How Many Domain Names Do You Really Need?

June 18, 2015

As of April, 2015, WNET has 218 domains registered, yet only 15 host web content. Each domain has an annual fee, and many require the technical overhead of managing DNS records and web server configuration. Why do we have so many? Do we really need all of them?

Generic Top Level Domains

Our story begins in the mid-nineties, with the dramatic commercial growth of the Internet. There were only six generic top level domains: .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .net, and .org. These gTLDs were named for their intended use. Businesses used .com, ISPs used .net, and Nonprofits used .org. WNET was called Educational Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) at the time, so we registered educationalbroadcastingcorporation.org and our station call letters, wnet.org.

More individuals and businesses were interested in registering domains for commercial purposes than other uses, so .com quickly became the most popular gTLD. Over the next few years it became common to register each domain name in .com, .net, and .org if available, because the intended use restrictions were not enforced. We followed that trend, and now WNET has 201 domains in .com, .net, and .org.

Early IE and Netscape browsers implemented domain guessing, adding .com to the end of any single word typed into the address bar after the initial DNS lookup failed. This further increased the popularity and importance of .com.

By the end of the dot-com bubble of the late nineties, many domain names associated with company names, products, and popular keywords were already taken. Some were initially registered by resellers, then sold for a handsome profit to the associated companies, because there were no restrictions on this practice.

ICANN Expands the Namespace

In the early 2000s, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) started adding further gTLDs. TLDs have been added repeatedly since, and the total is 942 as of 5/19/2015. WNET currently has one domain each registered for .biz, .co, .info, .me, .us, and .nyc.

The Island of Television

Country code top-level domains are reserved for countries, as the name suggests. Tuvalu is a Polynesian island nation in the South Pacific, and their ccTLD happens to be .tv. The Tuvalu government leased it to Verisign, who began promoting it as a preferred address for rich media content in late 2006. By early 2007, some US TV networks were using it. WNET registered it’s first .tv domain in 2008, and we now have 11.

WNET Domain Names by Use

  • 15 host web sites
  • 71 redirect to web sites
  • 132 are placeholders

The redirect and placeholder domain names fit into the following categories

  • Alternate name – 13wnet.org
  • Alternate spelling – thriteen.org
  • Call to action – jointhirteen.org
  • Company name (trademark) – wnet.org
  • Disparaging name – thirteensucks.org
  • Program name (trademark) – americanmasters.org
  • Promotional – thinkthirteen.org

Domains Names to Keep

  • Domain hosting web site – Fewer domains are generally better. Aggregating a lot of similar high quality content under one domain is better for SEO than individual domains for each project.
  • .com – WNET gets traffic to .com domains for reasons explained below.
  • .org – WNET is a non-profit organization and we are following the original gTLD convention.
  • Trademark – Consult with your attorney.

Domains Names to Drop

  • Alternate name – Drop unless actively promoted.
  • Alternate spelling – Drop unless canonical name is actively promoted and commonly misspelled.
  • Call to action – Drop unless actively promoted. Reusable names are best.
  • Company name – Drop unless trademark or actively promoted.
  • Disparaging name – Drop.
  • .net, .tv, and other TLDs – Drop unless actively promoted.
  • Program name – Drop unless trademark or actively promoted.

Disparaging Names

Many domains have disparaging names, e.g. microsoftsucks.com. Some host disparaging content as well. Some companies attempt to prevent this practice by registering yourbrandsucks across multiple gTLDs themselves, or buying them from offenders. Unfortunately, yourbrandstinks and others variants work just as well, and you can’t control the conversation by registering domains. Focus on improving products and customer service to enhance your reputation, and engage your critics constructively where appropriate instead.

Top Level Domains to Avoid

.xxx is a sponsored top-level domain that went into operation on 4/15/2011. Domain registrars and resellers aggressively promoted defensive domain registration to companies to protect their brands. Unfortunately, anybody can still register yourbrandxxx.com, etc., so you’re not really buying much protection with this sTLD.

Similarly, .sucks is currently being promoted as a customer relations management tool. During the sunrise period from 3/30/2015 to 5/29/2015, trademark holders can register domains for $2,499/year. From 6/1/2015 on, the MSRP is $249/year for standard domains.

A better strategy is to serve your customers well where they are, on your current domain. As a point of comparison, .com domains are available for as little as $10.69/year from companies like Namecheap.

The Domainer Fallacy

The rampant promotion and purchasing of domains with dubious practical value is best explained by Mark Jeftovic.

The fear card being played to induce rights holders to pony up inflated fees to defend their marks under .SUCKS is similar to what I have often termed “the domainer fallacy”, or confusing the map with the territory. Let me explain: there is a train of thought amongst some “domainers” (defined as those who invest in domain names) that by owning a “category killing” domain, you automatically lock up your category. In other words, if you can get your hands on “search.com” then you can kill Google. Much in the same way owning the domain books.com enabled Barnes and Noble to put Amazon out of business. See how that works?

How Visitors Get to Your Site

According to a study from BrightEdge, organic search drives 51% of content to business sites. Organic search drove 51% of traffic to Thirteen from 4/21 through 5/21/2015, which is typical for most of our web sites, and in line with the BrightEdge results. The domain is just part of the URL where the content is hosted, and the TLD of the domain does not affect the search ranking. The TLD does not affect links from other web sites, paid search, social media, or email.

The one case where the TLD is important to your users is when they have to type it into an address field. Users should be able to easily remember your domain and the TLD, particularly if you’re domain is in a print ad, or on radio or TV, where it’s not clickable.

A study by Interbrand found that “Consumers remember .com over new domain extensions.” 94% correctly recalled .com, while only 7% correctly recalled a new domain extension. WNET had 1700 requests for .com domains across our station sites between 5/16 and 5/22/2015. The domains in question are not actively promoted, and each was redirected to the .org equivalent. Many of these requests are from people reflexively using .com, because it’s the most popular gTLD, and browsers using domain guessing when the TLD is not specified. Therefore, .com is still important, and we will continue to use it. During the same period, the only other TLDs requested were .org, and one .tv domain that is being promoted.

In conclusion, register your domains with .com. If you are a traditional .org or .net, continue to use them if you’d like. Your users will still find you with search engines, and they won’t be confused by TLDs they can’t remember when they type your domain into a browser. Don’t bother with the other TLDs unless you are a reseller.

The opinions expressed in this post represent those of the individual author, Brian Patrick Lee, and not those of Digital at The WNET Group.