The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the pace of digital transformation across all industries. As the world emerges from the pandemic in 2023, the landscape for domain names continues to evolve in new and unpredictable ways. Domain names remain a critical tool for establishing an online presence, but their usage and value have fundamentally shifted. This article will examine the key trends impacting domain name strategy in a post-pandemic digital environment.
The Surge in Domain Registrations During the Pandemic
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, businesses large and small rushed online as physical stores shuttered. Working remotely became the norm, e-commerce boomed, and digital services became indispensable. This digital pivot sparked a dramatic rise in domain name registrations. According to Verisign, the company that operates the .com and .net registries, there was a 15% year-over-year increase in domain name registrations in Q2 2020. New gTLDs like .store and .online also saw sizable registration spikes.
Many businesses registered defensive domains to protect their brand names. Domain speculators swooped in to buy up domains related to remote work, distance learning, delivery services, digital events, and telehealth. These “pandemic domains” soared in value as demand grew literally overnight. While some observers predicted this domain registration boom would be short-lived, Verisign has reported continued growth in .com and .net domains, with over 369 million registered as of Q4 2022.
The Role of Domains in Search Engine Optimization
One significant shift during the pandemic was an increased focus on search engine optimization (SEO). With in-person marketing limited, businesses relied heavily on search visibility to drive traffic. Domain names play an important role in SEO, as keywords in the domain can improve rankings, especially for new sites. This led many brands to prioritize keyword-rich domains for new products and services.
Post-pandemic, SEO remains critical, and domains continue to influence search rankings. Domains with relevant keywords generally outperform generic or branded domains. However, migrations to new domains solely for SEO can be risky. Search engines like Google want to see domain consistency and may penalize sites that constantly switch domains. The best practice is to secure future-proof domains with target keywords from the outset.
New Top-Level Domains Struggle for Traction
ICANN expanded domain name choices in 2012 by introducing over 1,200 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) like .nyc, .guru, and .club. The new gTLD program aimed to spur innovation and provide branding differentiation. However, adoption of new gTLDs has been sluggish. As of 2022, .com still dominates with over 144 million registrations, while new gTLDs collectively have under 30 million.
New gTLDs faced an uphill climb gaining consumer trust and awareness against established TLDs like .com. Confusing choices like .limo or .ninja made branding more challenging. Speculators registered many new gTLD domains, hoping to flip them for a profit. Ultimately, only a handful like .app, .blog, and .store have achieved meaningful adoption. Most businesses still opt for .com, though some new gTLDs like .tech and .online work for tech brands. Expect .com to retain its dominance in the post-pandemic era, with new gTLDs remaining a niche branding play.
The Aftermarket Heats Up
The domain aftermarket, where existing domains are bought and sold, saw record sales during the pandemic. Soaring demand coupled with limited high-quality .com inventory led to major price appreciation. Iconic domains like CarInsurance.com and Loans.com sold for over $2 million each in 2020. Even domains without any meaningful traffic regularly fetched 6 and 7-figure sale prices.
Investor interest in domains accelerated during the pandemic, as speculators sought Covid-related domains along with generic assets like VacationRentals.com. Big tech companies like Meta and Amazon bought up domains for future products and services. Expect the domain aftermarket to remain highly active in the 2020s, as brands prioritize digital real estate. Though prices for top domains are now out of reach for small businesses, mid-level .com domains with keywords can still be obtained for $10-50k.
The Explosion of .Crypto Domains
Among the hottest new domain extensions is .crypto, launched in late 2021. It quickly became a coveted namespace for crypto and Web3 brands. In just over a year, over 200,000 .crypto domains have been registered. Major companies like Binance, Coinbase, and FTX acquired their .crypto domains during the sunrise period.
.Crypto taps into surging mainstream enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies and NFTs. It provides brands with a dedicated Web3 identity as crypto permeates finance, gaming, social media, and e-commerce. .Crypto domains are being integrated into metaverse worlds, crypto wallets, and NFT launches. Their scarcity and crypto-centric nature make them prestigious assets. .Crypto has emerged as the clear domain of choice for the blockchain industry, and retains significant room for growth even amidst the recent crypto market downturn.
New Domain Endings for Web3
In addition to .crypto, other niche domain extensions are gaining adoption in conjunction with blockchain technology and the metaverse. These include .nft, .wallet, .coin, .bitcoin, .dao, and .x for Web3 communities. Eventually, decentralized domains at the protocol level could replace DNS domains. But for now, these new TLDs allow brands to signal their Web3 bonafides and build audience trust.
Ensuring domain consistency across traditional and Web3 domains remains an important branding consideration. For example, a company should try to secure MetaverseCompany.com as well as MetaverseCompany.crypto. While Web3 domains are still early, they provide a forward-thinking brand building asset as virtual worlds become more immersive.
Domain names hold a unique place in the digital marketing stack, offering brands an opportunity to convey identity, trust, and intent. The pandemic underscored how vital domains are for finding and engaging audiences online. While .com retains its crown, new trends like Web3 domains and the hot aftermarket demonstrate that there are always opportunities emerging for strategic brands. With digital competition accelerating, a domain strategy tailored to post-pandemic realities can provide an edge.
The domain landscape will continue evolving rapidly alongside technology and culture. But their foundational branding role persists – a domain says who you are. As such, domains warrant an allocation of branding budget commensurate with their immense influence. Approached proactively and strategically, domains confer branding advantages that persist for years and across platforms.