Why Do We Have so Many Domains?

January 7, 2020

Post by Robert Hansen

There seems to be some misconception about where domains come from, and why companies buy more than one domain. For instance, why would a company want uk.company.com or company.co.uk instead of www.company.com/uk/? It has been posited that companies do this because IT departments are too daunting/draconian/slow to get it done, so people go around them and build it themselves. But there are so many other reasons companies buy and build other subdomains and domains. Here are just a smattering of a few of them. I asked a few marketing friends what they thought.

“I buy domains as an investor. Much like owning choice real estate the value of a choice domain can go up over time and my goal is to sell my domains for significantly more than I bought them for.”

– Kristopher Jones, CEO https://specialguestapp.com

Kris makes a good point – it’s not just a matter of buying one domain though. When investors buy domains, they may be one or a dozen just to make sure they have all of the permutations down that might make a buyer interested. When the acquisition happens, they’ll likely buy all of the relevant domains in the single purchase. Therefore, thorough M&A companies end up, with dozens of domains.

“Companies buy new domains instead of using subdomains for all sorts of reasons. They buy them to test out new ideas and brands. They buy them because they want a legal separation from their main site for new service. They buy them because they think subdomains will be confusing to the consumer or they simply don’t like the way it looks. And in other cases, they buy them because it’s the quickest way to launch a new site, and they can worry about integrating it into their main domain later.”

– Jon Henshaw, Founder of Coywolf https://coywolf.pro

Jon’s point is that companies might choose one aesthetic over another. Vanity looking URLs or domains that just look icky are often thrown away when they’re deemed too ugly or bad. I remember when someone bought “goonline.com” which regrettably could be read “go online” or “goon line”. I never followed up with goonline but they may have decided to invest in a “go.online.com” or something to make it easier to read, never throwing away the original goonline for a variety of link-equity reasons. That brings us to Google.

Google has the concept of hyper-local search. It wants people to be able to find the pizza place nearby, not just the pizza place five states away that has a lot of link equity. Worse yet, what if the site is in another language? So, search engines introduced “hreflang” which is a way of telling Google which language the person reading it should go to. If they read it in English, go to that page, if in French, go to that page, and so on. But hreflang hasn’t worked all that well or all that consistently due to lots of problems on Google’s side. As a result, companies still often end up making sites that are fr.company.com or company.fr instead of company.com/fr. Not to mention, to Jon’s point, someone local may expect to have a .fr TLD for national pride, usability or even typesetting reasons because it’s shorter.

sucks.com, new product line, vanity URLs, CDNs, PageSpeed to optimize requested hosts, Adblock/Analytics-block avoidance, etc.”

– Eric Wu http://eywu.com/

Brand protection is another reason, as my friend Eric Wu explains. Phishing sites are getting nasty, and often companies attempt to either buy up the sites ahead of time or take them over once they go live. Buying them ahead of time is a bit of a non-starter since ICANN introduced Punycode for international domain names. The horror. So, companies can end up with dozens or hundreds of phishing sites when they take them over.

But Eric also brings up a number of other good examples. For instance, in the interest of allowing more multi-threading and concurrent downloads in the browser, websites will often register a handful of additional domains. This is just to speed up the process of downloading tons of content all at once, and making the maximum usage of the available bandwidth in the browser.

Eric also brought up the concept of blocking analytics and ads – which as we know is increasingly prevalent. That is because ads are awful, dangerous and a bandwidth hog. So why allow them? To get around this, companies often set up tons of domains to make it harder and harder to identify and reliably block them, since they rotate too often.

“Buying a domain for an event (conference, summer party for employees). HR buying domains for recruiting campaigns. Tech people in R&D buy domains for their projects.”

– Markus Ossi

As Marcus points out, let’s not forget test sites, development sites, staging sites, and so on. Those may be identical in nearly every way, but they need some TLC before they get pushed to production. Maybe they just need an executive to double-check their work, or are waiting for quality assurance to verify their test cases. The sites can also be hugely dangerous to the brand while being developed so keeping them isolated is important. In any case, this can add lots of domains or subdomains.

And Marcus also brings up a point about one-off domains that are only slightly related to the brand, but maybe more for employees or employee outreach and don’t make sense on the main website. These one-off domains may even be something that will be intentionally removed after some point since it’s event-related. Why keep those on the main site, and risk issues with the primary websites when it can be safely isolated?

Shady stuff is another esoteric reason domains pop up. Lots of time companies want to test something very shady – like link networks – and simply don’t want it tied to their main brand. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegal, per se, but it can be fuzzy, and if Google penalizes them, or if some affiliate program sues them, they want to disavow it and remove it without consequences to the main company.

To sum up, there are lots of reasons, not just one, that a company can buy domains. I am sure there are others, too. This is just a smattering of thoughts from people who do it all day. So like it or not, you really do need to assume that your environment will continue to grow and evolve over time, making an up to date inventory an important feature for any enterprise.