What to do if the domain name you want is taken

Passing domain

If you’re doing a domain search and the domain name you want comes up as unavailable, it most likely means that someone already owns it and:

  • is using it for a website
  • is planning to use it on a site that’s not launched yet
  • is only using the domain for email addresses (e.g. hello@theperfectdomain.com)
  • is keeping it because the name is similar to a domain he/she is actively using and the domain is being redirected to their site
  • has an idea for the future and registered the domain in advance
  • is just fond of the name
  • wants to prevent other entities from using his/her name or brand

Ugh, right? Trying to get “the perfect domain” can be really frustrating, or, at the very least, really expensive. There are currently 137,510,404 domains registered with .com alone, and as of 2016, we’re looking at 326.4 million domain names in total. Maybe you’ll find a diamond in the rough, but it’s getting harder and harder every day.

What’s a person to do? Well, here are your options.

  1. The easy way: Pivot
  2. The hard way: Buy it from the current owner
  3. The patient way: Wait for it to expire
  4. The way that involves lawyers

The easy way: Pivot

The great thing about “new” is that you’re not fighting with anything that’s already been established. Assuming your new brand is actually new, and you’ve created a list of sorts with naming options (which you should always do), just move down to your second-favorite option.

In almost every case, this is your best choice. It avoids naming confusion, is infinitely cheaper than trying to buy the domain on the secondary market, and reduces the amount you’ll have to compromise to land on something you’re happy with. But, alas, it’s not the only way.

Can I just register the same name with a different domain extension?

Sure, if “theperfectdomain.com” is already registered, you could always just register the same domain name with a different extension, e.g. “theperfectdomain.info”. The biggest potential problem with using alternative extensions is that people could forget your domain, and by default go to the .com domain instead.

Slowly but surely though, people are embracing top-level domains (TLDs) other than .com. (In case you’re wondering, the TLD is the part of the domain after the dot, e.g. the “com” in theperfectdomain.com) And with hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) hitting the market, ranging from city names (e.g. .london and .berlin) to hobbies and professions (e.g. .photography and .accountants) to surnames (e.g. .kim or .wang), it’s becoming more normal by the day.

However, it will take time for people to get used to this new world where anything is .possible. (Note: .possible is not actually one of the new gTLDs, though it should be.) Just be aware of the hopefully short-term drawbacks to using a TLD other than .com. Here’s a nugget from Christopher Steiner at FoundersClub about .com usage in Y Combinator (one of the largest venture capital firms in San Francisco):

But everybody knew, even then, that a company needed a dot-com domain. That wasn’t debatable. But it seems a subject that is up for discussion now, judging by data. Promising startups still end up with dot-com domains more often than not, but the margin at which they do is decreasing.

ycombinator .com trending downward

The percentage of Y Combinator companies with dot-com domains has been following a downward trend since the the winter class of 2014, when dot-com domains comprised 80% of the class. Before that point, almost all classes were well into the 90-percentiles for dot-com names, with seven classes at 100%.

The last three classes at YC have been: 79.4%, 75.3% and 68.0% dot-com domains.

This is assuming you’re not trying to name yourself Apple, going with something like apple.online. It’s always good to check the WIPO Global Brand Database to make sure you’re not trying to infringe on the space of an already established brand.

Couldn’t I just get a username on a big web platform?

Having your own domain name, even if it’s not perfect, is a far better option than building your online presence on top of another service’s URL, e.g. yourshop.shopify.com or facebook.com/yourcompany. This practice of building your brand, service, or web presence on another organization’s platform is an example of “sharecropping”, and can be problematic for a number of reasons.

With this sharecropping setup, the platform you’re hosted on:

  • controls how your presence can look or function (e.g. templates and tiered feature offerings depending on how much you pay).
  • can change services or raise rates, leaving you little recourse, since not accepting/paying could mean losing your site.
  • can control how much exposure you get. There’ve been lots of articles about issues with brands on Facebook getting ever-lessening exposure of their content to their fans if they don’t pay for advertising.
  • can limit your access to analytics, making it hard to know how large your audience is, what they’re doing on your site, or where they’re engaging when they’re there.
  • can simply take your site offline without much notice, explanation or recourse if you are deemed to have violated terms of service or other issues. It can take a lot of time and frustration to get these issues sorted out, and all the while your site is unavailable to anyone.

You can always switch domains later, but it’s a good idea to start with a web address you control while you build up your search engine visibility.

The hard way: Buy it from the current owner

If you go to your favorite WHOIS lookup site, you can enter the domain you want and get the publicly available details of who owns the domain. Be aware that not all WHOIS lookups are official and present accurate information. Also be aware that sometimes registries (like for ccTLDs such as .io) have their own WHOIS lookups, which may provide different or additional details.

Ideally you want the registrant contact email address, as the registrant is the domain’s legal owner. gTLDs have four registrant contacts: registrant/owner, admin, technical, and billing. These can all be the same person/organization, or four different ones. Some ccTLDs, like .uk, only have two contacts.

Registrant email address considerations

Unfortunately, just finding an email address for the registrant doesn’t guarantee contact. Particularly if someone has owned a domain for a long time, they may not use the email address anymore that they provided for registration. Lots of things can change: leaving school, getting hacked, and changing addresses, or simply upgrading the email hosting you use.

