Data Driven: Which TLDs Did Startups Prefer From 2015 to 2020? An Analysis of 63,455 Companies

As someone who performs a significant amount of domain name research, I have files and spreadsheets stuffed with data on an ever-growing number of domain names and companies.

One set of data that I’ve compiled is a list of over 60,000 companies that have been listed by Crunchbase as being founded between January 2015 and May 2020. Naturally, I also have a record of the domain name that each company is listed as using.

Using this dataset, I want to analyze the domain name extensions (TLDs) used by these startups.

I feel that 2015 is a significant year in the crossover between the startup and domaining worlds since it is close to the inception of the “New gTLD” phase, in which we saw the arrival of extensions such as .CLUB, .XYZ, and .ONLINE.

This is also an opportunity to determine how popular ccTLDs are and how they compare to the traditional .COM powerhouse.

For transparency, I currently own no new gTLD names, and as far as ccTLDs go, I own a handful of .CO.UK names. The domain names I own are predominantly .COM, but I am extremely open to the concept of startups using new gTLDs and ccTLDs as early alternatives to .COM equivalents, and would encourage it in many early phase cases.

 

Quick Stats

In total, there are 63,455 companies on my list, along with the domain names the companies enter as their official websites on Crunchbase. This set of 63,455 companies comes from a wider list, but I’ve removed companies that don’t have an official website listed.

In this list of 63,455 companies, there are 454 different domain extensions in use. An incredible amount when you think about it.

 

The Top 5

The top 5 domain extensions used in this list of 63,455 companies are as follows:

  1. .COM
  2. .IO
  3. .CO
  4. .AI
  5. .IN

Here is how the data is presented as a pie chart, including the top 5 extensions and the “Others” category, representing all other domain extensions.

As with most datasets I’ve analyzed over the years, .COM has complete dominance. Curiously, the adoption rate for .COM generally sits around 60-65%. When you consider that in total, .COM accounts for around 40.5% of total domains registered, according to Verisign’s Q3 2020 report, which shows that the majority of businesses still gravitate towards .COM.

 

How does the popularity of these 5 extensions change year on year?

The problem with looking at broad data over a 5 year period is that information can be a little misleading, giving false trends or results. Let’s look more closely at how the top 5 extensions have performed between 2015 and 2020. Note that the data for 2020 only includes results up until November.

 

.AI - 2015-2020

TLDs 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
1 1.38% 2.57% 3.00% 2.85% 2.84% 1.31%
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

The usage of .AI rose in 2016 and was steady until 2019. The figure has dropped to its lowest level in 2020. Could this be a suggestion that companies are gradually moving away from .AI in favor of other extensions? The data certainly seems to suggest a drop in popularity since 2017.

 

.CO - 2015-2020

wdt_ID 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
1 4.29% 4.44% 4.59% 4.29% 4.84% 4.31%
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

.CO has kept remarkably steady between 2015 and 2020 and seems to be an established alternative to .COM for startups. I’m surprised to see how consistent .CO usage is.

 

.COM - 2015-2020

wdt_ID 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
1 66.44% 62.16% 60.26% 58.44% 56.54% 57.52%
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

For startups founded in 2015, .COM accounted for 66.44% of domains listed. However, in 2020, that has dropped to 57.52%. The popularity of .COM is uncontested, but how do we explain the drop in .COM usage?

It could be that startups founded in 2019 and 2020 are opting more for alternative extensions, rather than using prefixes or suffixes to find an available .COM. For example, a company called Swift may now be more inclined to start life on Swift.app rather than GetSwift.com.

In August 2020, Crunchbase found that startup names were “getting less silly.” More companies are using nouns in particular, and are seemingly gravitating towards available new gTLD alternatives to more lengthy .COMs.

The higher .COM adoption rate in 2015 to 2017 could also be attributed to some companies upgrading their domain names.

During a company lifecycle, many businesses may start out with a .IO, .CO, or a .whatever domain name before upgrading to their exact-match .COM during a funding round, typically a Series A or later (although upgrading around the time of seed funding certainly isn’t unheard of). Series A funding tends to happen at least a year or two into a company’s lifecycle.

 

.IN - 2015-2020

wdt_ID 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
1 2.37% 2.23% 1.93% 2.06% 2.70% 3.00%
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

The .IN ccTLD has remained steady, hovering between 2% and 3%.

 

.IO - 2015-2020

wdt_ID 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
1 4.95% 5.92% 7.70% 8.30% 7.24% 7.24%
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

The popularity of .IO has risen over time and has remained steady, counting for around 7% usage in 2019 and 2020. It’s a popular extension among domain investors, and end-users alike. The fact that .IO adoption is remaining steady between 2017 and 2020 should, I think, be taken as a positive sign for the extension’s longevity.

 

New gTLDs vs ccTLDs vs .COM

As I mentioned earlier, 2015 is a significant year since that’s the year that many new gTLDs were fully established. How do alternative extensions stack up against .COM, and what is the adoption rate like for new gTLDs? In the chart below, I’ve separated the company domain names into four categories:

  • New gTLD
  • ccTLD
  • .COM
  • Others

The “Others” category includes extensions such as .NET, .ORG, and .INFO.

You’ll notice that ccTLDs account for a sizable portion of the extensions used by startups in general. In this instance, ccTLDs includes the likes of .CO, .IO, and .AI, all of which are demonstrably popular with recently founded companies.

Nevertheless, the ccTLD section is strong, with plenty of companies opting to use their local ccTLD. This may happen if the .COM or desired gTLD isn’t available, or it could be down to targeting the local market instead of offering a global service or solution.

 

New gTLDs Over Time

In the first 5 years of the general availability of new gTLDs, we can see from the chart above that new gTLDs account for 6.5% of all domains in use by companies founded between 2015 and 2020.

How about the usage over time? Has that increased year on year? I’ve analyzed the data, and here are the results:

New gTLDs - 2015-2020

wdt_ID 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
1 2.07% 2.75% 3.43% 4.62% 4.94% 6.27%
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

The short answer is yes. New gTLD usage continues to rise over time. In 2015, new gTLD’s accounted for 2.07% of domains, whereas that figure has now grown to 6.27%.

 

Standout Domains

Here are some of the standout names that I discovered during my analysis. There are hundreds of companies using extraordinary names, and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

XT.com

Dia.com

Kin.com

Tend.com

Rota.com

 

Compilation of data takes a considerable amount of time — so if you found this useful, please consider buying me a coffee!

About James Iles

James Iles is a domain name industry writer and publisher of JamesNames.com. You can contact me here, or follow me on Twitter @jamesiles.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.