Posted at March 28, 2019 at 12:52 pm by Michael Lavrik
There’s a quirky detective TV series in France called sœurtherese.com (translation: SisterTheresa.com). At the end of each episode, the ex-husband of the titular crime-busting nun makes the error of calling her blog soeurthese.fr. It’s a reasonable mistake to make given that .fr is the official top-level domain for the country in which the show is set. But Therese’s retort is always the same: “Dot-com, Gerard. It’s sœurtherese dot-com.”
Though fictional, Therese voices on a weekly basis what switched-on internet users already know: when it comes to domain names, .com is the extension that matters the most. Even in a country famous for protecting its national identity, the .com extension rules.
Why is this? Why, when there are now more than 1,500 top-level domains to choose from, do those three little letters continue to be the most sought after? What is it about a dot-com that means it can command five, six, and sometimes seven-figure sums on the secondary market?
There are four primary reasons for dot-com’s enduring popularity, and combined they mean it will be hard, perhaps even impossible, for any newcomer to ever truly compete.
Trust and Awareness
According to a 2016 study carried out by Neilson on behalf of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), 95% of people surveyed were aware of .com domain names. The figure was consistent around the world. Awareness dropped to 88% for .net, and 83% for .org. When it came to the newer global top-level domains like .accountant or .shop, only 16% had any idea such names existed. This is perhaps unsurprising considering .com addresses account for almost half of all websites on the internet (46.6%).
The Neilson study also looked at the trust consumers place in different gTLDs. Dot-com scored highly again with 91% of respondents rating it trustworthy, compared to just 45% for the new wave of domains. Only country-specific top-level domains scored as well as .com, and only in their respective territories.
Clearly then, any business reliant on its internet presence is risking reduced visibility and consumer confidence by choosing anything other than a .com for its main domain. People know, understand, and trust .com.
In the early days of the popular internet, before the turn of the century, it became common to see print and television advertisements incorporate a website address. More often than not these were prefixed with www, and sometimes even http://www.
This signal that the text was something a consumer could type into a web browser has, over time, become less of a necessity and therefore less frequent. These days it is rare to see a www prefix in a publication. As the statistics have already demonstrated, when 95% of people are shown a domain name, they know what it means — provided it ends in .com. Any other extension lowers the chances of the name being understood.
Dot-com is burned into the public consciousness. Having been introduced in 1985, it has been about longer than most people have been aware that the internet even existed. That kind of deep association is difficult to beat.
In the first internet bubble around the millennium, dot-com domains changed hands for huge amounts of money. Business.com was sold in 1999 for $7.5 million dollars, just one of many examples.
Even after the bubble burst and the worldwide web began its long journey into adolescence, .com domain names continued to command a premium. In 2009, Insure.com was sold for $16 million. In 2012, Privatejet.com went for more than $30 million. And in 2015, 360.com was picked up by a deep-pocketed buyer for $17 million.
No other domain extension is in such demand. According to secondary domain market specialist NameBio, in the first eight months of 2018, the most expensive domain sold was ice.com for $3.5 million. In the same period, the priciest .org (star.org) went for $225,000, and the costliest .net (vape.net) achieved just $30,000.
This is not to say the new crop of domain names are without value. NameBio reports that home.loans sold in 2018 for half a million dollars, and the.club managed $300,000. These are outliers though, and the vast majority of high ticket sales of new gTLDs were Chinese domains which are subject to a whole different set of economics.
The price .com domains can command compared to competing extensions means they tend to be picked up by larger businesses, or at least those with the financial backing to match their ambitions. This leads to a closed loop in which dot-com continues to be associated with bigger brands, which in turn reinforces the public perception of authority and trustworthiness. It’s a cycle that will not be broken simply by flooding the market with a multitude of new extensions.
Search Engine Optimization
The SEO industry is always looking for anything that can give it an edge. Naturally, domain names have come under scrutiny as a possible way of boosting a website’s ranking in search results. Google has publicly stated on their webmaster blog that they treat all domain names equally, although they do use country-specific TLDs as an indicator of relevance to a particular market.
It would be logical to take Google at their word and conclude that .com offers no SEO advantage. However, the search giant is not telling the whole story. It is widely accepted that the click-through rate for a given website — the number of times it is clicked compared to how many times it is shown in a Google search — is a factor affecting that site’s position in the results. Sites that are clicked more often are given a boost in the rankings.
Since .com addresses are perceived as more trustworthy, they may get a larger share of the clicks. So while a particular domain extension offers no direct SEO advantage, indirectly the right one can make a difference.
Dot-com is deeply rooted in the public consciousness. Accounting for almost half of all websites, commanding premium prices, and with potential SEO benefits on top of its recognition and perceived trustworthiness among consumers, it is hard to imagine it will ever be unseated, at least as long as domain names remain the primary way we navigate the web. It is unlikely that the millions of dot-com website owners like Sister Theresa will be changing their domain name any time soon.