Also, many email clients have stringent spam filtering, and emails from addresses that they’ve never received email from before may not be allowed through automatically. There are lots of articles out there outlining other spam filter triggers. Here’s a good example. These are good things to be aware of for how you craft your email to the owner of the domain you want.

Some people also use WHOIS privacy services, either provided by their registrar (more information about ours) or by a third-party service. Sometimes it’s obvious when one of these services is in place. For example, for customers using our new WHOIS privacy service, information for WhoisTrustee will be shown instead of a person or organization’s contact information.

There will be email addresses shown for the contacts when a WHOIS privacy service is in place, but there’s a chance that the registrant cannot receive email sent to them. (For example, if the underlying email address is outdated or the forwarding filters out certain messages.)

Registrant is unreachable

For whatever the reason, it is quite possible the registrant’s contact information is not available for the domain you want. Obviously, this presents a problem. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily a solveable one.

From time to time people who can’t get contact information for a domain they want contact us to ask us for that information, or to ask us to contact the domain owner for them. We can’t speak for other registrars, but our policy is not to do this. We take customers’ privacy very seriously. Additionally, we are not in the brokerage business.

It is possible that unless the domain is allowed to expire and is released, you may have no way of acquiring it. In these cases we recommend having some viable alternatives. And make sure you’ve secured a domain name before printing signs, business cards, etc. (You’d be surprised how often people don’t do this…)

Domain brokerage

If you are interested in having a third party try to contact a domain’s owner for you, we recommend Sedo or DomainAgents.

What brokerage services will do is contact the domain owner (if they can), then make an offer for the domain for you, handle negotiations, and finalize the agreement to purchase and transfer the domain. In addition to whatever price you pay for the domain, you will also pay a fee to the broker.

You’ve contacted the domain owner… now what?

That’s up to you, really. First, you need to see if the person is interested in parting with the domain. It’s a good idea, when you’re looking up the WHOIS details, to check the date on which the domain was registered. If someone has had the domain for a decade, there may be pretty good odds that they’re not interested in getting rid of it.

That said, it’s possible the person registered the domain hoping to sell it, but the right buyer just hadn’t come along until you did. And, as we’ve previously mentioned, just because there is no website up for the domain doesn’t mean it’s not in use or not wanted. There are a lot of ways to use domains that don’t involve publicly accessible websites. (And even if the domain isn’t being used for anything, no, we (nor any other registrar) can’t just take it for you.)

All you can do is contact the owner and hope they receive the message and reply. If they don’t reply, or they say no, there’s not much you can do. If they are interested, then you have a chance. And typically, if someone is interested in selling a domain, they’ll make it quite easy to contact them.

How much is the domain I want worth?

That depends on a lot of factors. There is no service you can check to see what a given domain should be worth. Any site that claims to tell you what your domain name or social media account is worth is just using some arbitrary calculation. They are just for fun and have no legal use or bearing on actual domain value or prices.

Any domain is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it (assuming the owner is interested in selling at all). Note that some domain owners have pretty grandiose ideas about what their domain is worth, or think they can get rich quick off some desperate buyer.

There are many things that can influence the cost of a domain name. Some examples:

  1. the word(s) in the name are simple, clear and common, including standard spellings
  2. the word(s) is a recognizable person, company, product, etc. (i.e. don’t expect to get “coke.com”)
  3. the domain is already in use (as noted, there’s a website, email addresses, etc.)
  4. the domain name is related to something that may become important in the future, e.g. an event, new product, etc.
  5. how badly the owner can tell that you want it
  6. how badly the owner needs or wants the money
  7. how much you appear to be willing or able to pay for it (e.g. there’s a good chance that the price may be higher if a company wants a domain than if just an individual person does)
  8. the legal status of the domain (e.g. is it a registered trademark)
  9. the state of the industry or economy (e.g. during a tech bubble, like many things, domain name prices may become inflated).

We’ve come to an agreement… now what?

Congratulations! You’ve managed to contact the domain owner, they were interested in selling, and now you’ve made a deal. How do you actually get the domain? Well, it depends. For gTLDs (e.g. .com) the transfer process is standardized. There’s information on the requirements here.

For ccTLDs there can be a lot of variance in what’s required to transfer, so if you have trouble figuring it out or getting started, let us know. We’re happy to help.

If the domain owner is an iwantmyname customer and so are you, you can do what’s called an internal transfer or move.. (Provided the domain is old enough, etc.)

If you want to transfer the domain from the owner’s account at another registrar to your account with iwantmyname, then the owner would unlock the domain, get the transfer auth code, remove any privacy services, and one of you (whomever has the auth code) would initiate the transfer at our website. (That is for gTLDs. As noted, the process may differ somewhat for ccTLDs.) More information on transferring TO iwantmyname here.

If the owner is an iwantmyname customer and you want to transfer the domain to your account at another registrar, then the owner would unlock the domain, get the transfer auth code, remove any privacy services, and one of you (whomever has the auth code) would initiate the transfer at the new registrar’s website. More information on transferring FROM iwantmyname here.

Depending on the domain type and registrars involved, transfers can be immediate, or take up to 5 days to complete.

Of course, be sure that all payments and other arrangements have been made before initiating the transfer. Once a domain has been transferred, it’s likely no longer yours or accessible, and you have no way of getting it back or withholding it to demand payment if you get shafted.

