You’ve started your business, created your brand, designed your logo, and now it’s time to get online and present yourself to the world. What’s the next thing you need? A website, of course.
In today’s business climate, if you don’t have a website, it’s like you don’t exist. People need a landing page, somewhere where they can get a feel for your business, and who you are, so they can decide on whether to do business with you. So the first thing you need to create your website is a name: your domain name.
Which raises the question, what’s the difference between a .com, a .ca and a .digital?
Pencils ready? We’re going to go through a little Internet 101 for a moment…
...or for those of you who don’t really care about the details, here’s the TL;DR: there’s a vast system that works behind the scenes, with regulators that are responsible for all domain names. Skip to What’s in a name?
The Domain Name System
There’s a vast hidden infrastructure and series of processes that go on behind the scenes when you type a website address into your browser bar.
Every single device that’s connected to the Internet has an IP (Internet Protocol) address; that includes your laptop, your printer, and your cell phone too. In the early days of the Internet, when there were only a few machines connected to each other, it was relatively easy to use the IP system to connect one machine to another, but now, there are almost 10 billion devices connected to the Internet. So, to make this process easier, the Domain Name System (DNS) was created.
The purpose of the Domain Name System is to translate IP addresses to human, recognizable words and names. Otherwise, every time you wanted to visit the YouInc website, you’d have to type in 220.127.116.11 instead (go ahead, open a new tab and type it into your browser address bar).
Who’s in Charge?
An organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) provides global governance on DNS and many other parts of the Internet’s infrastructure, and they’re the group that oversees how registrars manage domain names (amongst many other policies).
What’s a Top Level Domain (TLD)?
Domain names are organized in a hierarchy, and technically speaking, domain names are actually read from right to left. That’s why the ending of a domain name (the .com, .ca, .net) is called the Top Level Domain. In the beginning, there was a very limited group of TLDs for organizations to use, so not only was competition pretty fierce for those recognizable names, but we’re sure you’ve heard stories of cybersquatters, unscrupulous people who would sit on a domain name to which they had no legal right hoping to get rich from corporations that would pay them for access to those domains. (For a fascinating insight on these types of real-life stories, check out this podcast from Gimlet Media’s Reply All show.)
Back to the DNS system...
We began with:
- - for commercial endeavors
- - for non-profit organizations
- - for network providers
- - for military organizations
- - for government organizations
- - for educational organizations
- - for entities providing information services
Besides these kinds of designations, there are also TLDs that are actually country codes that are managed by RIRs (Regional Internet Registrars), such as:
- for Canada
- for the United Kingdom
- for Tuvalu (yes, really)
- for the Federated States of Micronesia (really, really!)
It used to be far more difficult to obtain your domain name online, and the regulations and laws took a while to catch up. Nowadays, with 1034 TLDs at the ready, you’re not limited to the old .com.
What’s in a name?
According to Paul Graham, co-founder of the world-famous Y Combinator, if you’re a US startup and you don’t have the .com for your company name, then you need to change your name. But is that the only option for you and your business? Not necessarily. With the huge increase in new TLDs over the last 15 years, there are far more opportunities for a creative online presence than ever before.
So, while the .com may be important in the all media consuming technology space, that doesn’t mean that you’re doomed. Of course, it all depends on what your business is and what you’re trying to achieve online. Some options that are now available are:
Some of the things that you need to consider when you’re choosing which TLD you’ll use is how it relates to your business’ operating name. How easy and intuitive is it to remember, and how competitive is your current space? People will naturally default to the .com, but in the case of my company’s name, we are ellipsis.digital. From a branding perspective, it’s perfect. It is
our name, so the new .digital TLD works perfectly for us. If your company name is popular, can you make it stand out with a .flowers, .farm, or a .fitness?
You’ll also need to consider the different ways different audiences interpret usage and language; for instance,
jack.fm may be a good reference for a North American radio station, but to someone who’s in the Federated States of Micronesia, they may think you don’t know jack! (couldn’t help myself!)
Lastly, you need to ask if designating your company’s online profile with a .ca is a benefit or a drawback to you. Do Canadians prefer to buy from .ca? Does a .ca limit your potential with your clients and audience?
Keep in mind another consideration with the newer TLDs. Some companies and designers simply haven’t caught up yet. Again, with our company’s domain name, ellipsis.digital, sometimes when our employees submit their email addresses on some websites, they’ll receive an error message because those sites have design restrictions where they can’t accept new TLDs, like .digital. We think that may change sooner than later though, considering Google just redesigned their company, and changed their new company brand to abc.xyz.
So, like many pieces written about how to move forward with your digital marketing, the answer is rather subjective. Knowing how to proceed should be based on some purposeful business design principles. Know yourself, know your audience, and know where you want to go as you build your business.