Your domain name is crucially important to your business because the URL is the first thing your site visitors will see or hear. It’s where you can either make a positive or negative first impression—and the URL you choose will also define your brand and affect SEO.
If you’re on the hunt for your perfect domain, you’ve probably realized it is a pretty daunting task. There are hundreds of domain extensions available, from .AAA to .ZW. As you’ve probably also noticed, the majority of websites have already opted for a .COM domain extension (in fact more than 50% of them1). That’s because it’s familiar, embodies trust, and is easy to remember. And because .COM domains are so popular, the name you want is most likely taken.
There are, however, some great options outside of .COM domains. Read on to learn all about one of them, or skip ahead if you already know what you’re most interested in:
- Before anything else, what is a TLD?
- What is a .IO domain?
- .IO Domain Safety and Security
- Arriving at the best domain and TLD for your business
- TLD is integral to brand identity
- Migrating domains from TLDs to .IO
- 4 key benefits of an .IO domain
- The .IO domain’s popularity among startups
- More great news! A .IO domain isn’t limited to tech companies
- Overcoming the rocky waters of .IO domain
- Establish your .IO domain with OnlyDomains
Before Anything Else, What is a TLD?
A TLD or “top-level domain” is a domain that sits at the highest level in the internet’s hierarchy of domain name systems. Top-level domain names can be found in the root zone of the namespace and are the last part of the domain name, after the dot. Examples are .COM, .ORG, .EDU, .NET, and so on.
For example, in the domain name www.example.com, the top-level domain name is .COM.
Top-level domains are generally managed by specific organizations as directed by the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The IGF is made up of multiple internet communities which are tasked with operating the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The IGF also oversees the maintenance of the DNS root zone.
As of Feb 2021, there were 1504 TLDs2 in use according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)–the non-profit organization that regulates and manages domain namespaces. The majority of these names have launched over the past decade, and many are community and geographic labels representing cities or regions from Alcace to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
There is More Beyond .COM
TLDs other than .COM can be a good second choice as domain name extensions. For example, the .org extension is well-known and considered credible and .net has also been around for a while (although it doesn’t have the same kudos).
Or you could opt to promote a “.crazyname” domain to ensure your brand is extra memorable, but it will take you a lot of time and lots of SEO expertise to get this domain to work successfully for you.
Luckily, you do have another option. There’s been a significant recent trend towards using one particular top-level domain (TLD) over recent years: The .IO domain extension.
The .IO domain has become extremely popular lately, especially among SaaS and tech startups. Probably because it’s memorable, short and catchy, and represents a brand as fresh and exciting. Many companies have gone on to raise tens or hundreds of millions of dollars by adding their brand names to a .IO domain.
Apiary.io is an example, which, having raised $14.6M, went on to be acquired by Oracle.
If you keep seeing .IO sites everywhere, but are unsure what this domain means and why it’s so valued by the tech industry, read on.
What is a ccTLD?
Internet country code top-level domains (ccTLD) are country-specific TLDs. For example .FR and .CO.UK for France and the UK respectively.
Country code top level domains are associated with a country and can be highly useful in regional targeting for search engines. It’s easy to pinpoint a ccTLD as most of them are two characters in length. Many of them, though, are only available for use by residents or companies in the relevant country.
Some ccTLDs, though, have no restrictions. This means any user worldwide can register a domain from that country, as we’ll see in the following section.
What is the .IO domain?
.IO is the ccTLD for the British Indian Ocean Territory, a remote yet strategically important series of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, also known as the Chagos Archipelago.
Although it consists of seven atolls and over 1,000 tiny islands, not a lot of people have ever heard of it. Unlike with other country codes there’s no requirement to live in the British Indian Ocean Territory to register a .IO domain.
Another example of this type of domain is the ccTLD, .TV, which relates to the Tuvalu territory, but which most people associate with television. The .AI domain is a further instance of the same idea. Classified as the ccTLD for Antigua, .AI domains can also be used by companies related to artificial intelligence (AI).
Characteristics of a .IO domain
The .IO TLD name is only two characters long, making it shorter and more memorable than other website addresses. These domains can only contain alphanumeric characters and hyphens and have to be between 3 and 63 characters long. Domain names can’t begin or end in hyphens and cannot contain two consecutive hyphens.
.IO websites have become popular with the tech industry and tech startups, amongst others. SaaS companies like Greenhouse.io and Keywordtool.io adopted the .IO extension because it’s similar to the abbreviation I/O or input/output, a common term in computer science. Companies involved in software development and web hosting, as well as many WordPress sites, have opted for this extension for similar reasons.
