Domain Name Decisions

Domain Name Decisions

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It may seem like a trivial element of your overall business decisions, but your website domain prefix actually means a great deal more than a simple dot something.

A domain prefix identifies the origin of a website. As such, the majority of South African website owners have opted for a .co.za domain prefix, by default. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it could result in your website being hidden to international web traffic.

Some plus points

Let me explain.South Africa does not have a proper search engine working solely for South African domains yet.

This in itself isn’t a major drawback, as vast the majority of web surfers rely on Google or other international search engines as their first point of call when looking for something online.

However, this is where the disadvantages start. Many of these search engines, which should have had a significant impact on these .co.za websites are overlooking it because of the .co.za prefix.

Battling with .coms

The reason is due to credibility of a domain. Should you have a company website called businesscards.co.za, chances are there is a more popular, and older .com variant elsewhere.

Google likes the more established brand, and will rank it higher in the search results. Also, the .com prefix, gives it a little more authority as it is being pitched as an international webpage.

So how should you choose?

Here’s a scenario. Imagine for a moment you’ve set up a South African shop in the middle on London. You sell South African delicacies and brands.

In order to target fellow South Africans, you call the outlet The South African Shop, decorate it with the South African flag and make it stand out as a purely South African store.

This is great if your sole target market is South African, but what if you wanted to sell your wares to other nationalities too?

The branding and name alone would discourage them. They would see it as an almost exclusive outlet. So, to work around that, you call the store a far more generic ‘Africa’ to appeal to the greater audience, playing on the exoticness of your offerings.

Your domain prefix does the same thing.

Choosing the right domain for you

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want international visitors?
  • Would they benefit from your services?
  • Would you be able to assist them should they want your product/services?
  • Would you like to do business with international clients in the future?
  • Do you have the infrastructure to export your products?
  • Do you have the infrastructure to accept international currencies?

If you answered yes to all of the above, consider using a .com prefix. This will give you greater international appeal and authentication.

However, I’d also suggest using a .com prefix for services that are one of a kind – or have an international appeal like:

  • Restaurants
  • Accommodation Related Venues
  • Tourism Attractions
  • Informational Venue
  • Technical and Service Provides
  • Import & Export Venues

These facilities would be relevant to international tourists, and as such it would be advantageous to have a .com prefix for international web surfers ‘Googling’ restaurants in Durban, for example.

It may seem at this point that a .com domain is the premium domain to have and you should strive to make yours the same. But consider the following-

  • Will your website’s main purpose be to get more publicity?
  • Do you only want a website to gain more local business?
  • Do you only want to concentrate on the South African market?
  • Are you really serious about Internet marketing or do you just want to try it out?
  • Do you only want a website because your clients ask about it, or your opposition has one?

Staying local

If your focus is on South African cliental, your website should reflect the same. The .co.za prefix helps a search engine recognise your business location and serve it to users accordingly.

Google uses sophisticated geo-location abilities to establish your position on the globe, and serve you area-relevant sites. This is good for local web browsers looking for a business closely, or within their borders.

A .co.za domain prefix will still expose your website to international traffic (it is the World Wide Web after all) but will result in less traffic and visitors due to the notion that the site isn’t international. Likewise, a British user would more than likely click on a .co.uk link, than a .com if he or she is looking for local produce or services.

A .com prefix does have a few more advantages than a localised alternative, but you as have to consider the scenarios before making your final decision. However, should you be in the position to purchase both .com, and .co.za, do so. It will award you flexibility later on.

A .com prefix with expose your website to more international traffic, but unless you can actually serve your offering to them, it may result in negative publicity online.  However, while this article may sound a little ominous, it isn’t.

Simply put, marketing yourself on the Internet requires the same amount, if not more, thought as marketing in the traditional sense. Understand your audience, and you own the market.

Shane Oosthuizen
Shane Oosthuizen is currently the chief copywriter at one of SA's leading digital agencies. Having spent a number of years in the creative arena, he has forged a reputable authority in the South African social and online marketing community.
  • um, isn’t it a .com or .co.za SUFFIX??

    • Quite right. However, a prefix, although “pre” meaning before, and often creates a word of different meaning, the ‘Prefix’ in this instance, is the domain suffix, as it defines the geographical area of that webpage/email address.

  • Thanks for the article on the pros and cons of using .co.za
    versus .com. I have seen a website with .com.za (something like that can’t
    really remember exactly). I would like to hear from Shane (1) the benefits of
    using that kind of extension and (2) the cost implications.

  • Hi Oliver,

    You’re referring to the .za.com domains. These are relatively new, so there isn’t too much to go buy to distinguish if they’re much better than a .co.za alternative.
    However, Google and other search engines will probably ‘read’ it the same as any .com domain, due to it ending in such.

    Costs? These will vary between providers, but expect to pay between R250 – R450 per year.

    Hope this helps!

  • Yerba Mate South Africa

    Hi Shane, I have a .com and target only the South African market. I own .co.za’s and thought it may be a good idea to “point” them to the .com which I have had for about a year and a half now. What are your thoughts on this? btw, the website is http://www.yerbamatesouthafrica.com