name.
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