As detailed above, .IO is technically a country specific domain extension, but most people don’t connect it with the host country. It’s also easy to pronounce and it’s visual (a vertical bar followed by a circle).
Because it’s new, it’s a little more expensive to acquire, but many companies are more than willing to pay a bit extra for the domain. Another bonus of using the .IO extension is that Google’s ad targeting treats .IO as a generic top-level domain, because it’s seen by users and webmasters as more of a generic than country-specific domain.
ccTLDs that are used for general, non-specific use are termed gccTLDs (generic country code top-level domains) and these generic TLDs are growing in popularity.
History of . IO domains
.IO is one of the fastest growing top-level domains around the world, and is used by all kinds of businesses from cloud software to bitcoin and blogs. But what’s the history behind this mysterious domain?
.IO domains date back to 1997 when it was assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to an entity called Internet Computer Bureau Ltd, a company based in Bournemouth in the United Kingdom. The company was run by entrepreneur Paul Kane who oversaw not only this domain name, but several others, including .sh (St Helena).
The Internet Computer Bureau was given permission to run these domains for private benefit. Paul Kane continued to run .IO until 2017, and the first subdomain registered under .IO was Levi Strauss & Co in 1998 as levi.io.
Paul Kane always maintained that profits from these domains were distributed to the authorities, but this has been disputed by the UK government who said they had never received any revenues from the domain.
In April 2017, Paul Kane sold The Internet Computer Bureau to private domain registry Afilias for $70.17m and in December of that year, Afilias sold it to privately held company, Donuts, for an undisclosed sum of money.
In 2021 Donuts was acquired by a private equity company, Ethos Capital, (again for an unknown amount).
What does IO stand for?
In computing, “IO” or “I/O” is commonly used to stand for input/output, making the domain attractive for tech companies. .IO domains are popular for open source projects, APIs, startups, and other online SaaS apps, for instance.
The TLD is sometimes also used for domain hacks, since the letters “io” are a suffix of many English words and names around the world. Rub.io, for example, was a URL used by those campaigning for Marco Rubio for president in the US.
.IO Domain Safety and Security
Many people wonder “are .IO domains secure”? The answer is yes, because there are just as many rules and regulations for .IO domains as for any other domains.
Rules and safety restrictions apply for all domains in order to confirm registrant authenticity and, as with all other domains, .IO domains cannot be used directly or indirectly for sexual/pornographic purposes. Neither can they be used in violation of any nation’s statutory laws. The nic.io registry can immediately deactivate any domain that’s found to be in breach of these regulations.
In order to keep your .IO domain secure (not only for you own requirements but for those of your users), you can take the following measures:
- Obtain domain privacy to protect your data from spammers and ensure your contact info is not viewable publicly on the Whois database. This is offered free of charge at OnlyDomains.
- Invest in premium DNS, offering uptime and site security to help protect your company from cyber attacks.
- Use two factor authentication for your domain account as an extra layer of security.
When you’re buying a domain, ask yourself if it’s reliable and looks fit for purpose. As with everything in life, it’s a case of “buyer beware”. If a website looks untrustworthy, then don’t make a purchase. Always do your homework, and make sure to register with a secure, accredited registrar with a good reputation.
Arriving at the Best Domain and TLD for Your Business
Picking the right domain and TLD is crucially important. As well as defining your site, your domain name communicates important information to your human visitors and Google search bots.
When you’re choosing a new domain name make sure it’s clear and concise. Long and confusing names are hard to remember and easy to mistype.
Make your domain name easy to pronounce and avoid numbers and special characters. Include keywords strategically so that search engines can quickly understand what your site is about and to help them determine search rankings.
The keywords you choose should be relevant to your site, so don’t use keywords simply for the sake of using them. Google Keyword Planner can help you pin down the right keywords if you’re stuck for ideas.
Finally, and importantly, carefully consider your domain’s Top-Level Domain (TLD).
As we pointed out earlier a .COM isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ for your business. Generic and country-code top-level domains can also be an asset to your website. When you’re choosing a domain ask yourself the following:
- Is a TLD relevant to your industry? For example, it makes sense to opt for a TLD that relates to what you do. If you’re a video production company then .video might make sense. There are extensions to fit many business types and models.
- Can you use a new gTLD to create a unique, memorable domain name? If you aren’t limited to a specific location, you can eliminate the typical country-code top-level domains. You could go with the same domain name but use a different TLD, for example, if myuniformstore.com is taken you could try mystore.uniform.