Anything else?

To be the legal owner of a domain, your name and/or organization’s name needs to be in the registrant/owner contact details. This information may not automatically change when a domain is transferred. Be sure to check.

At iwantmyname, you can update the registrant contacts for many types of domains in your dashboard, under edit contacts. If you’re unable to do that, there may be an issue, or we may need to make the update for you, so let us know. If your domain is registered elsewhere, you’ll need to contact that registrar for help updating the details if needed.

Be aware that changing the registrant contact details is often called an owner change. For some types of domains, this change is considered by registries to be similar to a domain registration, so there may be a fee involved. Some registries also require identification and paperwork to be included. (We can help clarify this as well.)

The patient way: Wait for it to expire

If you’re not comfortable contacting the domain owner directly, or you tried and didn’t get a response, you can attempt to procure the domain when it expires.

This is anything but a guaranteed strategy, however. Most registrars remind their customers early and often prior to domains expiring. Many registrars also auto-renew domains by default as long as the customer’s payment details are accurate and up to date. (iwantmyname does both of these things for their customers.)

Even if a domain’s ownership does expire, many registrars give their customers a grace period after expiration so they can still renew it, sometimes at a considerably increased cost. (This pricing is set by the registries, not registrars like iwantmyname.)

You could also try a domain monitoring service, which alerts you to status changes and expirations for your domains, or others that are of interest to you. Be aware though that this offering can be an upsell attempt by some registrars. (iwantmyname does not offer this service.)

Backordering services are also popular, and if you want a maximum chance of getting the domain if/when it expires, we recommend using all of them. Most of these services will only charge you if they manage to procure the domain, but some charge in advance. Here are a few popular options:

The way that involves lawyers

And now we’re to the final frontier — trying to get the domain you want if you think you have a valid claim on it. Grab yourself a coffee and read on.

What is domain squatting/cybersquatting?

In short, domain squatting (occasionally still called cybersquatting) is where people register domains that are closely related to a trademark or brand, with the intention of selling them off for (sometimes very large) profit. By doing this, squatters are gambling that the company or person targeted will just pay what the squatter wants to avoid expensive legal proceedings and the risk of being denied the rights to that domain name.

For example, a registrant might register “thisismycompany.ca” in hopes that the company, which is based in New Zealand, for example, would start doing a lot of business in Canada and want to buy that domain. Or if a company was launching a new product called SuperNamer, and a registrant who didn’t represent the company registered “supernamer.com” to try and make the company pay for that domain so they could launch their new product with the most recognizable domain name.

Domain squatting can also be done accidentally by someone with good intentions, e.g. a big fan of a particular celebrity, character or sports team. That person could register the domain, e.g. “batman.com” and set up a fan site dedicated to all things Batman, even though the site isn’t owned by DC Comics, who own the rights to the Batman character.

As noted, the person who set up the site might just be a huge Batman fan, but the person could also be hoping that DC will offer them a lot of money for the domain to avoid legal wrangling (though, in this case, the squatter wouldn’t have much of a case).

Legally, resolving domain squatting requires determining several things. Is the domain name part of someone’s trademark? Is the domain name part of a well-known brand, even if not trademarked? (Like a celebrity’s identity, e.g. it’s unlikely anyone’s going to assume “georgeclooney.com” is about anyone other than the actor.) Was the person who bought the domain acting in “good faith” (e.g. big fan) or “bad faith” (i.e. hoping to profit from identity assumptions or sale)?

Bad faith domain squatting is illegal, but can still be expensive to resolve through legal channels.

What is the difference between domain speculation and squatting?

There’s no single, definitive (i.e. legally binding) definition, but generally squatting implies “bad faith” intent on the part of the person or company that has registered the domain.

That means they have no interest in or intentions of creating a website for the domain or otherwise using it (like it becoming the main web presence for their business). That person just bought it to sell it for more than they paid for it (ideally much more).

Domain speculation, on the other hand, involves registering domains that might be useful or of interest, but which don’t block an existing trademark or brand. For example, instead of registering a variant of an existing company’s domain, a domain speculator would register something more general, like “weselldomains.com”, in hopes that some domain registrar might want it.

Speculators are often more open about the fact that the domains in their portfolio are for sale, as well. Whereas squatters might set up a basic page to make it marginally look like the domain is in use, or create a parking page (a temporary page, usually used to as a placeholder until a real site is ready) full of ads to try to get click traffic for extra revenue until they can sell the domain.

Some squatters own many domains, though some will only target a few, since the more domains you own that haven’t sold yet, the more money you’ve invested without return. Speculators often own a large portfolio of domains, targeting various industries with a selection of relevant terms.

Domain squatting, if a person’s or company’s actions are deemed to be that, is illegal. Some countries have specific laws against squatting that are more specific than standard trademark law. However, since the internet is a global entity, issues of jurisdiction can arise.

What do I do if someone has registered a domain with my trademark?

You will need to follow the instructions outlined in ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP). Consulting a lawyer may also be useful in ensuring your case is as strong as possible.

Note, however, that even though you own the trademark, a domain squatter will still likely fight to keep the domain, since it was purchased in the first place to make money. Getting the domain name may be expensive, but if you own the trademark (or are a celebrity), you have a good chance of getting the domain from the squatter. Really, it comes down to whether it’s worth the trouble.

