Domain

Status Quo Bias Favors .com Top Level Domain, But For How Long?

What is the best domain name for an attorney, law firm or any business for that matter? The seemingly obvious answer is the domain name that brings in the most new client and referral business. Finding a decent domain name is nearly next to impossible if the only top level domain extension considered is .com.

According to Verisign, Inc. (NASDAQ: VRSN –the authoritative registry of all .com domain names) “The third quarter of 2018 closed with approximately 342.4 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains (TLDs)…” “As of Sept. 30, 2018, the .com domain name base totaled approximately 137.6 million domain name registrations…” (source)

Nearly every conceivable, meaningful combination of words in the English language have been registered using .com TLD.

The largest top level domain –in terms of total number of registrations– is .com. A prodigious percentage of people still believe .com to be the only viable TLD choice out of 1,226 other options. This false premise of .com supremacy creates an illusion of scarcity which in turn artificially drives up the price for .com domain names –on the secondary market– at the expense of all other TLDs.

What’s In A (Domain) Name?

Domain names operate under the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) hierarchy. All domain names have at least one technical element in common. They must include a top-level domain or “TLD” extension. TLDs hold the highest level in the hierarchy of the Internet’s domain name system, appearing to the right-of-the-last-dot of every domain name. For example, www.goforit.com is comprised of three separate elements:

Sub-Domain Second-Level Domain Top-Level Domain
www .goforit .com


Top-level domains are categorized as generic (gTLD), country code (ccTLD), sponsored (sTLD) and restricted generic top-level domains (grTLD). New top-level domains (nTLD) are those that were added to the root zone of the Internet on or after October 2013
.

What Makes One TLD More Valuable Than Another?

  • Historical aftermarket sales data
  • Widespread name recognition and adoption of the TLD with the general public
  • Number of domain names registered using that TLD extension
  • Number of domain names registered using that TLD extension with active websites
  • Trust (or lack of) in the registry operators and/or registrars who manage the TLDs
  • Trust (or lack of) in the network upon which the TLD operates
  • Cognitive biases and fear of missing out (FOMO)

 

What Is The Value Proposition For New Top-level Domains?

The primary function of all domain names is as an aid-to-navigation on the Internet. Domain names are proxies. They’re used to help humans locate specific resources without having to remember numerical IP addresses.

How much would you pay for the unique-right-to-use the following string of binary code on the web?

01010110 01100001 01100011 01100001 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110 01010010 01100101 01101110 01110100 01100001 01101100 01110011 00101110 01100011 01101111 01101101

Computers use binary code to read and convert text into numbers and vice versa. The binary string above is the binary representation of the domain name VacationRentals.com. HomeAway.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE) “acquired the established business Vacation Rentals.com in 2007 for $35 million. The CEO of the company in 2007, Brian Sharples, indicated that it was mostly to keep it out of its competitor’s hands and a big part of that was the domain name.” (source)

In April 2018, Vacarent Inc. purchased –from Donuts Inc.– the registration rights to the new TLD domain name Vacation.Rentals for $500,300. The company is owned by a group of long-time friends –including Mike Kugler who was interviewed for this article. As long as they continue to pay the annual registration renewal fee, Vacarent will continue to benefit from the unique-right-to-use the following string of binary code on the web:

01010110 01100001 01100011 01100001 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110 00101110 01010010 01100101 01101110 01110100 01100001 01101100 01110011

Why is one string of binary code more or less valuable than any other? Why would Vacarent pay half a million dollars or more for a domain name that does not end in .com? Because some specific strings of binary code convert into domain names that can deliver massive amounts of organic (non-paid) search traffic. They’re digital money-making machines.

The value and potential volume of web traffic created by an exact-match-keyword domain name can be easily determined and independently verified. The screenshot below provides a snapshot of potential volume and projected cost (replacement value) of web traffic on Google Ads –for the next year– created by the exact-match keyword phrase vacation rentals. This dynamic data can be used to evaluate and justify a domain name’s acquisition purchase price.

 

Source: Google Ads Keyword Planner

Based on data generated by Google Ads Keyword Plan tool, the corresponding exact- match keyword phrase –vacation rentals– had an average cost-per-click (CPC) value of $6.78 for North America. If Vacarent had to pay Google for this exact-match-keyword traffic –at the time this article was written– they could have expected to pay about $678 for every one hundred visitors delivered to the Vacation.Rentals website.

