Last time around we chewed on some food for thought about domain registration – Smart Names and Top Level Domains. We explored the “big three” top-level domains (TLDs): dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org, along with cousins dot-biz and dot-info. This time, we’re going to explore a few more TLD strategies. It’s a bit of a trip, because more than anything else, TLDs help the Web live up to its “worldwide” moniker.
What is a Top Level Domain?
A TLD is the last two or three letters of a domain name. If you think of the Internet as the world’s “hard drive,” TLDs are gigantic “folders,” each of which represents a slice of the Web. Your domain name is a “subfolder” of the TLD megafolder. Unlike an actual hard drive, the Web’s domain name servers read domain names right to left. Thus, gill-media.com indicates the name “gill-media” is a subcategory of “.com.”
The Internet actually routes data according to numeric IP addresses, but associated domain names give us a location name we can actually remember. The domain name system prevents the existence of two gill-media.coms, each associated with different IP addresses. This is why, when somebody registers the domain you wanted, you can’t just up and take it anyway. But if you absolutely, positively must have a certain name, you might be able to find a way – if you go on a little “trip.”
Country Code TLDs
One option is to use a country code. These two-letter TLDs are assigned to various countries to give each of them a “folder” with which to develop a national Internet presence. If your business has a nationalistic character or brand, this might be a smart option. If you’re in the American flag business, is there a better way to express your patriotism than http://www.americanflag.us?
Otherwise, consider a country code option based on how popular other sites with the same code are. UK sites use dot-uk regularly, making it a fine choice. In fact, it’s so popular that UK sites use second-level domains to diversify the range of possible addresses. That’s why you see “.co.uk” in their business sites. For Canadians, dot-ca isn’t bad, though it’s not as good as a dot-com. The less popular the TLD, the more marketing you’ll need to bring people to your site.
Your Flag of Convenience – and Puns
There are a lot of countries, so there are a lot of country code TLDs. This gives you a bunch of new opportunities to register the name you want, but these TLDs are pretty obscure, so without a special hook, few people will visit them.
Of course, you can find a hook in the TLDs themselves. Consider dot-to. This is the TLD for the island of Tonga, but the Tongan people are happy to let pretty much anybody use it. Toronto businesses have flocked to dot-to domains, because “TO” is local slang for the city.
Another option is so-called “domain hacking.” This isn’t real sabotage. Instead, it’s a kind of domain-based wordplay. http://del.icio.us does this with the dot-us domain. If you’re a Shakespeare buff, wouldn’t you want tobeornot.to/be? (That is the question!)
If you can find a clever way to do this, people will remember your site, though if you get too elaborate, nobody will be able to type it in properly. That’s why del.icio.us’ owners have registered a whole bunch of alternate spellings and typos, including delicious.com.
Not every country allows foreign registrants. Panama won’t let folks from Tampa, FL register tam.pa, for instance.
Back to Boring Dot-Com
Ultimately, all these methods are workarounds. Dot-com is the most marketable TLD around. You have to ask yourself how important the desired domain name is. For some businesses, it’s a better idea to change the name to fit the domain instead of the other way around.
If you’re dead-set on a certain domain, the options are there. Just remember this rule: the less popular the TLD, the more you’ll need search engine optimization, internet marketing, and link building to boost your profile. As it so happens, we can help you with that.