Does .com Still Matter?

What happens when you can’t get a .com domain? In our opinion; business as usual.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Alex Di Giovanni

There’s no denying it, .com is the king of top level domains (TLD). It may seem preferable in 2019 to have a .com URL for your business. But like a Millennial hoping to buy a house or get a job, somebody got there first and you’re pretty much out of luck. Unfortunately, most .com domains for snappy, single word business names have been taken by existing businesses or widely reviled cybersquatters. Attractive and generic .com domains such as are frequently sold for millions of dollars, and the value of a .com domain as an appreciating asset cannot be understated. The biggest brands all have control of their .com domains, but starting out, most business owners can’t afford to pay the inflated fee that squatters demand.

It’s not all bad news though, modern web browser address bars allow you to not only enter specific URLs, but search directly at the top of your browser. This has changed the way we search the web and visit the sites we love. Think about the last time you actually entered an entire URL vs. searching in the address bar or letting autofill functionality handle the task for you. And with the well-established domination of social media online, a brand’s website is just as often arrived at through an “About” section link on Facebook or Instagram. This is an unassuming but powerful development – how much emphasis are businesses placing on a once crucial but now less relevant aspect of web presence?

There’s also unique issues in relying on direct searches of your URL. From an analytics perspective, direct traffic (when a user types your web address into the search bar or visits your website through a bookmark), can be difficult to glean useful information from. When the source of traffic is direct, there are limited ways to know where the user has come from, and that makes it difficult to act develop retention strategies for that user. Arguably, direct traffic (the kind you might hope to get with an appealing URL that ends in .com) is one of the poorest forms of traffic your website can get.

So what are your options when getting the .com just isn’t possible?

Use one of the hundreds of alternative top level domains

Legal battles have been fought over the real and growing problem of domain options for new businesses and companies like Google have been at the forefront of trying to solve this. Google and several other parties have expanded the available internet real estate by buying and making publicly available a slew of new TLDs at regular intervals. Addressing the issue, Google hopes that “By opening up more choices for Internet domain names . . . users will have options for more diverse—and perhaps shorter—signposts in cyberspace.” The good news is, many of the options available will be more directly relevant for your business than a .com would ever be. With TLDs like .law, .shop and crucially, .dad, there are numerous opportunities to uniquely brand even something as mundane as your URL.

To see all of your options, check out the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number’s (ICANN) full list of active TLDs.

Focus on and improve the ways that customers arrive at your website

More than pure traffic, brands should be focused on the quality of the potential sales leads that the traffic brings in. Depending on your business type, direct traffic can result in tepid leads that let luck have far too much influence over your chances of an actual sale. By focusing on alternative channels that you can acquire customers from, you can build a relationship with them that's more organic and better primed for conversion. If a customer follows you on social media, reaches you through content marketing such as blogs and videos, or is referred to you from partners and existing customers, they’re a much hotter lead than someone who simply stumbled upon your .com URL. In their book, The Go-Giver, Bob Burg and John David Mann sum this idea up well; “All things being equal people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”

You don’t need .com to succeed

Seth Godin’s approach, unsurprisingly, seems to be a good one. In his blog post All The Good Words Are Taken, he says what’s important is “showing up in the right way, in the right places, for enough time that people decide to seek you or your word out in the first place.”

The money that you were going to spend buying the .com from its previous owner would be better spent on marketing efforts that help you create trust and familiarity in the eyes of your target demographic. That twenty character URL you arrived at because you needed a .com won’t actually help you. Not only will it significantly increase the chances of someone mistyping your address and be a nightmare to fit onto your stationery and advertising, but people most likely won’t be typing it in anyway.

The .com domain has over 30 years of brand equity. There’s an implicit seal of approval that the .com provides that will persist in the near future, barring a significant change in the way we use the internet. But new businesses no longer have the luxury of choice here, and the more diluted .com becomes in the pool of TLD options, the less power it will have. In a way, the scarcity of .com is a gift. Taken off the table, it forces companies to focus on what really matters; building multiple effective channels of communication with their audiences and creating a powerful brand that can effectively reach customers no matter where they find it.

Modular is a business to consumer brand consultancy based in Perth, Western Australia.