The guide to getting the right domain name

baby name

Choosing a domain name often goes one of two ways. Either you pick one in a few minutes and run with it, or you agonize for weeks over the thought of getting it wrong. My goal here is to put you on a third path — one where you limit fear, act quickly, and get started actually building something before you lose all your momentum.

  1. Follow some basic rules
  2. Make sure your brand name isn’t taken
  3. Pick the right domain extension

Follow some basic rules

This is probably going to be a controversial take, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad name on the surface level. It’s like naming a kid — people will judge your kid based on his/her actions and adorableness. Name it whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. Your only job as a “marketer” for your brand is to pick something people won’t forget. Just remember to hit these five boxes:

  1. It needs to be easy to say. Your primary naming goal is to facilitate word-of-mouth marketing, so if someone asks for advice about X, a friend needs to be able to say, “hey, try out Y.” If they aren’t confident in the pronunciation of your brand, they often won’t mention it.
  2. People need to be able to remember all the parts. Just because My Awesome Photography Studio is easy to say, doesn’t mean it makes for a good domain name. The more words the name contains, the more likely people will be to forget parts of it
  3. Avoid definite articles. On the same thread, try to avoid using “the” in domain names/brand names. Is it The New York Times or New York Times? These kinds of things confuse people — it’s why Facebook moved from thefacebook.com to facebook.com.
  4. It needs to feel familiar. ”Because familiarity enables easy mental processing, it feels fluent. So people often equate the feeling of fluency with familiarity.” When naming something, you don’t have to use real words, but the word patterns need to match the word patterns of real words. Twitter, for example, isn’t a word many people were familiar with before Twitter the brand was created, but it’s very simple in its construction. Same with Spotify, PayPal, and Slack. Compare those to these names from a recent YCombinator group: Synvivia, Kunduz, and Sterblue. None are hard per se, but they don’t feel like words that should naturally exist.
  5. It needs to be different from the competition. Here’s an example from the world of SEO. I’ve never once confused Moz with another brand, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the difference between Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal. They both seem and sound authoritative, but if you asked me for a site to go to for that sort of content, I’d probably choose neither because I mentally can’t tell them apart.

And here’s one thing you might hear that you shouldn’t worry about at all:

  1. Align your name with your market. I don’t think this is important at all. There are two trillion-dollar brands in the world right now: Apple and Amazon. Neither make any sense, really, but both are extremely simple and unlike anything else in their market. There is some research that shows exact match keywords help search results, but I tend to find keyword domains scammy if overdone (don’t be the person with reliable-dog-walkers-local.com), and oft-replicated if not overdone (see Search Engine Land/Journal).

Make sure your brand name isn't taken

Just because you can get a domain name doesn’t always mean you should. Before you register your name, make sure to:

  1. see if the related social media handles are also free. Your exact match is less important on social media, but you don’t want to find yourself competing with other international brands for the same words. Also, it helps if your name isn’t so generic that you’ll have trouble getting your handle on future networks. Basically, if your brand name is a common word, look out.
  2. check the WIPO Global Brand Database to see if your name already exists in the wild. Unless you have a lot of time/money to deal with trademark infringement or the purchase of someone’s trademark, I’d avoid anything on the list, even if you’re planning on using an alternative TLD.

Pick the right domain extension

I could put 1000+ words here about picking the right TLD, or I could just point you to our other guide: How to pick the right domain extension.

AI impact

terminator

There’s been a lot written about the predicted benefits (and threats) of artificial intelligence (AI). Now some recent research by McKinsey Consulting is suggesting that the early economic impacts of AI will be negative. Gains in GDP from greater use of AI tech should increase after some initial pain however, revealing a “productivity dividend” in the long term. The difficulty is that the benefits of AI will not be shared equally.

If you are in relatively low skilled work such as food server, driver or production worker, expect to find fewer opportunities and lower incomes as improving robotics technologies eliminates more line jobs. On the other hand, if you are highly educated with skills in software development, robotics, engineering or design - the world is your oyster. Unfortunately some nations with low skill bases that sit near the bottom of the value chain will suffer most.

There’s nothing new about automation however. Mechanisation of agriculture lifted global food production whilst conveniently freeing up millions of farm labourers to enlist in becoming cannon fodder within numerous ill-advised military adventures during the 20th Century. Digitisation already eliminated entire workforces of office drones and civil servants during my own working lifetime. So the opportunity is surely to focus on better productivity and much more fulfilling work for everyone with AI enhancing and improving human work. Is that too idealistic?

At a time when the issue of equality is never far from our minds, or that of the media, we may need to think more carefully about who will be most impacted by greater deployment of AI into society. Expect that debate to continue for some time. In the meantime, you can stake your claim at the AI frontier by securing your .AI domain name with iwantmyname.

Everything you need to know about domain hacks

unusual

What the heck is a domain hack? Is this going to get me stopped by the NSA when I’m traveling? Is pizza the most delicious type of food?

In short, a domain hack is a domain that uses the domain extension as part of the word it’s trying to spell. So:

  • This: iwantmyna.me
  • Instead of: iwantmyname.com

This will not get you stopped by the NSA. And yes, pizza is the most delicious type of food. Moving on.

