Domain names. They aren’t really important.

Not found…A long thread has broken out (interesting phrase, “broken out”, implies a viral, “can’t stop it once it’s started” kind of feel…which is strangely apt..) on the Museums Computer Group email list about domain names. Fundamentally it started as a “should we move to .com” question and then as is the way on these kinds of discussions, moved on to pastures new.

I thought I’d just clarify my position on this..

1. It really doesn’t matter what domain TLD (that’s the bit after the name, i.e etc) you use. There is one known exception in this: domains are often used to verify that your institution is academic, and so having this TLD can in some circumstances get you in to resources that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access. The reason the domain has this kudos is because it is very difficult to get one and requires agreement from JANET before you can do so. They also have a pretty strict naming convention – I’ve tried before to buy names from JANET which are non-institution related, for instance, and they were having none of it.

Pretty much every other TLD (with the exception of the obvious ones like .mil,, etc) can be bought by anyone. They prove nothing about you or your institution and are therefore useless as an indicator of institution status.

2. The legacy position where “.com means it is US based, and probably sells stuff” is so far out of date I can’t even believe anyone is having the conversation. I can buy a .com domain (provided it is available, which many aren’t..) and I’m UK based and nothing whatsoever to do with ecommerce.

3. Your users (and last time I looked they were the important people in this equation..?) really, really won’t care. At all.

4. The actual domain name itself is reasonably important but not hugely important provided your search engine optimisation is good. Most of your users will probably have come to you by going to Google, searching for your institution name and then clicking on the first (or most useful looking) result that they find. Again, they probably won’t even look at the domain name. See 3…

5. Once you’ve decided on your domain name, buy as many important TLD’s as you can. My list is generally: .com,, .org, – I tend to avoid all the and .biz and so on, but given how cheap they are you might as well get the lot if you feel strongly about them.

6. When you’ve done that, though, choose a primary domain – i.e. one that you will promote, use on your signature, put on marketing literature. Do nothing whatsoever with your secondary names (all the ones you bought in step 5!) apart from redirect them to your primary domain.

7. Finally, and this is a matter of minor preference rather than anything else, but make sure your email address has the same suffix as your domain name. So if you decide to use then you should be [email protected]. This is as I say reasonably unimportant but I (and therefore probably some others) quite often look at an unknown persons’ email address and use the suffix to locate their website.

Whadda you reckon?

2 thoughts on “Domain names. They aren’t really important.”

  1. on point 3 i’d say: no, of course they don’t, but most of them will assume it’s .com, no matter how many times they’ve heard the full url. so they’ll type in your domain name with that tld. and if that is already taken by somebody else, they may well get confused (do they know that .com and can point to wildly different sites, for instance). so, i’d change that to: they don’t care, as long as it’s transparent to them…or: as long as you don’t force them to care.

  2. You’ve probably got a point *if* the domain name is typed in.

    I’ve just been looking at some Google Analytics data for a site or two and “direct traffic” makes up for only 15% of all referrers. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a way of differentiating bookmarked domains from those typed in into the address bar (ie both will appear as “direct traffic”), but I’d be willing to bet that the majority of this 15% are bookmarks, and not typed.

    Watching my wife on the web last night (and making an assumption that she is a typical user – not likely to stand up to much examination, I know, but…) and even with the most commonly visited sites – the ones she absolutely *will* know the domain name for (facebook, gmail, photobox…) she still does what I reckon most users do: has google set as homepage, goes there, types “gmail” / “facebook” / “photobox” and then clicks on first result.

    I do it too, only I’m slightly more geeky in that I tend to have firefox shortcuts set up for the common sites I visit. But I’m not most users.


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