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Things I wish I knew before I registered my first domain name - A domain name registration guide for webmasters
Domain names are the second most important part of the Internet, right below IP addresses. After all, “a domain name is an identification label that defines a realm of administrative autonomy, authority, or control in the Internet.” – Wikipedia
For this reason, domain names are subject to many rules, regulations, and laws managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is the master of all domains.
A domain name may become so important that its use is subject to trademark laws if the owner has the resources to actively pursue infringements. Domain name seizures occur regularly, prompting domain holders to register their name on other top-level domain (TLD).
Domain names are magnificent marketing tools. Schools change their names in order to have SEO friendly domains. New businesses are being named depending on domain availability. Some use one or two keywords in their word-based domains, while others register very short domains to compact the long ones. The adult industry is served by the .xxx sponsored top-level domain (sTLD), and .gay recently came out. Domain names are also used for vanity reasons, and for showing the world that you can domain hack a na.me
People refer to domain names and the pages on them as web properties, and various myths and rumors as well as clever marketing techniques instigate a land rush behavior when new top-level domains become available.
Due to popular demand, country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) and respective second-level and third-level domain names which were typically open for reservation by certain end-users and governed by local rules are now available to anyone with a credit card. It’s pretty cheap to acquire a domain reserved for education such as .edu.gl, a military grade .mil.lv, and even a government name such as .gov.pl
It is no longer possible to correctly identify the geographical location via top-level domain names, one of the reasons Geolocation is successful. Top-level domain names may be used for anything by anyone.
Domainers (or domain squatters) range from the average Joe who thinks he may score a gigantic pile of cash by holding a cool domain for $10/year, to professionals who research trends and developments in the world while registering, bidding, and trading names which may become popular in the future. Domainers may have 10s of 1000s of domain names in their portfolio and they may very well hold more than half of all domain names in the world. If you want to register a domain name you already met at least one domainer.
A domain name aftermarket was born to feed those who, for their own reasons, want the taken names. Even registrars were tasting expired domains, a practice stopped by ICANN; the domain tasting practice left deep scars and purists only use their *NIX command line for WHOIS. Even if a domain name is not for sale it’s now possible to backorder the domain name, which in fact allows the registrar to see interest in a certain domain name and try to acquire it upon expiration for the purpose of selling it in an auction to the highest bidder. The backorder system has been designed to revive expiring domains and put them back in the domain aftermarket.
What’s going on with the domain name system (DNS)? Before analyzing some points made earlier, it’s important to be aware of the following fact:
1) Nobody owns domain names. A registrant (domain holder) gets the exclusive right to use a domain name from a registrar. The registrar simply registers a name, on behalf of the registrant, in a WHOIS database maintained by a registry. ICANN oversees all the registers and registries in the world.
Does domain name SEO exist? How important is it to have keywords in a domain name? From Google’s point of view it’s not important at all. From the perspective of a newbie who wants to register a .com domain name and types-in register.com in their browser’s address bar, it is important. Keyword domains are not popular with the savvy users because of their nature.
2) Keyword domain names are best used in the domain aftermarket, while being milked with referrals and ads driven by aggressive automated SEO (sex.com sold for $13 million in October 2010). Up to 3 characters domain names are the most speculated ones due to acronyms for corporations, associations, or organizations (fb.com sold for $8.5 million in November 2010).
3) Made-up names and funny or simply random association of words domains are best used for branding. These are the domain names you find available for registration. Linguistics skills, domain name generation services, as well as lists of words ending in a TLD are useful to speed up the process of choosing a new domain name.
On the Internet, anyone can be a .pro People notice .edu, .mil, and .gov websites are ranking high in Google search, and attribute this fact to the TLD, instead of looking at the quality of links pointing to those domains or to the content they serve. A rush to acquire .edu, .mil, and .gov domains started a few years ago. Some countries decided to profit from this trend by opening up registration for restricted TLDs to the general public.
So which top-level domain is the best for SEO? According to Google, they’re all equal.
This video will be taken down by Google, and the segment I’m referring to is Matt Cutts answering the question: “Does Google treat .gov.pl links with the same weight as regular .gov links?” He explains that TLDs are equal according to Google. A link from a .gov.pl is as good a link as from .info
Certain TLDs may get appreciation from certain viewers, but overall the content will determine the success of a domain name. And since localizing via TLDs is impossible, the general consensus is that it doesn’t really matter what TLD is used for a coffee-shop in Seattle advertising locally.