  1. Are domain hacks useful?
  2. Are domain hacks bad for SEO
  3. What about domain hacks for URL shortening?
  4. Are there any tools for finding domain hacks?

Are domain hacks useful?

street art

Is street art useful? Not really, but it sure is fun to look at. With a domain hack, you can create a domain name that’s uniquely yours —one that may align with your whimsical brand mentality better than a .com ever could. If the last few letters in your name happen to be a ccTLD, like .is (the local TLD for Iceland) in Chris, then you have yourself a good domain hack:

  • chr.is
  • is more fun than chris.com

And if the last few letters in your brand happen to be a new gTLD, like .press in Express, then:

  • ex.press
  • is more fun than express.com

Note that I use the word “more fun” than “better.” Using a domain hack often means you’re more interested in whimsy than safe results, and that can have real consequences.

Are domain hacks bad for SEO

The most common advice you’ll hear from SEO experts is that you should use .com and never look back. Followed closely by your local ccTLD if you happen to be in that country, then perhaps followed by generic TLDs (gTLDs) with keywords you’re trying to target, like .pizza for a pizza shop, although that’s a big hot debate right now.

Google says (emphasis mine):

Q: How will new gTLDs affect search? Is Google changing the search algorithm to favor these TLDs? How important are they really in search?

A: Overall, our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org). Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.

But others claim to see real results from keyword matches, perhaps due to human preferece (people tend to like things that feel obvious).

From a domain hack POV though, you’re by nature not using that ccTLD to target you to a specific country, and you’re not using that gTLD to give yourself a keyword match. You’re using it to be clever. So what are the risks?

Here you go, in a tidy package from Moz:

Although the majority of ccTLDs are associated with content specific to their corresponding country or region, some webmasters have started using country codes like “.me” and “.tv” as generic web addresses. As a result, Google has, over time, decided to treat some of those ccTLDs as generic country code top-level domains (gccTLDs) rather than ccTLDs. But, Google’s former Head of Webspam Matt Cutts advises caution if you decide to use a ccTLD that is not already considered a gccTLD because your content could be considered geotargeted (which could affect your global search rankings). You can find a list of the country codes Google considers gccTLDs (and are thus safer to use universally) on this page.

So basically, if you were hypothetically using .in for mclov.in, Google would geotarget your site to India because .in is India’s ccTLD, and it’s not on their list of ccTLDs that act as gccTLDs. That’s great if you’re in India, but if you’re not, you may struggle to get to the top of search results unrelated to your exact name.

If you don’t care about search, than no worries. If you do though, you may want to think twice about using a ccTLD in a domain hack that’s not a gccTLD.

What about domain hacks for URL shortening?

Short link

When Twitter was first created, links were a real problem. Just picture it — you have 140 characters to complete a thought, and links can be quite long. If you wanted to send a link to our .COM page (iwantmyname.com/domains/com-domain-name-registration-for-commercial), you’re looking at a hefty 67 characters. To get around that link bloat, a bunch of companies created shortening solutions which linked desired (long) URL’s to a short URL, like bit.ly/XXXXXX or ow.ly/XXXXXX (the XXXXXX being a randomly generated, unique string of characters). Then, using custom domain names, you could brand your short URL’s using your own custom domain name, so instead of bit.ly/XXXXXX, tweets would show something like iwmn.me/XXXXXX.

These days, this] Twitter does this:

A URL of any length will be altered to 23 characters, even if the link itself is less than 23 characters long. Your character count will reflect this.

Woohoo! So no, in 2018, there’s no reason you shouldn’t use a goofy domain hack as a URL shortener (if you’re into that sort of thing). Let it all out. You be you.

Are there any tools for finding domain hacks?

iwantmyname search

If you’re not specifically looking for one, domain hacks can be tricky to think up. Fortunately, there are tools:

  1. the iwantmyname domain search has a basic domain hack finder built in. Just type any word in, and the second result (if applicable) will be a domain hack using one of our many domain extensions.
  2. If you need a bit more though, try doing a search over at Domainr. Doing the same search I did above (whatismydomainname), they pulled out some crazy stuff like whatismydomainn.am/e, whatismydoma.in.na/me, and whatismydomain.na/me. Pretty fun stuff.
  3. Another fun tool is domainhack.me. Just type in a word and see the awesome unfold.

How to pick the right domain extension

decisions

In ye olde days (early 2013), most of the thinking that went into choosing a domain name went to the name itself, not the domain extension. But now, with hundreds of top-level domains (TLDs) available to the public, picking the actual name of your site might be the easy part. How do you choose between all the TLD options? Do you go with .com? .co? Your local ccTLD? A descriptive word that aligns with your brand? Maybe .pizza (pizza goes with everything!)?

Before you spontaneously combust, let’s go through your options and add some notes from the smart people writing about the subject around the web.

  1. What domain extension gets the best SEO?
  2. Beware TLD spam indicators
  3. Local domain extensions can be good for SEO
  4. Does your TLD really matter?

What domain extension gets the best SEO

lisa simpson

I’m not a mind reader, but my guess is that you don’t really care what your TLD is, as long as it makes you rank on a Google search. That’s a good mentality to have, as pleasing the Google gods is often a fast pass to getting people to your site.

