What is a Domain?
A domain is the (hopefully) easy to remember address for your site. Essentially it’s what is found between the www and the “dot” that most people think of as a URL or as a website although not entirely correct. A domain is like a plot of land. The land can be developed in a variety of ways such as building a house, a shopping mall, parking lot, farm etc. Domains are very similar. A domain owner can build a website on their plot of vacant property. The website could be a personal blog, an online store, a company website, a parked page, or any other type of site you can think of. Like real estate, domains can be bought and sold with their values differing, depending on a variety of variables.
Types of Domains
Premium domains are called this because they have high intrinsic value and are therefore worth more in the marketplace. These domains can be words, letters or numbers, but the shorter and more obvious their use, the higher their value. For example, because of their scarcity, 2 number (NN) and 2 letter (LL) .com domains demand a high premium to obtain. 3 letter(LLL) and 3 number (NNN) domains also command a premium, but not nearly as high.
While generic word domains command a premium, some still have a higher value than others based on factors such as the popularity of the word as a keyword and whether or not it can be used as a category killer. As the name suggests, category killers are domains that lay claim to a valuable keyword that often creates a halo effect making the owner appear to be the leader in their industry regardless of validity. These domains are often very valuable because they get a lot of natural or direct type-in traffic.
Vodka.com sold for $3 million, December 20, 2006
Pizza.com sold for 2.6 million, April 7, 2008
Candy.com sold for $3 million, June 4, 2009
As the name suggests, these are domains that are incorrectly spelled. This isn’t to say that this is always unintentional; some very well known domains are intentionally misspelled because the correctly spelled domain was already taken such as flickr.com. Typos come in many varieties, some of which can be used to your advantage, however, the ones to be most aware of are those that have potential for trademark issues. Regardless of the domain, or its usage, typo domains inherently have a risk to them. This is because of the potential for traffic diversion. For the same reason that trademark typos are popular among a small portion of the domain industry, an intentional typo can have the reverse impact. You may unwittingly be driving traffic to the correctly spelled domain.
Search engines can find it difficult to read some long keyword rich domains, which isn’t a surprise when you figure that some domains can be read more than one way i.e. choosespain.com. (Did you see ChoosesPain.com first or the correct version of ChooseSpain.com? You can see more company domain blunders here. ) Keyword domains often have hyphens in them such as Used-Car-Parts.com, which makes them less likely to get type-in traffic and therefore decreases their value on the domain aftermarket, however, they can prove valuable as part of your search engine management strategy.
TLDs and ccTLDs
The term TLD is something you’ll hear a lot in reference to domains, it stands for Top Level Domain and refers to the domain extension or, what comes after the “dot”. For most people, the .com TLD is the best known and most popular, especially in the United States. It typically has the highest resell value. Most of the domains people are familiar with .com, .net, .org (to just name a few) fall under the the gTLD classification. The g stands for general. Registration restrictions vary depending on the TLD. For instance .com is considered open so anyone can register it while .gov is closed and limited to U.S. Governmental entities. June 26, 2008, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) voted to make a controversial change to the gTLD approval process. You can read more about that here or here But the basic idea is for a starting fee of $185,000, you can get your own gTLD. You can find plenty of discussion both for and against this new proposal, but that’s a topic for another post.
ccTLD is another term you’ll hear a lot. The cc stands for Country Code and refers to domains that are country specific such as .co.uk (United Kingdom), .ca (Canada), and .ie (Ireland). New ccTLDs are frequently being introduced and like gTLDs, restrictions vary. Two of the best known ccTLDs .me (Montenegro) and .tv (Tuvalu) are often mistakenly thought of as gTLDs. Although .com is most common in the United States, this is not the case everywhere and so in some cases such as in the United Kingdom, going with a ccTLD is a smarter choice. While ccTLDs can be very useful, there is also a serious potential risk in investing in a ccTLD. Because each country sets the requirements for their ccTLD, there is the potential for a domain to be taken away from you without compensation or warning.
You can see a full list of TLDs and ccTLDs on Wikipedia here.
My intent is to turn this topic into several posts so please let me know if any particular subject is of interest to you. I gave a presentation in June with Victor Pitts of Moniker covering some of these basics as well as some other topics I hope to be covering. Here are my slides from the presentation and here is the audio (which also contains Victor’s presentation.)