When the State Bank of India rebranded its corporate website to bank.sbi, the existing site sbi.co.in was left functioning for its customers to acclimate to the new avatar of the legacy website. For the then chairman of the bank, Arundhati Bhattacharya, the new branded top-level domain (TLD) was another step in providing its customers with secure Internet experience. However, for a good chunk of customers, the move called for a leap of faith. The largest public sector bank was the first banking institution in India to pick a premium domain at a time when the lure of dot-com still reigns as the de facto domain for businesses.
Back in the 1990s in the early days of the web, there used to be a handful of choices for domain extensions led by dot-com. The scenario, however, has changed lately when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that manages domain name system, introduced new generic top-level domains or gTLD into the Internet in 2013.
There are hundreds of domains up for sale today for anyone wanting to have a turf on the Internet. From .store, .fashion, .pizza, .media, .photography to .biz, there are scores of options to settle with. The great part of the new gTLD is that the extensions are catchy to work as a great keyword to add to your organic search visibility. However, gTLDs have a downside. With hundreds of new web suffixes coming up, the extensions such as .insurance, .insure, .trading, .finance may end up one day competing directly with one another, feel experts.
Meanwhile, the iconic dot-com still draws in both businesses and users alike. Dot-com has evolved to more than just being an address; it is a globally ratified brand name today. Of the 332.4 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains, dot-com name base totalled 131.9 million registrations as of 31 December 2017, according to the domain name registry Verisign.
Among all global websites, 46.5 per cent used a .com top-level domain. A large chunk of businesses, especially small and medium businesses (SMBs), lean towards dot-com to brand their web addresses. Organisations and customers continue to favour dot-com suffix, says a study by Zinnov LLC, a research, consulting and advisory company, due to its trustworthiness and easy connect. In India, dot-com holds over 57 per cent share of the domain name industry, finds the study.
“We see country code domain name extensions, like .in, being popular with companies which are interested in promoting their business locally. However, as more people decide to differentiate themselves and the additional TLDs become more popular, we expect the number of specialised TLDs in use to grow,” says Nikhil Arora, managing director, vice president, GoDaddy India.
Cool new extensions
A top-level domain is the string of letters at the end of a domain name — for example, the TLD for www.SMEFutures.com is .com. There are different types of TLDs, including country code top-level domains or ccTLD, such as .in. The highest domain protocol, called generic top-level domain or gTLD — which is now increasingly being adopted by next-gen companies — enables a company to use its corporate name as its website identifier, instead of using top-level domain, such as .com or .org.
ICANN wanted to increase choices while promoting innovation and hence the non-profit organisation launched the gTLD program in 2012. With this, businesses and brands now have more options to bring their brand into play.
Adoption of new generic TLDs, such as .news, .app, .books and .shop, are gaining traction globally. “We are starting to see the new domain name extensions, like .guru, .london and .app making headway. The interest for recently launched .app is high. We expect this trend to continue, as end users become more familiar with names outside of .com, their country codes, .net and .org,” says Arora.
Large organisations are turning to their brand names for domain extension, ditching the .com domain for a meaningful extension. For example, Canon moved its site to global.canon, Slack is using slack.help for support, BNP Paribas moved to group.bnpparibas and of course, the transition of the State Bank of India to bank.sbi domain.
Search engine factor
Does your domain name matter? Yes, at least till the time search engines start featuring results from across domains with equal weightage. TLDs other than .com seldom appear in web searches. Results from branded domain pages are rarely seen in the web search as yet. Due to the trust attached, we see traditional TLDs taking up the majority of search results pages. A Google search on “SBI online” shows the bank’s new destination “bank.sbi” nowhere on the result pages. But, Google says in a blog post, “Our systems treat new gTLDs like other traditional domains such as .com and .org. Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in the search.”
Google considers hundreds of factors to warrant that it always lists the most pertinent content for any search query, but .com seems to be the most authoritative way of guaranteeing your site will be crawled. One of the primary reasons behind the advantageous visibility of the .com TLD over others is the fact that it has been the default domain since 1985 ever since the first domain was registered. Probably Google is waiting for the momentum of new age domains to build up before it actually lays thrust on content diversity. “Given its rich history, dot-com is the most memorable, and the most recognised by the general public. Because it’s established, the extension has a distinct reputation. Search engines tend to trust them more,” says Mrityunjay Singh, online marketing manager, GoPaisa.com.
Companies are realising that .com TLDs have value beyond search rankings and that they are envied more than other TLDs. “Dot-com brings with a cachet of credibility. And it makes more sense for a brand with a global reach, but then the issue with .com is availability,” says Sachin Dev Duggal, chief wizard and co-founder, Engineers.AI. “Many people want to have dot-com extension, believing that it can be easier for people to remember and find them,” says GoDaddy’s Arora. A clean history of a domain name is also important because a bad history of a gTLD will impact your ranking, argues Atul Chaudhary, founder, 1Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Delhi-based web development company.