To please said Google gods, you have to think about Search Engine Optimization (SEO…Google it). Basically, Google has an algorithm they use to make their results more relevant to the humans using their service — an algorithm meant to promote usability and readability over spammy behavior. And because of that, an entire industry has popped up to try to teach people how to optimize their sites into whatever Google thinks is best at the time.

Most advice boiled down to “how many times should you write a certain word in a blog post to make it rank high in a Google search.” But then that quickly changed to “if you put certain words in your domain name, your whole site will rank higher for those words.” (People are still arguing over that… more below.)

So when the new gTLDs came out (the ones like .pizza and .blog), the thought was that they would become an easy way to boost your search rank for those specific terms. Then the official word from Google came out (emphasis mine):

Q: How will new gTLDs affect search? Is Google changing the search algorithm to favor these TLDs? How important are they really in search?

A: Overall, our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org). Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.

Translated, according to Google, your TLD doesn’t matter, at least when it comes to keywords. You can keyword target them to your brand (like .pizza to a pizza shop) and it won’t make any difference at all to Google’s algorithm (.pizza just isn’t any more “authentic” to actual pizza shops than something like .com).

In practice though, there’s some evidence that targeting keywords might help (perhaps humans are easier to manipulate than algorithms). Here’s one from Search Engine Land:

That’s why we commissioned Globe Runner, a Dallas-based SEO firm, to investigate the effect of moving from a .COM to a new TLD. The subject of this study was Jacksonville.ATTORNEY, a domain registered by Eric Block, a personal injury attorney in Jacksonville, FL. Eric’s migration from EricBlockLaw.com in March of 2015 was a great opportunity to observe domain metrics before and after the switch. What Globe Runner discovered is that moving to a new TLD very likely contributed to Eric’s site appearing at the top of many search results.

Within months, Jacksonville.ATTORNEY was sitting at or near the top of organic search results for some highly competitive keywords, ranking as high as the first overall match for terms like “Jacksonville attorney” and “Jacksonville attorneys.” This was a welcome change from EricBlockLaw.com, which often ranked several pages down, if they ranked at all.

Since the switch, Globe Runner estimated that the site generates the organic equivalent of $6,400 per month in 333 Google keyword phrases. Many of these searches don’t even include “Jacksonville” as a term, as Google’s results can already account for the location of the user performing the search.

And here’s another test on Search Engine Journal:

At first, when we first ran the ads, we found that we got more impressions on the .Diamonds ads, and the .DIAMONDS clicks were cheaper. The clicks on the .COM ads were more expensive, but ultimately the .COM clicks converted better. Eight months later, however, we ran the same ads again, and found that the .DIAMONDS clicks were still cheaper than using a .COM domain name. But, it turned out that the .DIAMONDS clicks were converting better than they had before.

I’m now recommending that if you’re running Google AdWords ads, consider using a keyword rich New gTLD domain name. You should, of course, do your own testing, but you may end up paying less for clicks and getting more conversions.

So what’s the answer to the original question, “Does Moving To a New gTLD Domain Name Help Rankings?”. The answer, honestly, is that we don’t know yet. We certainly have some proof that moving a site to a New gTLD domain or using a New gTLD domain for your brand new domain could help organic rankings, and it certainly won’t hurt rankings. If the migration is done correctly, a site won’t lose rankings.

But we just don’t have enough data to give anyone a final answer to this question, there aren’t enough New gTLD domains with live sites on them.

Practically, I think it’s safe to stick to Google’s recommendation that it really doesn’t matter what TLD you choose, as long as your site contains high-quality content. But if you like to be on the cutting edge of things, trying out a domain extension that fits your brand might be a savvy longterm move.

Plus, putting aside SEO, I really like this take on the potential future by Karn Jajoo for The Next Web:

A new TLD is often just a natural fit: take the example of ‘Lily’, the world’s first self-flying camera drone. ‘Lily’ could refer to the flowering plant, a common first name, or a small town, and its .com is registered by Lily Transportation Corp. Therefore, the Menlo Park robotics startup behind this drone used a simple, elegant domain to disambiguate its product – lily.camera.

Ever heard of the case of Nissan computer vs. Nissan motors? Uzi Nissan, a reseller of computer hardware and peripherals, registered Nissan.com on June 4, 1994.

Five years later, the Nissan Motor Corporation (which was called Datsun in the late 1970s) filed a $10 million lawsuit against Nissan Computer claiming cyber-squatting, trademark infringement and trademark dilution.

Perhaps if new TLDs had existed back then, Nissan.computer and Nissan.auto would have solved this contention without the lengthy legal dispute that has allegedly already cost Mr. Uzi $2.2 million in legal fees.

In addition to providing endless new namespaces for people to register short, memorable domain names (good .com’s can be hard to find these days) , the new gTLDs could act as a natural category structure for the web. And that’s just cool.

Beware TLD spam indicators

you blew it

There are some TLDs though that may hurt your cause. Beyond Google’s algorithm, the other factor to contend with is human emotion. We’ve been trained for decades now to avoid things that seem unsafe online, and all these new domain extensions are just another new thing to be afraid of.

And it’s not unwarranted. Some TLDs do have a higher percentage of “shady” (as Symantec puts it) actors, and while the general public probably doesn’t keep up with such lists, once you get a reputation, it’s hard to shake it. For this reason, many people simply settle on .com — it’s so big at this point that it’s practically too big to fail.