Vacarent’s upfront expenditure to acquire the Vacation.Rentals domain name appears to have been a wise investment. Based on Google-generated CPC data, Vacarent’s break-even- point for its initial investment of $500,300 is 73,790 website visitors. It’s reasonable to assume –given Google search volume and CPC value– a properly constructed progressive web app (web site) could generate more than enough new organic search-traffic to return Vacarent’s initial investment within a few years, if not sooner. After breakeven, every organic exact-match keyword visitor to Vacation.Rentals is money in the bank for Vacarent.

What is the best TLD extension for attorneys?

Today there are several attorney-related TLDs available for registration, none of which existed prior to October 2013. These nTLDs include .abogado, .associates, .attorney, .law, .lawyer and .legal.

Which TLD extension is the best option for lawyers? The answer depends upon who you ask. During a telephone interview conducted on January 14, 2019 Cyrus Namazi –Senior Vice President of the Global Domains Division (GDD) and member of the Executive Team at The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)– was asked if these new TLD options are preferable for attorneys over other TLDs, including .com … he responded by saying:

“… it’s not something that, frankly, we put a judgment on or get involved in. I mean, I may have my own personal views outside of that, but I would say that the best place to ask this type of question would be from the registries that actually operate these top-level domains. I think one of the larger ones is called “Donuts.”

When asked the same question, Matt Overman –Senior Vice President of Sales at Donuts Inc.– responded:

“Yes. The new legal domains offer much more availability and specificity for lawyers looking to brand themselves more effectively. By using a new domain, lawyers can obtain a better, often shorter and more memorable domain than the remainder .COM names. Most importantly, these readable keyword domains match common search terms, so if a lawyer acquires a domain name that’s also a popular search term (e.g., bayarea.lawyer), they’ll rank really well in organic search results. This “evergreen” organic search benefit can have really important, long-term benefits for lawyers in their marketing strategies.”

From a new TLD registrant’s perspective. Blake Janover –Founder & CEO of Janover Ventures (home.loans, hud.loans and others) writes:

“I think preference is just that, preference. If the question however is if I think there is deeper value to an nTLD over a “.com” then I do. The data says that for SEO and search, the nTLD is going to yield higher quality, higher volume results if delivered to the market correctly. Subjectively I think it speaks to an innovative individual or company that is embracing change and it’s a good foundation for scaling an organization based on those principals.”

Do you believe bias exists in favor of (or against) any top-level domain?

Cyrus Namazi (ICANN) response to “Do you think a bias does exist against any particular domain name vs. another?”

“I wouldn’t call it bias, necessarily. I think somewhat, there’s somewhat of an awareness perhaps that exists that, you know, a lot of people may not even be aware that these opportunities exist, these options exist, and you know, that may play into it. I think there might be, because of that lack of awareness, even when people are told, perhaps their level of confidence and trust in it is not there because the sort of existing, what we call legacy TLDs that I mentioned earlier, have been around for a long time and they’re proven and all of that. So all of these things could and probably do play a role in the ultimate adoption of these newer top-level domains.”

Matt Overman (Donuts Inc.):

“If by bias, you mean individual preferences? Certainly people are more familiar .COM and other ccTLDs. They have a 20+ year head start and benefited tremendously from the lack of alternatives. But in terms of organic search and “discoverability”, the search engines are unbiased; there is even evidence that domain names using popular search terms have an added benefit.”

Blake Janover (home.loans):

“I believe the masses are still behind “.com”s which probably means it’s a good time to be looking at alternatives as paradigm shifts favor the early adapters.”

Do you believe a status quo bias exists in favor of .com top-level domain?

Timothy Denton (Attorney) Chairman of the Internet Society of Canada and current member and past Chairman of the Board of Trustees at American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN) wrote:

“Yes. No thought is required to go to dot com. The world generally works on the idea that thinking is hard and that automatic responses are easiest.”

Mike Kugler (Vacarent Inc., Vacation.Rentals):

“Currently, yes, .com has a favorable bias given to it and always will. But, you cannot look at this as a one and done. You have to look at this more along the lines of the 800 numbers. 20 years ago, when someone said to call toll free it was automatically assumed the prefix was 800…. Now people have a choice for 888, 877, 833, 866 and so on. The same holds true for gTLDs. As they gain more widespread acceptance, they will continue to grow.”

Blake Janover (home.loans):

“We are tribal creatures, which means social structure is hierarchical by nature (we’re followers). “.com”s were embraced a long time ago and have been accepted as the social norm, now everyone moves in that direction without cause other than “that’s just how it is.” That’s a target for disruption.”

Will another top-level domain overtake .com in popularity and use?

