You probably feel like me that owning a domain name these days probably doesn't matter as much as it used to. After all, people are increasingly using apps like Facebook to find local businesses, Linkedin/About.me to build an online CV and Medium/Wordpress/Linkedin to share their thoughts and content. More and more people even use live chat apps like Slack/Snapchat/
Minecraft to discuss online, thus relegating forums to the past.
So where's the place of the traditional web? Should you even bother about having a website and owning a domain name?
Here are my most important observations for 2016.
It's all about control and branding
We still don't know what shape the web will take in the future. Some say that apps have completely taken over the world and others think that conversational interfaces like bots are the real deal. But countless businesses have built their marketing and infrastructure around the traditional web, like Google, so it's very unlikely that it will disappear anytime soon.
Beyond all the noise and changing technology trends, the traditional web offers you a solid, flexible and well-known platform to make yourself known.
- You're a business? So you may be tempted to only create a Facebook Page, like many small businesses do. This may save you time and money, but it severely limits your reach and possibilities. A standard website is still the most flexible option here. You can (and should) complement it with page(s) on whatever social network you prefer. The goal here is to make sure that:
- as many people as possible can find you.
- as many people as possible can discover your products, services and what you can do for them.
- You want to start a blog? Consider that when you post on another platform like Facebook, Medium or Linkedin Pulse, you're not building domain authority in Google. Instead, the platform builds its authority and brand upon you. And finally, as Rand Fishkin says: "You can't own the experience". So again, self-hosting and owning a domain name should be a no-brainer.
.com is still #1
According to my analysis of Alexa's 1 million top-ranked websites list, .com is still the most popular top-level domain (TLD) in 2016:
|TLD||# websites in top 1M|
The main problem with .com is that it's very crowded. Although you can find an available domain with some creativity, it's becoming increasingly hard. But don't despair, because plenty of tools exist to help you in generating domain names. Some examples include:
The recent TLD explosion
You have probably witnessed the explosion of new TLDs in the past few years: .business, .website, .tech, .marketing, .life, .red, .lol, etc. This may finally allow you to get the domain that you've always wanted (e.g. yourcompany.business or caseyryback.rocks), but according to Google, they have no ranking preference over older TLDs. They also don't prevent you from infringing already registered trademarks. This means that if you register kelloggs-cereals.io and your site eventually becomes popular, you may technically end up being sued for trademark infringement, even though Kelloggs already own the kelloggs.com domain.
I personally find that new TLDs are not as intuitive as older TLDs. For example, if you register john.mba or paul.works and people ask you for your website's address, they will probably wonder whether it's legitimate. People are used to the older TLDs after all. Interestingly, new TLDs are also increasingly being used by spammers, so they may get a bad reputution over time.
Finally, you need to consider that some new TLDs follow certain trends, such as .io, and like most trends, we can question whether they are here to stay.
In search of meaning
Historically, TLDs were created out of need, for specific purposes. Some examples include:
- .com, originally intended for commercial purposes, but later opened for any purpose.
- .net, originally intended for organizations involved in networking technologies, but later opened for any purpose.
- .org, originally intended for non-profit organizations, but it was not enforced and so the restriction was removed.
TLDs then became more specialized with sponsored top-level domains and country code top-level domains:
- .ac.* for universities
- .net.* and *.co for businesses
- .go.* and .gov.* for government
- *.va for Vatican!
I would say that the meaning of new TLDs is somewhat less obscure than old TLDs, because they are more specialized. If I stumble upon john.lawyer, it's rather obvious that it's a lawyer's website. But for most cases, new TLDs are so numerous that choosing one over another may not be trivial. For example:
- Should you choose .io, .business, .company, .cloud, .industries, .consulting, .services or .agency for your new business?
- Would it be more appropriate to use .career, .site, .website, .tech, .work or .works to create your professional website?
So it all comes down to what you want to convey to your visitors. If you want to convey a professional image and avoid confusion, sticking to well-known TLDs (such as .com) may be a good idea.
The whole list
The folks at IANA and the Mozilla Foundation both maintain regularly updated lists of well-known TLDs. However, from my personal experience, those lists are incomplete and are probably more suited for technical people. I recommend that you refer to your domain name registrar to know the TLDs you can register. For example, Gandi.net provides such a list.
What explains the price differences
First of all, registries may impose limitations on who can register some domains. They may also try to keep them exclusive to certain groups, so this translates into higher costs, both for your registrar and you. Notable examples are .io and .accountants, which run for about $50 USD and $140 USD per year respectively.
Registries also indirectly charge support costs to your registrar and prices are subject to international currency fluctuations, so this all adds up to the overall cost of your domain.
Your choice of registrar matters
Given that a vast number of domain registrars exist and that several of them charge very similar prices, you may wonder if choosing one registrar over another will really make any difference. The answer is a resounding YES!
Some registrars may offer cheaper prices than the competition. But if you read their terms carefully, you may find out that:
- Those prices are valid for a limited period only. After that (typically 1 year), they will climb substantially, often equaling registrars that were initially more expensive.
- Hidden fees and conditions may apply.
Don't forget that the quality of customer service and support that you receive are also very important. If your registrar can't respond or act on your requests in a timely manner, or if they have a lot of negative reviews online, this doesn't bode well at all. Websites like WebHostingGeeks.com can definitely help you.
Go with the registrar with values you believe in the most. Personally, I really like Gandi's "No Bullshit" slogan and so far I've been very satisfied with their service2.
So this all boils down to the following:
- Registering a domain in 2016 is still very relevant, especially for businesses, but also for individuals.
- .com is probably still the best choice today.
- You should choose your domain registrar carefully to avoid any potential problems. Price should not be a major factor in your decision, but reliability and quality of service should.
But remember that whether you already own a domain or you plan to register one, what's really important in the end is to have a web presence at all.