A New Internet Extension Can Compete with .COM

By Alex Tajirian
Alex Tajirian

The king of extensions is .com, and dethroning it won't be easy. But one day soon .com will have a genuine competitor, and there are two things we already know about the competition. First, the newcomer will have been sold as an underdog. Second, it will have attracted businesses that are passionate about being content-quality leaders.

In the minds of many consumers, .com signals quality and global presence that give it a mystical authoritativeness. This mystique puts network effects in motion. Consumers seek .com Web sites as their primary destination target, which provides incentives for Web sites to register domain names under .com, which in turn increases consumer visits to .com sites, and so on.

But there's a catch, and therefore an opening for rival extensions. The more domain names there are that use .com (currently over 80 million), the harder it becomes for potential customers to find the destination site and to believe that the companies' offerings are bound to be high quality. Hence, an opening.

But the new competing Top-Level Domain (TLD) must have a unique personality. A clear and focused signal/message is good, of course, and the emotional touch always helps. But the key is to make clear that you're the underdog. (For an example of the underdog advantage, see a recent HBR article by Keinan, Avery, and Paharia.) Otherwise, a diffuse TLD signal will generate confusion, and thus limit its adoption. After all, one of the main reasons for the expansion of Internet extensions is to provide a viable alternative for Web sites that are unable to register their desired .com or cannot afford to buy one on the secondary market. Nevertheless, such a competitor must immediately start marketing the TLD.

On their part, owners of domain names under the new TLD must also market their sites as the underdog to the .com Web sites. However, for the underdog strategy to work, Web sites using the new TLD must be passionate and determined to provide superior quality to those under .com.

By Alex Tajirian, CEO at DomainMart

Related topics: Domain Names, Registry Services, Top-Level Domains

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After all, one of the main reasons Paul Tattersfield  –  Nov 05, 2010 10:40 AM PST

After all, one of the main reasons for the expansion of Internet extensions is to provide a viable alternative for Web sites that are unable to register their desired .com or cannot afford to buy one on the secondary market.

Is that really sill the genuine belief of people promoting the current GNSO/Staff DAG? 

After nearly 10 years of .info, .biz, .name etc. none have come even close to even making a small dent in .com. So what is so different this time around?

With tens or even hundreds of new gTLDs launching simultaneously where are all these new registrants gong to come from?

As a percentage of the population very few people are risk takers, most prefer the safety of following the crowd. Given this plus the likely analysis paralysis I would guess the converse is actually more likely to happen with even more people simply playing safe and going with a longer .com

The only realistic exceptions I can see at the moment are where there is an existing real world community with a strong sense of identity and an existing real world infrastructure.

Better alternatives Mark Fulton  –  Nov 05, 2010 2:00 PM PST

There is something that many don't seem to understand. It is both complex and very simple and I have tried to explain the concept I'm referring to in my article about which TLDs are premium.

Not all TLDs are created equal. As one domain's keywords can be better than the next, the same judgement can be applied to TLDs. The examples you provide (.Info and .Biz and .Name) somewhat failed to gain wide acceptance because they are not nearly as good as .Com. They are four characters of a limited niche or contain the letter Z as a quirky abbreviation. That doesn't cut it.

.Co is performing well because it is short and has similar attributes to .Com as far as representing companies and commerce. I feel that extensions such as .Blog, .Music, .Green (strong words representing large audiences) would out-perform predecessors.

Thanks for the link to your article. Paul Tattersfield  –  Nov 05, 2010 3:43 PM PST

Thanks for the link to your article. And thank you for stepping up to the plate and giving examples you feel stand a good chance of being successful.

I am curious as to why four letters would be a limiting factor for .info? .info has meaning in most western languages, and I would guess a larger niche than .green .blog or .music given “information” is what most people are actually looking for even when it ultimately leads to a purchase.

And why wouldn’t .blog be affected in the same way as .biz being a derived word?

I’m not sure why .green would be successful, as for many people it’s a single issue from several in their concerns. How many would be committed enough to maintain a unique website? Plus interest in many single issues often ebbs and flows over time. I can see companies feeling morally obligated to defensively register, but I would guess the best that could be hoped for in most cases would be a redirect to some green pages on their primary website perhaps?

.music is interesting, and introduces another serious problem with current proposal for new gTLDs - Who should be allowed to own top level domains and for how long? Should a single commercial music company be awarded what is effectively a private monopoly in perpetuity? Or does this present a natural conflict of interest with their competitors who are by definition forced to compete from the second level [domains]?

