New Data Shows Startups Prefer Keyword-Based Descriptive Domain Names

For the past few decades, it was assumed that rising startups would opt for exact brand match domain names ending in the legacy top-level domain (TLD) .com as soon as they could fund the acquisition. Recently released data, however, is challenging this notion. According to data recently shared by Marc Köhlbrugge, founder of the startup launch platform BetaList, early-stage startups are choosing descriptive domains more frequently than in previous years. 

Over the past decade, early-stage startups have increasingly strayed from using .com domain endings, according to Köhlbrugge’s data. Usage has declined by a stunning 20% during this period, from 78% to 56%.

Startups launching on BetaList choose domains that fall into these categories: 

  • Two-word, hyphenated or prefixed (with words like “get”, “buy”, “meet” and more) .com domains

  • Commercialized country code domains, like .io and .so 

  • One-word descriptive domains with TLDs like .world, .life and .finance 

Descriptive domains are on the rise

As startups have moved away from traditional domain endings like .com and .net, they’ve sought out descriptive domain endings to authentically represent who they are and what they do, like .games, .technology and .fund. The .io country code TLD, often associated with tech startups, claimed nearly 10% of the market share in 2021.

While country code domains apply to some businesses, they don’t work for everyone. Many startups are choosing keyword-based descriptive domains over country codes for a more memorable and descriptive representation of their brand. Especially in the entrepreneurial world where innovation is highly valued, descriptive domains have the potential to help new businesses stand out from the competition and make a strong first impression on prospective customers. Recent rising examples include starface.world, drink.haus and compound.finance.

Rethinking a widely held belief

Some skeptics have emerged amid this shift to new brands adopting new domains, voicing the once widely held belief that these startups will replace their descriptive domains with .com once they receive their Series A funding — or sufficient capital to do so. But recent behavior diverges from this thinking. 

With established brands cementing the feasibility of descriptive domains, there’s no need for newcomers to invest in a pricey rebrand in order to scale. More and more businesses are realizing that they can position themselves as modern and authentic while also saving up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars by opting for a keyword descriptive domain. 

In short, instead of spending a large portion of their seed money on a pricey .com domain, early-stage startups are opting for more authentic descriptive domains for their brands. Far from a temporary fix, these domains are central to the startups’ branding and marketing strategy, catching customers’ attention and establishing authority in their market.

Shifting toward descriptive domains

This embrace of descriptive domains spans beyond the world of startups. Global enterprises and Fortune 500 companies have also chosen descriptive domains for their digital addresses and brand identities. 

Throughout 2020, companies that used descriptive domains with new TLDs received more seed, angel, early-stage and late-stage investments than companies using any other type of domain structure. Businesses choosing keyword descriptive domains have fully committed to using the domain as a primary brand identifier and, as a result, are reaping the rewards of larger investments. 

Naysayers may not be convinced that new domain endings will eventually catch up to .com domains, but even Google itself is confident that they’re here to stay. With so many visionaries, entrepreneurs and respected business leaders already on board, descriptive domains will only grow in popularity.

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