- What is your target audience? If you’re only selling products or services in Australia, you may be best off going with a local ccTLD; in this case .COM.AU to help you with local search engine results.
You may also want to stay very local if you run a neighborhood restaurant or other very location-specific business. Local SEO is increasing, as Google likes local sites targeting specific locations. Extensions like .Berlin, .London, and .NYC are now available
- Could a “spammy” TLD see you ranking lower in SERPs?
The TLD is Integral to Brand Identity
The main objective of a domain name is to represent your brand. The name is very important, because it will have a bearing on how many people choose to take a look at your website.
It’s important not to skip TLD selection or go with the first one that you come across. Once you’ve made your decision it’s hard to reverse it, so it’s crucial to think about TLD from the start.
Migrating Domains from Other TLDs to .IO
It’s relatively easy to register a .IO domain because there are no local presence or other requirements. Anybody anywhere can register a .IO domain.
You can also transfer and connect domains, and they can be registered for between one and ten years. The cost per year will vary, however you can get great prices on a .IO when you buy a multi-year extension.
Quite a few companies have chosen to forward their .COM domains to a new and shorter .IO name.
Other companies have opted to reserve the .IO extension—e.g., yahoo.io, google.io, and coke.io. While they have registered these names, they don’t in practice use them, but keep them for their intellectual property protection.
Most of these companies forward the .IO domain to their primary domain and if you have a .COM domain or any other domain you can do the same.
4 Key Benefits of a .IO domain
1. Greater availability
Better domains are available in the .IO namespace compared to traditional domain extensions. A big reason startups choose .IO endings is that they are able to find catchy one-word domains that are already taken in .COM. And, while .IO is an increasingly popular domain, it doesn’t yet have the prominence of some other gTLDs, so you’re more likely to be able to register your first choice of domain name.
2. It’s Less Saturated than .COM
The .COM domain is incredibly saturated, to the point it’s hard to register a viable domain name, in particular for startups. While large established companies have sufficient funds to buy any .COM domain they want from a domain marketplace or domain broker, smaller companies don’t have this luxury.
Most popular top-level domains as of April 2021
3. Google Treats .IO as a gTLD (i.e. Not Tied to a Specific Country)
Since Google sees .IO as a gTLD, you won’t be subject to unwanted geo-targeting. As a generic country code top level domain, Google recognizes that users outside the British Indian Ocean Territory use this domain ending. As such, they don’t specifically target that region when your site comes up in search results.
4. Reputation and Recognition
A good domain name that’s short and brandable is also easy to remember and, being memorable, more likely to be spread by word of mouth.
Short domain names like .IO are also easy to incorporate into your marketing materials and are less likely to be misspelt by users. Fewer errors result in fewer missed opportunities. A short and snappy .IO domain name also helps if you’re running competitions or promotions. Long and complicated URLs can kill off the excitement of a promotion.
The .IO Domain’s Popularity Among Startups
.IO domains are recognized—even embraced—by tech and startup communities. As we mentioned before, the .IO ending is often associated in computing terms with ‘input/output’. For this reason, using this domain can be a good way to appeal to these industries and establish yourself as part of the tech scene.
According to a report by w3techs.com3, around 0.5% of all websites are registered under the TLD .IO (April 2021). This domain achieves rankings similar to those of country-specific website domains including .pl (Poland)
More great news! A .IO Domain Isn’t Limited to Tech Companies
While .IO domains are especially popular for smaller companies in the technology sector, they’re also popular with startups and developers looking for a cool domain name. .IO can give any new brand a strong identity and help to boost online visibility.
Here are some examples of other reasons why business choose .IO:
1. Domain hacks
.IO extensions are also useful for companies seeking a domain hack. This means a domain that suggests a word or phrase, by combining different parts of the domain. Most often, the domain name plus the domain extension.
Domain hacks are often achieved by using a new gTLD, .IO domains are no exception. For example:
formagg.io: To show off your Italian background and that you love cheese
With a little creativity, it’s possible to create web addresses like rad.io or portfol.io. Or rub.io, as mentioned early, for the one-time US presidential hopeful.
2. .IO has Different Meanings in Other Countries
.IO is also popular in some countries because it means “I” in Italian, and in Esperanto it equates to “something”. It’s also a suffix that’s used with country names or lands. The domain Esperant.io sends users to Libera Folio a bulletin that’s written in Esperanto.
