One of the many bumps along the road to success for startup businesses is, often after going through the process of choosing a domain name, discovering the ideal .COM domain name is already taken.
.COM is an oversaturated Top Level Domain (TLD), so widely used that a company’s desired domain is less likely to be available. Though the number fluctuates, there are currently over 130 million names registered in the .COM space.
The congestion in .COM significantly lowers the likelihood that a startup, when choosing a domain name will be able to find and secure one that is a perfect match to their brand. In the unlikely case that the desired domain name is for sale, the price can stack up to over $10,000, a cost that is likely prohibitive to fledgling companies.
The Rise of ccTLDs in Choosing a Domain Name for Startups
This gridlock within the .COM space has caused a trend in startups launching their websites on nontraditional domains, specifically Country Code TLDs (ccTLDs). Many startups have drawn attention to their use of ccTLDs by creating “domain hacks”, meaning that they choose a name so that the ccTLD will be a part of their company title.
One thing to be aware of when choosing a domain name among ccTLDs is that some restrict registration to citizens or local trademark holders. There are, however, a number of ccTLDs that google treats like gTLDs because of their frequent usage, and these do not have any registration restrictions. This list includes:
The majority of the growth in ccTLDS can be found on this list that Google has designated as GccTLDs (generic ccTLDs).
While .LY is the country code for Libya, Bitly, a URL shortener, launched themselves on Bit.ly, so that their name was fully spelled out spanning the dot. Another similar example is brit.co a media and blogging company choose a .CO domain to host their site, creating a clever combination URL which when typed in is brit.co.
What Does a Study Show About How Startups Are Using ccTLDs?
A collective of startup founders, called the Founders Club, was intrigued by the use of ccTLDs in the startup world and conducted an analysis of how startups are choosing a domain name.
They selected their sample from Y Combinator, a startup incubator located in Mountain View, California that boasts alumni like Dropbox and Airbnb. The researchers looked at every startup in each graduating class from Y Combinator since its inaugural year.
The Founders Club analysis showed that, of the 1,464 startups that have passed through the Y Combinator program, 82.5% have had .COM domain names. However, there was proof that the .COM monopoly is shifting.
In the winter 2017 class, 67% of the companies had .COM domains, 15.5% less than in previous classes.
Additionally, the .CO and .IO domains are beginning to surface in the startup domain space, with 10.5% and 7.9% registrations, in the winter 2017 class, respectively. While this may seem like a small percentage, it clearly indicates a shift towards nontraditional TLDs when choosing a domain name for emerging startups.
When Choosing a Domain Name for a Startup How Can ccTLDs Be an Advantage?
ccTLDs are less widely used, which means that a company’s desired domain is more likely to be available. Given the greater availability of domain names in the space in general, the cost to acquire a domain will likely be much lower.
For startups with a limited budget, this can be a crucial, cost-effective alternative to spending a significant chunk of their early stage funding on acquiring a pricey .COM domain.
While ccTLDs are a great alternative to .COM domain names, there are some things that startups should be aware of before choosing a domain name and purchasing it.
In terms of website ranking by search engines, the latest news from Google shows that utilizing and launching a ccTLD domain with content that is not country specific, will be viewed no differently than launching a new .COM domain. The usual SEO concerns and rules will apply.
For Startups, it is also important to consider how a ccTLD would fit into their online strategy overall, as it may be necessary to run a campaign that promotes their new domain and emphasize the ccTLD to account for the fact that they are less widely used and recognized. It is also important to keep in mind your target audience when choosing a domain, while ccTLDs have gained wide recognition in the tech audience, they may be seen as unfamiliar to the 65+ demographic.
Obviously, there is still a benefit to owning and operating on a .COM domain, but for early-stage startups, it might be more strategic to find a name that fits with the company’s vision rather than picking a name based on .COM visibility.
It is important to take time to evaluate what is best for your startup when it comes to choosing a domain name, but it is clear that the continued growth in ccTLD’s means that .COM is not the only viable option.