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Not.coms: should websites sacrifice ranking scope for playful brand perception?

January 21st, 2013 | | Posted in category Internet Marketing On Page SEO Search Engine Optimization Search Engines Website Usability

“In the future, fortune could well favor those who didn’t sell their good domain names too cheaply, or too boldly”

Frank Schilling

Picking a right domain for your website has been a part of SEO basics for several years now.

A website address is not only a way to reach your page using a browser. It is also a part of branding: domain explains a company’s name or product, gives some ideas about your business sector and simply is a thing to remember and associate with a brand.

Choose a superb and catchy website address, play with the company name and words that describe some essence and purpose of your page, because this is a great way to boost your brand awareness even before a detailed SEO campaign is started.

There are a lot of options you can use to make your domain work for you. But today we are not speaking of keywords, website name length and using a brand name in it. There is an important issue about your website which is a top-level domain (TLD). Simply defined, TLD is the last part of a full domain name. For google.com TLD is obviously .com.

.Biz or .cc makes a site sound amateurish?

Almost from the beginning of actual SEO establishing there existed some key thoughts and methods of picking a right TLD. Here are some of them.

  • .com TLD is more trustworthy for users. Country code top-level domains (aka ccTLD) are also considered to be more useful, especially for local business pages. Thus, if you are located in France, sphygmomanometer.fr is much better than sphygmomanometer.lol. Many people even now seem to be driven by misconceptions towards websites with names ended in .biz or .info.
  • Say, someone has heard you company or product name and wants to reach your web page at once. It is more likely that the first variant that could be typed in the address bar is brandname.com. Moreover, modern browsers automatically suggest you domain extensions to be added while you type. Well, a nice time saving feature. Domains that are easily accessible in such a way are called discoverable. For example, adidas.com is a highly discoverable domain.
  • Google and other SE value .com (or country code TLD in some cases) more. Some SEO aces even state that buying .com extension for your website may affect ranking in a significantly better way than .info, .net or .org. At least in a way it could be noticed. Taking account of the fact that such belief is still extremely popular on the Internet, someone would rather not ignore this point. Or?

Although successful SEO campaign acquires following certain tips and tricks, recently more and more websites with custom domains appear. Del.icio.us is an example of world-known one. Also you may have come across bit.ly, brief.ly, instagr.am, and pep.si.

Facts about unconventional TLDs:

  • They help to build short URLs. Goo.gl, fold.it and blo.gs could not be more simple to remember.
  • Probably, the first unconventional domain inter.net was registered in 1992.
  • Аn unconventional domain that combines domain levels, especially the top-level domain, to spell out the full name or title of the domain, is called a domain hack. Not a security term, though, meaning ‘a trick’. Gather.at is a good example.
  • Two-character ccTLDs (.al, .am, .as, .at, .co, .in, .io, .is, .it, .ly, .me, .mp, .net, .nr, .re, .rs, .st, .li) are often used for domain hacks, as they correspond to simple English words.
  • Many desirable domain hacks, such as love.me or leave.me, were held back as premium names for later auction.
  • .ly TLD (bit.ly, ow.ly etc.) is a Libya ccTLD.

The entire point of domain hacking is to increase the number of possible domain choices, as today it’s extremely difficult to pick a short, noticeable domain with .com, for many of them are occupied now.

To set a trend means to break the rule

You may come across some opinion that brand effect of original and catchy domain may overlap any special relationship between Google and unconventional domains. By success of many companies using unconventional TLDs we can definitely say that even if some SE suspiciousness towards such domains exists, it can be beaten.

If you frequently visit SEO forums you can see some of these beliefs displayed:

  • .info etc domains are bad for SEO, because Google count them as ‘not trustworthy’;
  • Backlinks from .info, .net etc TLDs have less weight than from .com;
  • It’s impossible to reach the level of com rankings using unconventional LTDs;
  • Etc.

But let us see. The main purpose of Google is to show its users the most relevant results according to their queries. Imagine that we have an .info domain which is perfect from the Google Webmaster Guidelines view. Why on earth should Google rank it suspiciously just because of the LTD?

What is more, so-called bad rankings results of unconventional domains may be driven from the times when LTDs corresponded to non-profit webpages full of spammy content and black hat SEO tricks. So if even now people sometimes stay away from such pages it may cause less traffic in particular niches.

But again: if your website is extremely useful for visitors and is SEO-friendly, there is no way Google will drop it. Careful forum research showed that there is no any single mentioned exact case when, for example, .net or .info domains are ranked worse that .coms. At least people tried to state that, but it always occurred that their websites had thousands of reasons to be ranked worse.

And we have a proof that Google won’t judge sites by TLDs. Here is a Google+ post by Matt Cutts, where he states that new stylish TLDs won’t boost one’s SEO result.

So now we know that Google won’t affect our rankings by TLD factor.

But what about human factor?

Do you need a discoverable name or a brandable name? If you wish to get mostly organic search results, a discoverable name could be more useful… But not necessarily. Even if your website has a brandable domain, it can still rank well in SERP as long as it’s full of relevant content. Discoverable names are only necessary for companies counting only on ‘type-in’ traffic, when your brand is widely known by people.

But the obvious thing is: unconventional LTDs won’t affect your rankings. Rankings are affected by factors that are important for users: content, relevancy, usability etc. TLD factor can be as important as a color of your left highest pixel on your website logo. If the logo is bad, the pixel won’t save the situation.

If you still are not scared to death by possible effects of so-called amateurish domains, you can choose one using a special tool.

Image credit: Almagami via iStockphoto



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