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.ly, .es, .ae – the risks of using a custom vanity URL as your domain name

The danger of vanity URLs

Have you ever thought to yourself that you have a made up word that would make for a great URL or maybe your business word would look great as a full word with domain ending other than “.com” or “.net”?

The danger of playing outside of the .com world is that when you buy a domain ending that is in another country in an effort to make a clever word or get a vanity URL that matches your company name (for example, if your company name is “real estately” you would be tempted to buy “realestate.ly”), you are at the mercy of that country’s laws or worse, to their stability. A lot of people don’t know this or don’t think about what it actually means.

Recently, letter.ly lost their URL with no warning because “.ly” is under Libyan government’s control and they can remove any URL they wish and during time of war, the checks and balances barely exist. In an unstable country, the risk is higher of your losing your URL. Are major sites like page.ly and bit.ly at risk as unrest in Libya continues and the United States is or is not at war with the nation? It is possible.

Imagine you buy a url that ends in a country that practices Sharia law and you’re in violation. They find out about it and boom, your domain is seized. Vb.ly found this out the hard way in 2010.

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Want to end a domain in .ae instead of .com? You’re subject to United Arab Emirates laws and if you are deemed a blasphemer, your domain will be seized (and if you were a local in UAE, you’d go to jail). Want to end a domain name in .by? You’re subject to Belarus laws, one of which is that if you are a journalist of mass media, you must post an ID card registered in the Republic of Belarus on your site, as required by the Ministry of Information… but what do they define a “journalist” as?

You see my point.

The solution:

If you’re going to buy a vanity URL that features another country’s top level country code, have a backup plan in the form of a traditional .com or .net if available.

Your chances of winning a fight over an international domain seizure are slim (although I don’t think it’s impossible), so make sure you have a plan B. For example, if we were to use our agentgeni.us domain as a primary URL and had to have a plan be, it would be agentgenius.com, so we own both (and multiples thereof).

If you have to enact plan B, be prepared to notify your network and readers immediately with a response that a layperson can understand so there is no speculation that your business is closed.

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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