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Should You Choose an Alternative Domain for Your Website?

For years, the World Web Web has been a land of dot-coms. This domain ending is so expected and desirable that there is an entire market devoted to obtaining and selling .com domain registrations for brands. However, with the ever-expanding Web comes a need for more variety. Over the past few years, new domain options have come onto the market, from the snazzy .biz to the practical .app to the startup favorite .io.

These alternative domain names are appealing for their fresh look and ultra customizability — or if you can’t get your brand name with .com at the end.

However, marketers interested in these options should keep some of the pitfalls in mind, and choose wisely.

What is a TLD?

While the term “domain” is often used interchangeably with “domain name” or “domain registration,” it technically refers to a component in the Internet’s Domain Name System, or DNS for short.

The top-level domain, or TLD, is the root component. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the brand element in a domain like Google.com, but rather the .com itself. The brand name usually holds what’s called the second-level domain place. There are plenty of TLDs besides .com, such as .org, .edu, and .gov.

Outside the United States, many websites use country-code TLDs, or CCLTDs, to indicate their region or target market. Common CCLTDs include .ca, .uk, and .au. Some, such as .io (British Indian Ocean Territory) and .gg (Guernsey) have been co-opted by tech startups because they are short, underused for their intended purpose, and have a double meaning.

How do I choose a TLD?

If you are in the United States or target customers in the United States, a .com domain registration is ideal. Most users still expect to type .com at the end of any URL, and some people’s browsers will auto-complete address bar entries to include .com.

Less common options such as .co often seem like typos, as Overstock.com painfully learned when trying to rebrand as O.co. If you’re based in the United States and want to market internationally, or if you’re based outside the U.S., you should register the appropriate CCLTD.

You can always purchase multiple domains and direct users to the destination that makes sense for them. As mentioned above, some CCTLDs are so uncommon that they’re available for general use, such as .me (Montenegro) being used for personal websites or .ms (Montserrat) for Microsoft-related sites.

However, there are also TLD options that aren’t geographically based. These include .biz, .net, and .name. While these may seem appealing, they can be challenging to market.

Some TLDs, such as .net, can seem dated — who calls it the Net anymore? Ultra-customized TLDs such as .fish or .buzz can be hard to remember or come off as unprofessional.

What makes a good domain name?

Still, alternative TLDs have a place in digital marketing. A good rule of thumb is to choose a TLD that matches part of your company name. For example, if your business name is Spark Energy or Top Fitness, registering the domain names spark.energy or top.fitness makes sense. Users can easily access your website no matter how they enter your business name.

By the same token, forcing an alternative TLD onto your domain name can backfire. Even if you love the idea of your domain ending with .joy or .motorcycles, it’s not an effective TLD if your second-level domain is something like rogersflowershop.

You should also note that some email security systems or firewalls disallow unusual domain names. Do your research to ensure that an alternative TLD won’t prevent you from reaching your audience. You’ll likely also need to take extra steps to market your website and optimize it for search engines to offset users’ tendency to slap .com on the end of everything.

No matter what TLD you choose, craft your domain name to be easily entered and parsed. Remember that domain names do not have spaces, but without periods or dashes, the words run together and might be read incorrectly by some users.

Consider how a blog called The Pen is God might be interpreted if the webmaster registered the name without any markings that indicated spaces. Aim for short, memorable names, and avoid acronyms unless it can be read as a word.

For example, if your company is a law firm named Peters, Oscar, Samson, and Anderson at Law, that can make for an unwieldy domain name. Register pasalaw.com as your domain name.

Wrapping Up

When registering your domain name, keep common sense in mind. Think about what will resonate with your customers instead of trying to look cool. Rather than being trendy or trying to shake things up, choose an alternative TLD if it would enhance your brand or help you connect with customers in a certain geographic area. (Note that some CCLTD registrations require you to submit proof that you do business in that region.) Market your domain name aggressively and optimize your website, so that users won’t be confused or suspicious if that land on a site with an unusual URL. And remember: domains are an investment, so choose wisely and plan to keep it for years!

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