Startup Domain FAQ – Should I Use A Domain Hack?

One of the most common questions I get from startups that are picking a domain for their brand is, should I use a domain hack as the primary domain for my brand?

Before I go any further I want to make sure everyone knows what a domain hack is, if you already know, skip to the next paragraph. A domain hack is when a company uses the TLD of the domain as letters in the brand name. For example, if I wanted to call my company Canvas, I could use Canv.as. If I wanted to be known as Fit I could use F.it, etc.

In almost all cases my answer is no, and here’s why:

  • Losing traffic to the .COM – if you tell people your company is called “Fuse” and the domain name is Fu.se, most people will logically go to fuse.com first, your company is called Fuse, they go to Fuse.com. It’s that’s simple, people have been doing it for years and they’re not stopping. When you hear a brand name you typically go to that brand name .COM.
  • Not as brandable as .CO or .ME – not all startups can afford the .COM. A solid one-word .COM comes with a six-figure price tag in many cases which means that alternative extensions should be considered. If you tell someone your company is called Fuse.co or Fuse.me, it’s a lot more likely they’ll remember that and go to the right URL vs. telling them it is Fu.se, nobody has likely ever typed in .SE before so it’s a whole new thing for them.
  • Hard to email – people will constantly screw-up when trying to send you emails. Sorry but nine times out of ten I’m going to accidentally email you@fuse.com first before I remember, doh! It was you@fu.se. This is the #1 complaint I’ve heard from startups moving from a domain hack to a brand-name .COM, .CO or .ME
  • Hard to remember – let’s say that you do decide to really spell it out for people when you tell them your name so you say, it is “f-u-dot-s-e” – still ask someone five minutes later and they probably won’t remember where the dot goes.

Of course there are examples of startups that have done a great job building their brand on a domain hack. In almost all cases they have experienced one or more of the issues above but they’ve looked at the tradeoffs and made the decision. In most cases people can simply do a Google Search for your company name and find it, and if you get enough traffic this way that might be fine.

At the end of the day a good domain has a lot more to do with branding and word-of-mouth than it does raw traffic. Startups with lots of SEO power or focused on app development can take bigger risks on the domain-side. On the other hand, companies focused with people easily remembering their domain name and sharing it with friends should be weary of domain hacks.

Now it’s your turn, what do you think about domain hacks? Comment and let your voice be heard!

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Ian July 16, 2013, 10:17 am

    Nice article Morgan. I’m sure you mentioned it before but your points are likely a factor why some domain hacks are now using the .com version of their domain, for example bit.ly and bitly.com. Not to mention that they probably don’t want to be at the whim of the Libyan government who has control over the .ly ccTLD.

    Reply
  • gaetano marano July 16, 2013, 11:54 am

    I own Picti.US and MyTi.es

    Reply
  • Joe July 16, 2013, 4:43 pm

    Interesting post as always hit the mark of the questions that many start-ups do when starting to take their business online.

    What amazes me and really try to believe that Seo is so necessary to get traffic, studying many of them and analyze their ways of working to a position that fascinates me and no answer for sure how many receive each day click on a keyword that they give as good and to be sought for more than 5 million users, what worries me is how many click will I get and what is the bid to be well in place in view of the user and be in the strategy this at the height of an average person in a supermarket offline stature to call you attention to the product and service that you sell cheap.

    The truth never gotten to be decided by a strategy that can bring visitors and traffic to a start-up, I believe that there are many Seo with Adwords have diploma like everyone to start knowledge is vague and the winner is always the same company and society trademark advertising program with gTLD domain name to remember when ending a campaign and be negative roi, who to blame here is my question, which no one wants to have.

    Reply
  • HowieCrosby July 17, 2013, 2:13 pm

    I think your cases are right Morgan, the best thing about domain hacks, I’ve found, are with my six year old son on a Sunday afternoon, and that is – playing word games!

    It’s fun to come up with the domain hacks, but the actual reality of them, leaves a lot to be desired, as you’ve explained.

    Reply
  • Bobby September 18, 2013, 6:24 am

    sorry, I can see everything else. fu.se or fuse.com? are crucial here but wonder concerning the future and of course the question of cost. is factorial; fuse.com has certainly cost a lot of money, because there are soon over 1700 domain endings, it says: should you buy them all? or should you prefer seo costs and domain cost pr invest in order to establish fu.se? the new domain endings, such as shop show,., the future looks different domain! Book.shop is a readable message … facebook-Y.ES also. in the future success of a domain will no longer be dependent of SEO or search engine, but by the message domain alone.

    Reply
  • Net March 28, 2015, 4:37 pm

    I own http://n.et one of the shortest domains in the world
    what you think about that one?

    Reply
    • Morgan March 29, 2015, 8:28 am

      That is definitely a short one! The challenge with that name is that I don’t know anyone (myself included) that has heard of the .ET extension so anyone using the domain would have to explain that their company is called “Net” but the that they are using the .ET extension so you have to remember to type, n.et and not net.com.

      Reply

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