3. Game Developers
IO games refer to real time multiplayer online games, which rose in popularity after the release of agar.io in 2015. Today, there are multiple ‘io games’, including diep.ip, suriv.io, and lordz.io.
Game developers get recognized by registering a .IO domain to show off their best games and potential players are able to easily find their site and immediately understand what the website is about.
Overcoming the Choppy Waters of the .IO Domain
The .IO ccTLD was, as we noted earlier, created in 1997. While country code top-level domains are usually used by residents or companies in the relevant countries (.de for Germany, for example), only American military personnel and UK government officials live in the British Indian Ocean Territory, and only on a temporary basis.
The .IO domain has never been run by the British government, but by a series of private owners, and it’s now run by Afilias.
The history of the .IO territory is fraught with controversy. The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) came into existence in 1965 when the British government separated the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius (part of the British Empire since 1810). This was as a result of Mauritius winning its independence. Both the UK and the US saw the territory as a place to base both troops and listening posts.
The downside to this was that the population of the Chagos (made up of two thousand inhabitants or Chagassion known as French creoles) was forcibly removed. Today, Diego Garcia and the other islands are places you cannot visit unless you’re in the military. You can only reach it via the internet.
The Chargassions recently approached Afilias in an attempt to get a “fair percentage” of the acquisition price and cut of past royalties associated with the domain. They failed in their attempt with Afilias saying that .IO’s ownership is a geo-political matter out of their control.
The Chargassions have also long campaigned to take back ownership of the British Indian Ocean Territory itself. If that happens, ownership of .IO could be put at risk. However, according to many sources this is very unlikely to happen. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early nineties this didn’t entail the retirement of its ccTLD. The .SU domain still exists and hasn’t been removed from the root zone.
The question of whether the original inhabitants should partake in ownership of the .IO domain remains on the agenda as more of a political issue than legal one, at least for the present.
Establish your .IO domain with OnlyDomains
Whatever the nature of your business, OnlyDomains has everything you need to get your website up and running, including registering, transferring, and renewing domains. You can transfer all the different domains you keep with different registrars to us, and bring everything under one umbrella.
In fact, you can transfer up to 1000 domains at once and there’s no additional cost for most of our TLDs, you simply pay for the extra year added to your domain at the time of transfer. To start your move, enter the domain you’re moving, followed by the auth code provided by the registrar you’re leaving behind.
With over 900 extensions available, you can find your ideal, unique domain, including a .IO domain to make your brand stand out. With the best .COM domains taken you have a much better chance to secure a great .IO domain at a great price.
The .IO domain has steadily increased in importance over the last decade. The original country-code domain now has a firm place in the tech world as well as for companies that use it creatively as a play on words, addresses, and projects outside the IT sector.
io domain used to be one of the country-code TLDs only, specifically for Indian Ocean sites. However, it is no longer country-specific as Google acknowledges it as a generic top-level domain, serving a much broader audience. Many people see .Is a .IO Domain good? ›
Interestingly, 'IO' or 'I/O' is commonly used instead of 'input/output' in the computing world, so many people use a . io because it is a good extension choice for technology businesses, in the same way that a . app domain is a great fit for a mobile app.Where are io domains? ›
. IO is the domain name for The British Indian Ocean Territory, the must-have domain name for all individuals and businesses working in The British Indian Ocean Territory. Crazy Domains is your local officially accredited registrar for all . IO domain names.Why are .IO domain names so expensive? ›
Io domains are expensive because they are in high demand.
Io domains are expensive because they are in high demand. Many businesses want an Io domain because it shows that they are a modern and innovative company. However, there are only a limited number of Io domains available, so the price is high.
Key takeaway: .com is the #1 most trusted domain extension, with . co in a close second place.Is .io free domain? ›
A . io domain is a top-level domain that is reserved for websites belonging to the British Indian Ocean Territory. You can get a . io domain free by registering for a new account with a web hosting provider that offers this domain.What companies use .IO domain? ›
There are a number of established companies that use a . io domain including canon.io, blockbuster.io, and coke.io. Surprisingly, even Google has a . io domain: google.io.What email domain is io? ›
The domain extension . io is a ccTLD, i.e., a country-specific, top-level domain, which was assigned to the British Indian Ocean Territory and introduced in 1997.Are .io domains free? ›
A . io domain is a top-level domain that is reserved for websites belonging to the British Indian Ocean Territory. You can get a . io domain free by registering for a new account with a web hosting provider that offers this domain.