I don’t frequent the afraid-of-new-things camp though. Instead, I just keep an eye on a few lists, like the ”Badness Index” list from Spamhaus. It’s made up of “representing domains seen by Spamhaus systems, and not a TLD’s total domain corpus,” formulated with this algorithm:

(Db/Dt) log(Db)

where

  • Db is the number of bad domains detected
  • Dt is the number of active domains observed

As of 28 August 2018 the TLDs with the worst reputations for spam operations are:

  1. .gq
  2. .cf
  3. .tk
  4. ml
  5. .ga
  6. .men
  7. .top
  8. .link
  9. .work
  10. .date

And here’s the Symantec list of Shady Top-Level Domains.

Shady Percentage is a simple calculation: the ratio of “domains and subdomains ending in this TLD which are rated in our database with a’shady’ category, divided by the total number of database entries ending in this TLD”.

Here are the Top Twenty Shady TLDs, as of the close of 2017:

  1. .country
  2. .strean
  3. .download
  4. .xin
  5. .gdn
  6. .racing
  7. .jetzt
  8. .win
  9. .bid
  10. .vip
  11. .ren
  12. .kim
  13. .loan
  14. .mom
  15. .party
  16. .review
  17. .trade
  18. .date
  19. .wang
  20. .accountants

And finally, just to bring us all back to Earth, here’s SURBL’s list — no algorithm here — showing us that .com is still the spam leader (there’s just a lot more .com domains floating around to help the ratio, so you don’t see it on other lists).

  1. .com
  2. .men
  3. .tk
  4. .biz
  5. .ml
  6. .ga
  7. .cf
  8. .gq
  9. .us
  10. .work
  11. .top
  12. .net
  13. .date
  14. .info
  15. .org
  16. .shop
  17. .review
  18. .loan
  19. .stream
  20. .trade

These lists change all the time as domain registries modify their policies, so don’t think of any of this as a permanent indictment. But if you start seeing the same extensions appear year after year, it’s safe to assume that the public will eventually notice. And that’s something you just don’t need in your life.

Local domain extensions can be good for SEO

go local

By design, the internet is a global marketplace. No matter where your website is being hosted, anyone in the world can check out what you’re offering. But in many instances, people and businesses don’t need a global reach. Restaurants, regional banks, local politicians—these people and places are focused locally, and can often benefit from local TLDs.

Here’s what Moz has to say:

Important in international SEO, ccTLDs are the single strongest way to show search engines and users where the site originates. This means that, all things being equal, example.fr will likely rank better in a French user’s SERP than example.us or example.com

Note that Google Webmaster Tools will not let you geotarget a ccTLD because it is, by definition, already geotargeted.

In practice, Google does its best to give the most relevant results possible. If you’re looking for Mexican food in New Zealand, having a .nz domain will help you rank higher (although you can target generic TLDs like .COM to specific places, too… it’s just an extra step). Here’s how Google puts it:

Q: What about real ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) : will Google favor ccTLDs (like .uk, .ae, etc.) as a local domain for people searching in those countries?

A: By default, most ccTLDs (with exceptions) result in Google using these to geotarget the website; it tells us that the website is probably more relevant in the appropriate country.

The story is a little different for the new city extensions:

Q: How are the new region or city TLDs (like .london or .bayern) handled?

A: Even if they look region-specific, we will treat them as gTLDs. This is consistent with our handling of regional TLDs like .eu and .asia. There may be exceptions at some point down the line, as we see how they’re used in practice.

My guess is that city TLDs will start to get hypertargeted at some point, but that’s only a guess. If you’re using your domain for a local audience (and have no plans to go international), a country code TLD (ccTLD) like .nz, .ca, or .uk is what you’re looking for…

… unless you live in the United States. For whatever reason, no one in the US uses the .us domain extension. It’s what happens when everyone becomes a brand that’s for sale — you get a bunch of people who identify as commercial entities.

When going local goes wrong

There are a few instances where trying to go local doesn’t actually mean the internet thinks you’re local. Here are a few:

  • The common initials for the state of Delaware is DE, but .de is the ccTLD for Germany. Your customers might think it’s cool, but Google’s going to think your brand is in Germany, not Delaware.
  • Like Delaware, Sussex in England uses SX as their abbreviation, but .sx is the ccTLD for Sint Maarten. Definitely a different place

The best rule to follow is to know what your TLD stands for before you register it (if it’s a ccTLD that Google considers generic, you’re fine).

Does your TLD really matter?

han

From Pando Daily, in an article titled ”What’s In A Name? The fading tyranny of dot com”:

For someone like Michael Heyward, who co-founded anonymous social networking app Whisper in 2012, as a mobile first company, he says, there was not an ounce of trepidation at not having the Whisper.com domain name. (Whisper.com itself is a junk address, filled with spam links.)

Heyward says that 99 percent of Whisper’s exposure comes from its app. The company has a Whisper.sh landing page, to showcase popular posts from the app and publish legal and company information.

In 2014, Americans spend more time in apps than they do using the Internet on desktop. With social media sites becoming a greater engine for content discovery, new sites such as Quartz are popping up that don’t really even have an official homepage.