If there are likely to be many applicants for such a perceived advantage, how can ICANN award it equitably? Would the most well funded entity necessarily be the best entity to run it in some or all cases?

The reason ICANN is offering more TLDs ... John Levine  –  Nov 05, 2010 11:38 AM PST

is that they've always said they would, and they think they can make $100M doing so.

The fact that we've survived the past decade with an essentially static set of TLDs should make it clear that whatever problem new TLDs are supposed to solve, it's not very urgent.  The most urgent issue was non-Roman character sets, and the fast track IDNs fixed that.  So what's left? Money. Bah.

Totally agree. Johnny Du  –  Nov 05, 2010 12:45 PM PST

No doubt, .com will still be the king. That doesn't mean a new TLD can't compete with .com in its targeted area/market. In many countries, ccTLDs are doing better than .com. I won't be surprised that someday new gTLDs such as .law, .music, .sports, etc overtake .com in their industry.

Area specific TLDs? John Levine  –  Nov 05, 2010 1:04 PM PST

In view of the feeble acceptance of .AERO, .TRAVEL, .JOBS, .COOP, and particularly .MUSEUM, why would anyone expect .law, .music, or .sports to do any better?

Fifteen years ago, it was sort of kind of plausible that TLDs might work as topic directories. Since the rise of search engines, it's not.  Really, the level of wishful thinking here is overwhelming.

Johnny Du wroteNo doubt, .com will still Paul Tattersfield  –  Nov 05, 2010 2:02 PM PST

Johnny Du wrote

No doubt, .com will still be the king. That doesn't mean a new TLD can't compete with .com in its targeted area/market. In many countries, ccTLDs are doing better than .com. I won't be surprised that someday new gTLDs such as .law, .music, .sports, etc overtake .com in their industry.

Interesting examples from perceived high value industries

Let’s look at .law - Other than a handful of obvious generics, where is the market?

At this point in the evolution of the Internet most law firms already have an Internet presence. Companies do not like running and maintaining more than one website – period! So the .law needs to persuade them to move or at least register defensively for the registries survival!

Law firms are not usually named in a way that they require high value generic domain names. So very few are likely to be looking to “trade up” to a “better” .law domain name.

There will be little or no direct navigation traffic because there is no critical mass of similar .law registrations.

Even defensive registrations are going to be perceived as less necessary than usual because the costs of retrieving any names is going to be a lot cheaper than for other non legal industries and professions, if not even an entertaining challenge LOL.

Even if .law gains some traction all the other professions will still be in existing TLDs so why would users expect or come to accept that that .law is different? The marketing required would be gargantuan and for what advantage?

Given, suppliers, customers and competitors “expect” a law company be in an existing TLD how do you persuade a substantial number of law firms to start re-branding in a .law TLD?

The 2004 round would tend to suggest this approach is extremely unlikely to prove successful.

Domain names can be used in many ways. Johnny Du  –  Nov 05, 2010 4:23 PM PST

Existing businesses don't have to sit on one web site. The web site itself does not have to be limited to just one domain name.

Overstock already owns overstock.com. But they still spent $350k on o.co and used it in their latest holiday TV commercial. 

A LongTailNameLawFirm.com can register a short DWI.law and put it on the billboards along the highway. Which domain name is easier to catch?

Existing businesses don't have to sit on Paul Tattersfield  –  Nov 05, 2010 5:18 PM PST

Existing businesses don't have to sit on one web site. The web site itself does not have to be limited to just one domain name.

Getting the majority of companies to invest in more than one website per trading entity is extremely challenging even if you can present short term economic justifications.

Overstock already owns overstock.com. But they still spent $350k on o.co and used it in their latest holiday TV commercial.

I watched the commercial earlier and every scene refers to overstock.com, www.o.co is given as shortcut url below a much larger overstock.com logo in the last seconds of the commercial.

It’s good to see o.co being used but I think in this case it is possible Overstock’s primary motivation may have more to do with branding perceptions prior to a possible future release of o.com

Overstock’s differentiated use of o.biz is also good to see but the wider problem is there are very, very few companies which use existing new gTLDs in this way. Each new gTLD added makes it harder and harder to reach the level of marketing required to introduce the “network effect” outside the dominant existing TLDs.

A LongTailNameLawFirm.com can register a short DWI.law and put it on the billboards along the highway. Which domain name is easier to catch?

DWI is probably one of best prime generics for .law. But how many others are there? It just doesn’t scale.