Generic top-level domains look ostentatious and they break the monotony of traditional domain names. But there are issues that are holding gTLD mass adoption back. Users habituated to seeing .com, .net, and .org domains may get confused when they bump into a gTLD.
Geography, identity and business
Choosing the best domain for your site depends on a combination of things such as purpose, geography, availability, catchiness, industry and budget. The popular SEO portal Moz says, “Country extensions can be a smart choice if you are developing your business only in this country.” It can favour your SEO strategy. “If you want to run a website about food in India, you better go for a .in domain, but pick .com if you plan to broaden your base beyond the geography,” says Chaudhary.
If your brand name resonates with a given TLD, for instance, Nation, which is about lifestyle, then nation.fashion will sound awesome. If you sell medicine, you can avoid .com in favour of medicine.store to better your online identity. Several studies depict the SEO advantage of .com, but, at the same time, choosing a meaningful TLD for your business makes more sense than settling with a traditional .com. With Google swearing about giving equal weightage to all TLDs, search engines will have you covered as hundreds of new gTLDs join the main top-level domain.
Three years after Google paid $25 million to gain the exclusive rights to the .app top-level domain, the tech giant is making .app domains available to register. Within the first day, more than one lakh .app domain names were registered, according to Domain Name Wire news portal. Google said that it aims to make .app domains affordable – it expects the pricing to be less than its other TLDs. It is important, because new premium domain names may cost you dearly.
Availability of desired domain names, however, is a serious issue especially in the context of dot-com domains. With over 130 million dot-com domains, as of December 2017, already taken by existing websites or investors, one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs today is finding a domain name that will be easily found by their target audience. The persistent effort in optimising your page for search visibility is no less a challenge in the crowded market. Given the craze for .com domains, the domain moguls, that is cybersquatters, own multitude of .com names, who sell them to aspiring entrepreneurs for a healthy sum of money. Small bootstrapped companies do not have the resources to acquire an expensive domain name. This often forces business owners to buy a domain that’s dull or uses a .co, .net or other remote top-level domain.
New domains such as .shop, .online and .website can be registered for as low as Rs 199 for the first year, as of today. The renewal fee for each of these domains differs. “gTLD domains also have a higher purchase cost as well renewal cost,” says Chaudhary. Finally, domain is not everything. In fact, SEO encompasses many things including high-quality content, organically placed keywords, link building, the speed of the website, and a host of other things.
SMBs and Domain industry in India
The Zinnov study, when aiming to understand the awareness and adoption of domain names among 200 SMBs across three Indian cities, discovered that 75 per cent of the SMBs bought a domain name based on their company name while over 70 per cent of the SMBs showed a preference for .com over other TLDs. The major reasons for this preference are trust, global standards and a professional image.
Globally, according to the .com registry Verisign, there are currently 131.9 million registered dot-com domains. The next most popular TLDs are: .cn at 24.2 million; followed by .tk at 19.9 million; and, .de at 16.3 million. As per NTLDStats, currently, India ranks as number 11 with 2,09,035 domains, representing 0.91 per cent globally.
“With over 70 per cent of SMBs coming from India’s Tier II regions, we are tirelessly working to help bring emerged India (Tier I) and emerging India (Tier II and Tier III cities) online. We expect one-third of Indian small businesses to be online by 2022,” says Arora of GoDaddy.
The domain name count for India has increased from 3.5 million in June 2013 to 5.3 million in December 2017, witnessing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 per cent, says Mohit Gupta, engagement lead, Zinnov. Global domain name count increased from 261 million in June 2013 to 332 million in December 2017, witnessing a growth of over five per cent during the same period.
“Initiatives announced by the India government, booming tech start-up and small and medium business ecosystem, and rising Internet penetration continue to drive the domain name industry in India,” says Pari Natarajan, CEO, Zinnov. The government of India, as a part of its flagship Digital India program, is going to spend $19 billion on digital investments. Under the initiative, 200 million Indians living in rural India across 0.25 million villages will get access to broadband internet. This will not only provide internet access to SMBs but also hasten the adoption of digital services in India, argues Natarajan.
The number of internet users in India has been growing at a healthy CAGR of 15 per cent, growing from 481 million in 2017 to 730 million in 2020. Moreover, over the last 12 months, average data consumption has grown to 3.5 GB per user per month, witnessing a growth of 500 per cent, whereas data cost has come down by 97 per cent. Further, the Internet has led to the evolution of a new economy where several businesses are going online to acquire new customers and retain them.
“The internet is still in its early stages of growth in India, with the second wave of internet adoption is expected to come from the Tier II and Tier III cities across India over the next few years,” says Arora. India has over 51 million small businesses and presents the second largest base of SMBs in the world. However, only 10 per cent of them are present online. With just over 37 per cent internet penetration, India presents a sizeable market and that’s where we believe the opportunity is, he adds.