4) All top-level domains are created equal. The only difference is in the culture. Nobody really cares if bit.ly isn’t based in Libya, or about any other connotation of using a .ly domain name. Hyphen-minus is not counseled by some because it’s difficult to type, although not a lot of typing is needed on small devices.
Domain names are protected by law. UDRP (Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy) and Trademark laws protect those resourceful enough to employ their often automated systems of detecting fraudulent domain registrations. This legal system, although partially automated, still involves lawyers and lawyers are not cheap. That’s why some cybersquatters engage in acquiring trademark names and sell them below what it would cost a trademark holder to pursue a legal avenue, making it profitable to buy from the domainer vs. applying the law.
The Trademark and UDRP systems are not affordable by the average Joe holding on to his .com, who may feel that someone typosquatting and piggybacking on his original name is not cool at all. UDRP starts at around $3000, and if jurisdiction applies, a lawsuit may cost even more.
5) A cheap approach to fight cybersquatting is publicly exposing the fraudulent domain name while showing how vigilant you are towards your viewers. The users who did a typo will soon figure out how to correct their error. Doing nothing may be the best option in some cases.
Do domain squatters ruin the Internet? The acquisition of domain names for the purpose of selling them for profit is a controversial practice. People practicing this business are called domainers or domain squatters, depending on the point of view. A domainer invests in a domain name, betting someone will want to purchase it in the future. If Joe wants to start a website and the domain he wants is for sale by a domainer, he may consider himself lucky to pay the asking price because the domainer did him a service by holding on to the domain for some years and making it available for sale. The domainer wins the bet placed on that domain once Joe fills their pocket with money. ((... meanwhile in a parallel universe, someone grabbed that domain and is using it, leaving Joe without his favorite name.)) This works for Joe unless he can’t afford the asking price, which makes the domain name unavailable to Joe, and the domain squatter becomes the evil troll. If you don’t like the domain aftermarket game, don’t play it. It’s mostly a circle-jerk designed for creating value out of nothing, and trolling is part of the taunt.
6) Domain name speculators are not evil. Some may be affiliated with registrars. Understand the domain name aftermarket game before you play it. Humans are great gamblers. We gamble on ourselves, and we gamble in games. We take chances the moment we step outside. Life is a gamble, and so is the domain aftermarket. I doubt anyone went into the domain name aftermarket business with the intention of being evil.
Expired domain names don’t go to heaven. They are placed on domain name drop lists by registries and drop catched, backordered, or auctioned even before deletion. Some actually sell these domain names drop lists with various added value features like sorting, PageRank checks, and alerts. Touching a domain name leaves a fingerprint for posterity, as historical WHOIS data is being logged and sold by services such as domaintools.
7) Don’t let your domain name expire. Periodically check domain names and renew in advance. If a domain name expires, the registrant is allowed to reregister his/her expired domain only for a short period of time. This service is provided by the registrar under ICANN’s policy on expiring domains. This policy is in place for the end-user, and the system costs money because it protects investments in the domain name while the registrant failed to keep it registered. Without this protection, an expired domain will go straight to the aftermarket.
ICANN’s system isn’t perfect. But it’s an amazing system trying to accommodate different wants and needs, often conflicting. Some say it’s not just to seize domain names without due process, while the ability to register a seized name on another TLD counterbalances the acclaimed injustice by giving the registrant their 15 minutes of fame. The same system can take away a domain name from a registrant in one registry while allowing the registrant to keep the same name in another registry.
8) Doman names cost $0 and there’s an infinite supply. The reality is that other than the technical aspects of domains, they don’t have any monetary value by themselves. It's like buying a virtual item in a game with real money. A domain name’s value comes from what it’s being used for, and by whom. The price of a naked domain name is how much the buyer is willing to pay.
Everybody needs property, even if it’s virtual. A domain name may often stand as symbol for the real world dentist office it serves or for the work that was put into the business, and not just a file (or database entry) on a server and the DNS traffic it generates.
The moment someone acquires a domain name, they are in the business of making money on the Internet. It’s the first step into advertising to the world that a new desire to be seen was born.
This domain name buying guide was created to answer FAQs encountered in the webmaster chat room. Based on SEO research by Leper - web designer and SEO fellow. Legal research and edits done by Galatea.
Add your own domain name tips and tricks in the comments.