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Domain hacking sounds like a nasty cyber attack, but the terms refers to an increasingly common domain selection process. As a business owner, you already know that it’s incredibly important to choose the right domain name. With a better domain name, your company website will be more memorable, more marketable and more highly differentiated. It can even have SEO benefits if you choose a strong keyword or a total match to your brand name.
But with more than 350 million domains already in existence, and thousands more getting claimed every day, it can be tough to get the “perfect” domain for your business.
Domain hacking could be the answer — but is it really worth it for your business?
What Is domain hacking?
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is domain hacking?
Domain hacks are unconventional domain name choices that combine country code top level domains (ccTLDs) with other keywords to form a comprehensible, split word. For example, these days, there are a variety of domain extensions available for purchase like .ly or .me, rather than just conventional options like .com or .org. If you were starting an unconventional business, you could adopt a domain like unconventional.ly, rather than unconventional.com or unconventionally.com.
Sometimes, domain hacking is used to bring two different words together. For example, you might find mortgage.loan or skate.board as a domain name. Or you could use domain hacking to split a single word, such as our previous unconventional.ly example.
You likely know a variety of businesses and websites already making great use of the domain hacking strategy. But is it right for your business?
The advantages of domain hacking
There are several benefits to pursuing this strategy, such as:
- Originality. First, domain hacking provides you with a totally original domain name. The common .com and .org extensions are well known and widely recognized, but they’re also somewhat tired and stale. Adding a rare or new extension to the end of your URL will make your website seem more original — and more appealing to people who haven’t yet seen it. It’s a small touch that can instantly differentiate you.
- Limited competition. Domain competition is fierce. If you search for a common word with a common extension like .com, you’ll likely find some options that are thousands, or even millions of dollars to purchase — if they’re up for sale at all. Oftentimes, lesser known and lesser used ccTLDs are also less expensive, making them cheaper and easier to accumulate.
- Keyword optimization. Domain hacking is also useful for search engine optimization (SEO), especially if there are a handful of important keyword targets for which you’re trying to optimize. If you can include your entire target keyword phrase across your URL, you’ll be in a prime position to rank for that term more quickly (though, of course, you’ll still need to invest in a robust SEO strategy to support that domain).
- Memorability and branding. If you engage your wit and get creative, you can use domain hacking to add more memorability to your website URL — and build a brand around it. Some unique domain hacks are ridiculously catchy and easy to market.
The limitations of domain hacking
However, there are also some weaknesses, drawbacks and limitations to consider:
- Control and vulnerability. Some TLDs are managed by different countries and different authorities, rendering you vulnerable to volatility and unexpected changes in some conditions. For example, back in 2019, the .io ccTLD experienced significant outages due to improper payment to the Chagos Islands.
- Location ambiguity. Sometimes, domain extensions can imply your location in a different country. That can be a massive headache if you’re trying to rank in local search results or if it’s important that your website is associated with a specific country.
- User confusion. Most of us with decades of experience navigating the web automatically assume that domains are going to end with something common like .com or .org. Accordingly, it’s easy to forget about new domain extensions — and easy to get URLs wrong if they include them. Depending on your target audience and your marketing abilities, this may be an important challenge to overcome.
- Difficulty transitioning. If your business already has a decent domain name in place and you’re considering switching to a domain hack, you might have your work cut out for you. It’s totally possible to migrate to a new domain, but it’s a time-intensive and difficult endeavor you’ll need to manage carefully.
If you already have a solid business with a solid domain name in place, you don’t need to spend much time considering domain hacking. But if you’re about to start a new business, it should definitely be on your radar. Domain hacking with clever ccTLDs isn’t the best strategy for all businesses, but it does have the potential to boost your brandability, memorability and even your search rankings.
Originally appeared in Entrepreneur