Using Data to Determine if Domain Extensions Matter

The Problem

Does having a dot com even matter anymore?

There is an art to choosing a company’s brand name. But once you’ve settled on an unique name, there’s still the question of securing the perfect domain. I’m sure that most startup founders have asked themselves this question at one time or another: For a company with a unique name, is it still important to secure the .com URL, or will a secondary domain extension like .me or .io perform just as well?

Back in 2009, we successfully launched Connectify Hotspot, our easy-to-use software router on the Connectify.me domain. Several years later, with a few major strokes of luck (and some help from the good folks at Cisco), we’ve found ourselves in possession of Connectify.com. This gave us the perfect opportunity to test and find out just how important dot com domains really are.

This gave us the perfect opportunity to test and find out just how important dot com domains really are.

It’s an interesting question, because nearly every possible name (even lots of made-up words) have been taken by brokers in the .com space. It can costs tens of thousands of dollars to get a .com these days, but if you go with one of the many secondary extensions like .me, .io, .xyz, or even .cool, you’ll likely be able to find your desired name and register it directly for just a few bucks.

The Test

Going into our test, I suspected that the value of a .com is now a historical phenomenon. In the last generation of web browsers, if you typed a word into the address bar, the browser would automatically wrap it with a “www.” and a “.com” and send you to that web address. But lately, browsers have become much smarter, sending you directly to a search engine if you don’t enter an actual URL. That suggests to me that type-in traffic for Connectify.com might be less significant than it would’ve been in the past. But, to get the nitty-gritty, we’d have to put numbers next to our hunch.

In order to test the value of our new domain, we set up Connectify.com as a simple Javascript redirect. Users requesting anything from that site are bounced right to our main homepage at Connectify.me. Since the redirect is done in Javascript, “Connectify.com” shows up as a referrer in our Google Analytics report.

We let the redirect run for 12 days before making any sort of announcement about having the domain. There would be no links to Connectify.com anywhere on the Internet that might taint our results. That way, over the 12-day test period, we could be sure that any traffic that arrived on Connectify.com is traffic that we were missing when we didn’t own the .com for our brand.

The Results

Looking at the data, the new domain has generated a rather steady average of 140 sessions per day. But, for context, this is less that 0.2% of the 80,000+ daily visitors to Connectify.me. So at first glance, there is not a huge, magical advantage to a .com domain name. It seems that one in five hundred people who are looking for us, have been accidentally hitting the .com address instead of our real site.

But, as I dig more, Connectify.com actually brought in 1% of the revenue that the well-established, Connectify.me brought in. Wait, what was that? The visitors to our .com address were actually 5 times as likely to buy as the average visitor to our main site.

Visitors to our .com address were actually 5 times as likely to buy as the average visitor to our main site.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Google Anayltics trying to figure out why users who visit Connectify.com are more likely to buy, and I still don’t know. When I sliced the data by location, I noticed that there’s a slightly higher percentage of users hitting our .com from the USA, and lower numbers from Russia and Vietnam, where visitors are less likely to buy. But even so, within the USA group, the .com users are still twice as likely to buy.

I think that, in our case, the users that arrive via Connectify.com are a more focused group. Somewhere they had heard that they needed “Connectify,” so they typed www.connectify.com right into their address bar to get started.

Users that arrive via Connectify.com are a more focused group.

Would these people have found us anyway? Honestly, I’m not sure that we would have gotten any of this extra revenue if we didn’t own the .com domain. If the user entered “connectify.com” and got to a parked page, would they have kept searching to find us? I know at least some users would probably end up clicking on some spammy links, and eventually give up.

So now we know. Our data suggests that owning the dot com represents about a 1% boost in revenue over a .me address. Is that a lot? Depends on your company size… the bigger you are, the more that traffic is going to be worth.

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