7 Things You Need to Know about Semantic Domain Names

06/03/2017 05:10 am ET

As an SEO who has brought many a domain name in the past, the .com shortage has me somewhat concerned about the future of small businesses on the web. If Google can’t even buy the domain of it’s parent company, Alphabet.com, because BMW owns it then what hope is left for the rest of us?

But maybe we are looking at this all wrong? Maybe the shortage opens up an opportunity in the space of semantic domain names.

7 Things You Need to Know about Semantic Domain Names

1. What are they?

They are referred to by various terms including “spanning the dot”, “semantic domain names”, “readable domain names” or “spoken domain names” - but whatever you call them, they have one thing in common, they are domain names made of natural language, and they look poised to become big earners for the new-GTLD registry operators.

These new style of domain names are made possible by the fact that a large number of the new top-level-domains are real words, like dot-CLUB, dot-MARKET or dot-SALE. This is one of their major unique selling points. Where old top-level-domains all look like geeky computer code, many of the new ones have a much more familiar and human characteristic.

Recently Rightside issued a list of its top premium domain sales, and there was one noticeable thing a lot had in common. Taking together the two words, either side of the dot, made a natural language phrase.

So it was hardly surprising that Rightside's No.1 price went to video.games – not only is this clearly a great name, but also such a common and ubiquitous phrase.

2 ... People like them

How do we know people like them? ... because people are already using them - despite the fact few have even been told they exist.

A pioneer in this field, UK start-up Names.of.London, sell human readable phrases that work in any browser, under the brand phrases.for.sale. This includes ones such as kings.of.football, pride.of.london and all.for.one - primarily to be used for redirecting people to specific product content. Names.of.London record around 11,000 uses a week of their phrases, despite the fact most are yet to receive any kind of promotion.

As we can see from the Google Analytics, most of the use is coming from mobile devices.

The most obvious explanation for their popularity is because they reflect real human language - they are familiar. This means website names can reflect the sort of words & phrases people actually use in everyday speech.

With the exception of Kim Dotcom, who changed his last name to “Dotcom” in homage to the stock market bubble that made him a millionaire, most people do not use the phrase “dot-COM” in everyday language (apart from when discussing domain names).

With the emphasis on dot-COM endings, and short prefixes, the range of reasonable choices for website names seems to be shrinking to the point it can be hard to work out how to pronounce some of them. Yopa, Emoov & Tepilo is a selection of the leading online real-estate agents in the UK.

At times it feels like we've been dragged back to the 1980s and the terrible days of MS-DOS where filenames could only be up to 8 characters, uppercase letters and numbers only. We were all so relieved when Windows came along and we could name our files pretty much anything we wanted – and then actually find them again.

3 ... They are easier for people

Through their use of natural language they are easier to read, remember and tell your friends about – and possibly most important, to say into your phone.

With voice search, and voice input, rising as the communication of choice for a new generation of mobile users, the need to have website names that can be easily spoken into a phone becomes increasingly important.

Even if you are not using voice input, with predicted typing and dictionary assisted keyboards, website names made of real words are always going to be easier to enter.

4 ... They act as a call-to-action

Short familiar phrases, that link directly to the relevant content, have the effect of acting like a call-to-action button on a poster, TV ad, Radio ad, billboard or leaflet.

The vital importance of a call-to-action in online content is well known and widely documented, but all too often the same care is not taken with a call-to-action in offline advertising.

Posters that simply quote the company's main website can leave users struggling to find information on the product or event that sparked their interest, and ones that quote a phone number, that leaves people on hold for hours, are hardly going to give a good return on their investment.

5 ... They (may/can/do) boost SEO

When you match a domain name to a search term, there is an SEO boost.

How great that boost is can be open to discussion, but there have been a number of studies that have demonstrated a clear boost. Even if that boost is only 1%, if it's what puts you ahead of your competition, or if it's what moves your search entry from the second screen to the first, the value could not be over estimated.

coffee.club is one of the biggest success cases so far for a new TLD. The website was able to climb to the front page of Google US for searches of " coffee club", which is very uncommon for a new website.

Names.of.London have seen domain names go top-10 on Google in both the US & UK within 24 hours of registration, well before there is any relevant content – but where the search term and the domain name are an exact match.

While "hacienda pony club" is almost certainly one of the web's more marginal searches, to reach top-10 ranking within 24 hours, with zero relevant content, is a considerable achievement.

6 ... They can match your existing branding

With such a wide choice of new top-level-domains, it can be possible to find a familiar natural language phrase that matches your existing company name, slogan or strapline - meaning you can now have a simple familiar phrase people can type into their phones or browsers that will take them directly to your content-rich online experience.

If you can't find one to match your existing branding, the wide choices available means finding one that will match your requirements shouldn't hard.

Imaginative, creative or amusing phrases, that people can enter directly into their phone or browser, can really engage your audience and help boost your advertising ROI.

7 ... They are directly clickable on social media

Being completely valid domain names, just like any other dot-COM or country domain name, social media platform, like Twitter, automatically recognises them and make them clickable through to your site.

This means they can not only take people out of the Twitter ecosystem and onto your site, but they can also be used as a natural part of what you have to say.

Hashtags a great for starting, or joining in with, a conversation, but they can easily be hijacked by those with ulterior motives and they trap users in Twitter.

If your aim is to stimulate sales, you need to get people out to where they can buy - which usually means onto your site.

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