Matt Overman (Donuts Inc.):

“I don’t see any single TLD displacing .COM anytime soon, nor do I think that should be the goal. Cumulatively, new TLDs will continue to grow in popularity as awareness grows and as registrar merchandising improves. But we live in a more segmented world: it’s like the evolution of broadcast TV from 1950 to today. 70 years ago, three major networks were plenty! Today, we have hundreds of broadcast options, across multiple platforms.

New domains offer greater variety, better targeting and more specificity. For example, while .LOANS will never be as big as .COM, www.home.loans is every part as valuable as www.homeloans.com from a search perspective and is the shorter domain name. The only advantage that homeloans.com has right now is consumer awareness – more people recognize it as a domain name. This is already changing, as more businesses adopt and use new domains, and as more of their customers see these names in use.”

Blake Janover (home.loans):

“No, we are in an age of democratization and commoditization of information and technological tools at our disposal. That means more options to more people to empower them to further excel at what they want to do. So, more domains, with higher popularity and demand within their niche. I think for example taxattorney.com may become far less interesting than tax.attorney which intuitively makes a lot of sense.”

Top-Level Domains And Cybersecurity

On January 1, 1968, Federal motor vehicle safety standards took effect in the United States. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 mandated airbags as standard front-seat equipment in all passenger automobiles and light trucks built after September 1, 1998. What does any of this have to do with domain names you ask? Federal safety standards have made modern passenger vehicles much safer than those produced prior to 1998. Few would argue to the contrary.

Likewise, a few of the new TLDs recently delegated into the root zone of the Internet (e.g.– .app, .page and .dev) are more secure TLD options over legacy TLDs like .com, .net, .info, .biz, etc. The reason being, these new TLDs force end-to-end encryption of all content, helping to secure attorney-client communications.

On October 17, 2018 the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released Formal Opinion 483; “Lawyers’ Obligations After an Electronic Data Breach or Cyberattack.” This Formal Opinion reaffirms the duty attorneys have to their clients to notify them in the event of a cyberattack or data breach.

The right domain name can reduce cybersecurity risk exposure and generate new client leads for your law firm.

In Conclusion

All top-level domains perform an identical function. They appear after-the-last-dot in a domain name, representing the highest level of the Internet’s domain name system hierarchy.

Similarly, all domain names perform an identical function. They’re used to aid human navigation on the network, serving as a proxy for the numerical addressing system of the Internet. Domain names help people understand and remember web addresses. The primary purpose of domain names is brand identity. Why settle for a less-than-optimal legacy TLD domain name when other, more secure and brandable options exist?

Infrastructure investment in near-realtime 5G networks and advancementments in artificial Intelligence (AI) –mainly voice-enabled search– will forever alter how we interact with the network, our technology and each other. What role will domain names play when the primary input method for search is our voice? Does top-level domain preference really matter when speaking to an artificial intelligence bot through a smart speaker? Probably not.

Will .com’s top-level-domain dominance continue unabated? Unlikely. Contravening evidence would suggest otherwise. ICANN is preparing for the next round of new TLD auctions which could occur within a couple of years. As new TLDs gain widespread awareness and acceptance, less secure legacy TLDs will be disrupted.

What’s the best domain name for an attorney, law firm or any business for that matter? The answer is more nuanced than simply the domain name that brings in the most new clients  and referral business. It’s also a domain name that can best help keep you, your law firm and your website visitors safe and engaged. It’s also a domain name that’s optimized for search marketing using an exact-match, second-level domain. It’s also a domain name that’s well positioned for what comes next on the mobile web.

Happy domain name hunting. Choose wisely.

Author’s Note: Verisign, Inc. – did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

 

About RB Tewksbury

RB Tewksbury
Russell Baird “RB” Tewksbury is an entrepreneur and professional consultant, since 1991. He’s President of MarketWorks LLC, an attorney marketing and legal technology management company. Mr. Tewksbury is a legal marketing professional and legal-technology management expert. His professional certifications from Google include AdWords Advanced Search, Advertising Fundamentals, Mobile Advertising, Video Advertising Advanced, AdWords Advanced Display and Google Analytics. Tewksbury is the creator and host of Cybersecurity Fundamentals For Law Firms And Attorneys. A series of continuing legal education events conducted over live web meetings and interactive webinars. He is a member of The Internet Society’s Cyber Security Special Interest Group (“SIG”), Blockchain SIG and Internet of Things SIG. Mr. Tewksbury is also a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer - U.S. Coast Guard Licensed Master Captain. He is listed in Marquis’ Who’s Who in America (2000 – present) and Marquis’ Who’s Who in the World (1999 – present). @RBTewksbury

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