During the internet bubble, you were an automatic millionaire if you owned a one-word domain name that matched your business (example: Car.com, Hotel.com and Sex.com etc). Now that all the good ones are taken, it seems to be more than popular to snatch up a domain name with a crazy extension. Ever heard of the internet tool to shorten a URL called Bit.ly? Chances are that you have, and if you haven’t, you have probably clicked on one of their nearly five billion links that have been created to shorten website links. How about Justin.TV, Del.icio.us or Last.fm? Yea, I bet that you have probably heard of one of them. So how have websites with such unique domain names become so successful? Your guess is as good as mine.
History has shown us that .com and .net were the standards for most businesses, while .org was the norm for organizations and .gov were limited to governmental entities. However, over the past couple years, everything has changed. Now, startups are popping up everywhere that use the craziest domain names. Fred Wilson, VC at Union Square Ventures, wrote about this topic in 2006. Since then, things have only gotten crazier. So what should you do for your startup?
Simple answer: it depends. Building a business is about being innovative and forward thinking. If a .com will become a dinosaur of the internet, then your startup should avoid that direction. Finding a balance between tradition, creativity and branding of domain names can be challenging yet rewarding. The primary benefits of using a unique extension revolve around branding, marketing and user retention. If you can get users to visit your site (and you are providing them real value), then your domain name is less of a hurdle because viewers will most likely bookmark your website or simply remember the name. Your website name will be engrained in their minds as usual yet creative, and therefore memorable.
However, this is a big “if” because finding your website in the first place will be a hard task. Not only may search engine optimization play a factor, but users may default back to a more familiar domain name simply because they trust and understand the idea of a .com. Furthermore, if your product or service is in a market that has users including non-technical people, senior citizens or corporate America, you may seriously want to reconsider your actions. These consumer groups are less familiar with the innovation of the internet, and therefore will be less likely to understand that such extensions exist. They may see the domain of bit.ly has a foreign language.
On the other side of the argument, if you feel that your startup has the marketing budget and personnel in place to seize this opportunity to turn a unique domain name into a household name, go for it! Not only is it possible to succeed with this strategy, but as more and more startups follow your lead, your company will be less strange and more cool. It could lead to your company becoming the bit.ly of your market.
With that being said, when you register your next domain name, what will it be? Are you going to stick with the safe bet of a .com or are you going to venture on the wild side with an exotic domain extension. Whatever your decision is, please understand that a name is just a name. For your business to be truly successful, you must provide real value to your users. A startup that provides no value but possess a really cool domain name will simply be another website at the end of the day.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think by commenting below.