Domain hacks can be cutesy, and the more publicity some of the popular hacks receive, the more others want to emulate. The problem with domain hacks is that they can be confusing to consumers, especially when they don’t mention the “dot” in their branding.
Just the other day, I wrote an article about a new start up called Bump, which smartly operates on Bump.com. One of the people who read the article made a comment about another company called Bump, although that company operates on Bu.mp. Unfortunately for the Bu.mp guys, they are most likely going to lose traffic to the Bump.com start up, and not only is it their own fault, but there’s really nothing they can do about it since Bump.com is a venture backed company and the domain name wouldn’t be for sale.
Delicious and Bitly were two of the first startups that went mainstream to use domain hacks, and luckily for both, they were able to get the .com domain name to match (Delicious had to purchase Delicious from the registrant). Delicious probably paid a lot more for its .com domain name simply because it built up considerable traffic and brand recognition unintentionally. People, especially in the .com centric US, just assume it’s on a .com.
Just this past week, Google announced its new url shortener, which uses the domain hack Goo.gl for its own url. Smartly for them, they also own Googl.com in the event of typos, although it seems like they are differentiating it from the main search site by emphasizing the “dot.” On a side note, it will be interesting to track the traffic to GL.com, since there will probably be people who inadvertently type in Goo.gl.com in error.
My recommendation to start ups and to anyone who wants to use a domain hack is that they should only do it if they can secure the .com. If they can’t secure the .com but must use this hack for some reason, it’s critical to emphasize the “dot.”