Think about that. For the foreseeable future, we’ll all need domain names to run our platforms and blogs, but discovery is changing fast. Really fast. On a given day, almost all the content I personally read online comes from links on content aggregators like Techmeme and Hacker News, or social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. And because I trust the sources I’m finding sites and articles with, the domain itself doesn’t matter. It could be “ten words long dot anything” and I likely wouldn’t know the difference.

Putting on my future hat, my advice would be to find the TLD that you’re most comfortable with and go with it. .Com, .io, .limo—no matter what it is, if you commit to it, you’ll probably be fine.

I’ll leave you with this nugget from Christopher Steiner at FoundersClub:

But everybody knew, even then, that a company needed a dot-com domain. That wasn’t debatable. But it seems a subject that is up for discussion now, judging by data. Promising startups still end up with dot-com domains more often than not, but the margin at which they do is decreasing.

ycombinator .com trending downward

The percentage of Y Combinator companies with dot-com domains has been following a downward trend since the the winter class of 2014, when dot-com domains comprised 80% of the class. Before that point, almost all classes were well into the 90-percentiles for dot-com names, with seven classes at 100%.

The last three classes at YC have been: 79.4%, 75.3% and 68.0% dot-com domains.

The times are-a-changin’.

How to become the customer that every support team member loves

not good

I read a lot of blogs about online support, customer experience management, and the art of communication. There are tons of articles describing how we (aka the people working in support) can make the service experience for our customers as agreeable as possible. Those stories often go a little something like:

  • Be nice.
  • Listen carefully, reply carefully.
  • Go the extra mile to make the customer happy.

At iwantmyname, I think we’re doing a pretty good job ticking all those boxes. We collect feedback through Nicereply, and our stats show a numerical “thumbs up” for all team members. Nevertheless, every now and then there’s the odd conversation that goes completely wrong.

Take this example which led to the dent in my customer satisfaction statistics. I‘ll first tell it from the customer‘s point of view.

All of a sudden, my domain stopped working. I had a website and emails set up because it’s my business domain. My income depends on that domain. When the first customers called because they could not place an order, I thought my website went down. I checked it, and there was an error message saying my domain could not be found. So I called the hosting company, and they told me that the issue was with my domain, not with my website. I could not find a phone number of iwantmyname, so I sent them an email. They told me that my domain expired weeks ago and that I would have to pay a much higher fee now to restore it. This is unbelievable. They didn‘t even send me a single message before deleting my domain.

Worst. Customer. Service. Ever. Right? Let‘s see what this looks like from my position as a support team member.

So we got this new case of a domain that went into the redemption period. Before that happens, we automatically send about ten reminders to the contact email address in the account.

When we first received a message from the customer, it just stated that “the domain is gone and we need it back ASAP because this is unacceptable.” The thing is that we manage more than one domain, so I asked the customer for the name in question. Once I received it, it was accompanied by a couple of insults because the domain had already been down for at least two days. I informed him how to restore the domain, which made things even worse. Restores come at a higher fee that we have to pay to the registry. We don‘t agree with those fees, but have no way to avoid them, or the domain will be deleted.

Then more insults from the customer because his login details were out of date and he could not access the account. He threatened to call his lawyer and publish our “shady business practices” because we don’t do phone support.

In the end, the customer decided not to restore the domain. It has since been registered by somebody else. Nevertheless, he took the time to send out a handful of negative ratings with further swearing and threats.

Luckily, I do remember this single case because it’s one of the few negative ones — most days I just get messages like, “thank you, problem solved.” Still, the bad ones tend to stick, so here’s how they can be avoided.

Information is key

Like a doctor diagnosing an illness, the more information you can provide in a support ticket, the better. Clearly map out the steps you took that led you to your problem, and add all the little details that could be relevant to the case. Too much information is a good thing in this situation.

Also, try breaking out separate bits of information into bullets. Anything to make details more manageable to read is a plus.

Pro tip: If you send a support request to us while you‘re logged in to your account, we‘ll be able to run updates on your behalf so you don‘t have to do it yourself.

Safety first

When it comes to the top ten of incoming requests, “I cannot log in to my account“ ranks pretty high. I tend to forget my logins as well, which, among other reasons, is why I use a password manager.

Usually finding this information is done through the regular password reset process (your login email address can be found in your latest receipt), but if you can’t complete the password reset process, we have to follow a no-exception security protocol to keep your domains safe. We take domain security quite seriously, and it only takes a quick Google search to find a story or two about how some simple social engineering can bypass a lax security process. In this case, being difficult is a feature, not a bug — even if it’s frustrating in the moment.

Pro tip: Speaking of receipts, always update your email and postal address every time you make a change. Otherwise, all the domain expiration/renewal messages we send out won’t get to you… which is bad.

Hello, Mr. Robot

Have you ever had a conversation with one of those chatbots? If you were in contact with our support team, the answer is definitely “no.“ Our support is handmade by a bunch of friendly people sitting around the globe. And people’s brains, generally, work a little more efficiently when they’re not being insulted in the process.

Not that we can’t function while being insulted, but it’s generally harder to get to the root of the problem when support tickets are so… colorful. So maybe edit out the non-essentials. We can totally empathize with being frustrated when something goes wrong, but trying to shame us in the process doesn’t put you into any sort of top-secret priority queue.