When you are starting up a business, one of the first ports of call (after you’ve nailed the idea!) is finding a name under which to trade. There’s the corporate name; there’s the commercial brand; and then there’s the URL (i.e. web address). The branding mission is now intricately linked to the ability to find a corresponding URL, much less the username or handle across the rest of social media. For the past 30 years, the main option and room for play in the URL, has been before the DOT. Up until 2012, from a choice of 20 different generic top-level domain (gTLD) names and the country-specific endings (i.e. .co.uk or .fr), the go-to ending around the world has been around 50% with a .com. Based on w3Techs.com, here is the breakdown worldwide, as of May 2016.
The crowded world of .com
It is calculated that there are slightly over 1 billion websites worldwide (see here for a live update). However, it is estimated that about 75% of these websites are inactive. That means that there would be about 300 million total live sites worldwide. With all these URLs that are currently occupied and owned, the available options (using the generic top-level domain names) can restrict the choice for a new business venture very quickly. Enter the existence of notcoms: essentially a suite of options to the right of the DOT.
The notcom URL choice
Last week, I was invited to speak at a conference hosted by DONUTS*, a wholesaler of notcom addresses that owns the rights to 200 of the c. 600 available notcom gTLDs (not including the 600 brand-specific TLDs, e.g. .BMW. Chanel or .BNPParibas). Jeff Davidoff, the CMO of Donuts, gave an overview of the market and it’s clearly a booming area. If the existence of these alternative notcoms has only been available for a couple of years (ICANN started to accept submissions in 2012), there are now over 17 million registrations (source NTLD), with 4.4 million having been registered in February and March 2016 alone. Presently, according to Jeff, there are 10,000 notcom domain names being registered daily (one every 10 seconds).
A word from the field
The panel, chaired with grace and dexterity by Olivier Cimeliere, included Nicolas Gurgand, founder of Azerty-Media and an expert on SEO. There were also two entrepreneurs who have adopted a notcom URL for their business: Elliot Gold, who is founder of Work.Life, a local workspace for freelancers and entrepreneurs, based in London; and Miren de Lorgeril, CEO of the Lorgeril Group (owner of 6 wineries in the south of France), whose URL is lorgeril.wine. As Miren said, the difference in comprehension between lorgeril.com and logeril.wine is entirely self-evident. Meanwhile, for Elliot, the choice of work.life was a question of differentiation within the burgeoning shared workspace business. Work.Life is also a fine representation of the brand philosophy. Nicolas Gurgand, meanwhile, pointed out that there are also communities forming online around the extension, as in the case of .bzh (for the community of Brittany).
What are the pros and cons of a notcom?
The notcom options are most intriguing. If you are starting a business and need a name, the options to the right of the dot are bound to liberalize the creative juices. Click To Tweet For example, instead of buying MyNewAgency.com, you could go for MyNew.Agency. If you’re a tour guide or concierge service, you might consider getaround.town. In short, there are a host of inviting options. As illustrated by the work.life case, with a good notcom ending, there can be smart ways to convert the whole URL into a meaningful name. Click To Tweet Simultaneously, it eliminates the need to type three more character to add .com, thereby potentially enhancing the browser experience (especially useful on a small keyboard).
Of the two major concerns that were circulated at the panel discussion, there was the issue of sounding non-legitimate, since people are not used to the alternatives. There is clearly going to be an issue of uptake and adoption, at least initially. However, over time, the alternative options are without doubt going to win through as the needs and habits evolve. The other concern was the impact on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). My take from the panel discussion was that the notcom URL option will, at the very least, not penalize the holder. Using the same principles that govern sound SEO, it is more than likely that, over time, the fact that the entire URL is meaningful and/or relevant will be favorably viewed by Google (because it would enhance the user’s search experience). The only real issue for existing businesses is to what extent it is worthwhile/necessary to switch into the available and more relevant notcoms? For example, should not all wine companies go to .wine? And/or should any existing wine company not consider protecting itself by also buying the .wine extension alongside an existing .com? The challenge of migrating from one new TLD to another can be complicated and even costly in terms of your social counters (see my experience of migrating from themyndset to www.minterdial.com here!). So, any change in URL must be taken with great care.
Cool Tip: If you are looking available names around a certain business marque, a great service is namechk that will include notcom alternatives. For example, here would be some alternatives for myndset!
Bottom line: the new notcom movement will be bound to pick up steam. If you are starting a business, it would be a real shame not to explore the options.
*Full Disclosure: I was paid to speak at the event, but in no way was approached about publishing any article. This post was entirely of my own free will and represents my express opinion.
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