With ever more emoji being released each year, and their use incredibly widespread, it’s no wonder people are now using them in website domain names.

In fact, emoji domains have been available for over 10 years, but they’re yet to catch on in a big way. Are they likely to become more popular, or are they just a passing fad?

More importantly, just because we can use emoji domains, should we be using them?

An emoji domain – why didn’t I think of that?

As a bit of an emoji enthusiast, I’ve been looking into the whole emoji-as-a-website-domain thing for a while. A year ago, it became a whole lot easier to get hold of these domains. It was at this point I quickly snapped up a couple, including ❤️✏️.ws (yep this just redirects to unramble.com).

But the first emoji domains, including ☃️.com, were actually registered way back in 2001.

If they’ve been around that long though, why aren’t emoji domains more common?

Well, when ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) got wind of the first few .com emoji domain registrations, they quickly stepped in and banned any more being registered 😭

So don’t bother rushing off now to buy 🌞.com because, I’m afraid, it doesn’t exist.

Who is ICANN to tell us what to do with out emoji though?! Many of the most widely used top level domains, including .com and .org, are gTLDs (generic TLDs). All gTLDs are bound by the rules of ICANN.

So unless ICANN has a change of heart, it’s no longer possible to register an emoji domain ending in any of these TLDs. Hence why there’s only a handful currently registered.

Why doesn’t ICANN like emoji domains? More about that later.

But, but, I really want one!

The ICANN ban more or less put a stop to emoji domains for a good 14 or so years.

If ICANN doesn’t want you to have an emoji domain, is that it…no more emoji domains ever?

Not quite 🙏

Enter .ws

This is a ccTLD, or country code TLD. This particular ccTLD is actually assigned to ‘Western Samoa’ (now known as Samoa).

Conveniently, WS it’s also a handy abbreviation for ‘website’, so the .ws TLD is frequently used by websites outside of Samoa.

You’re probably familiar with .co, and .io. These are ccTLDS assigned to Colombia and the Indian Ocean, respectively, but are frequently used outside these areas because of their tech company connotations.

So what does all this ccTLD stuff have to do with emoji domains?

ccTLDs are not governed by the same rules as gTLDs.

Basically, it’s up to the owners of those ccTLDs, not ICANN, to decide what we can and can’t do with them.

In the case of .ws, the owner is the Government of Samoa.

They don’t mind at all if people use the TLD for emoji domains and that’s why I’m the (semi-)proud owner of the emoji domain ❤️✏️.ws.

But are emoji domain names actually worth owning? Let’s take a closer look.

Do emoji domains display in browsers?

Emoji domains are supported by all browsers – but they don’t always display nicely.

How they display depends on the browser you’re using.

When I type ☃️.com into Google Chrome, what actually displays is the punycode – i.e. the text-based version of the emoji:

emoji snowman.com
Typing in emoji domains.

 

punycode snowman.com
Oh boo, punycode.

Which kind of takes the fun out of having an emoji domain.

Safari, on the other hand, keeps the punycode hidden behind the scenes, and displays the Snowman emoji itself – well, a simplified version of it:

unicode snowman.com
Oh that’s cute. Kind of.

How do ccTLDs perform in search

Because emoji domains can only be registered on ccTLDs, you’re probably wondering if your .ws emoji domain will even show up in search results outside of Samoa.

Fortunately, Google recognises that when website owners use certain ccTLDs – .ws included – they’re not necessarily intending to target the country/area the ccTLD was assigned to.

Instead, it treats some ccTLDs the same as gTLDs (e.g. .com, .org), determining location results based on other signals, such as what you’ve told it in Search Console and Google My Business.

So, in theory, a .ws TLD won’t negatively affect your SEO.

The main problem I see is trying to satisfy the search intent of your audience with emoji.

Take the title of the blog post you’re reading now. In an ideal world, I would have liked to call it ‘Emoji domains – 👍 or 👎’. But, let’s be honest: no one is going to search for that. Not yet, at least.

Likewise, maybe one day people will search ✏️ when looking for Unramble’s services – but that day is not today.

If you’re tossing up between emoji and words when you’re optimising for search, I’d stick with words for now.

Are emoji domains accessible?

In general, emoji domains are a bit of a pain to handle, and they don’t play nicely with many apps. All this becomes exponentially more of a pain if you use a screen reader.

This, to me, is the real deal breaker.

Some accessibility problems centre around emoji domains displaying differently depending on which browser you use.

Take for example ❤️✏️.ws – this displays as its punycode equivalent, xn--bci8j.ws, in Google Chrome.

This punycode URL isn’t memorable, it doesn’t read well and it doesn’t sound or look particularly trustworthy.

If you landed on a website with punycode in the browser address bar, it wouldn’t surprise me if you thought you were being subjected to some kind of hack.

Imagine all this cross-browser confusion coupled with using a screen reader. Truly painful.

Even if browsers became awesome at displaying emoji properly, you’d still run into troubles with accessibility.

Emoji just aren’t that pleasant for people using screen readers.

Using a screen reader on my iPhone, my domain ❤️✏️.ws reads ‘red heart pencil full stop w s’. Not too bad, I guess. But if you go to redheartpencil.ws, will you find Unramble’s website? No, you’ll find nothing useful at all.

But that’s not the end of the accessibility issues or the potential for confusion.

What does ICANN have against emoji domains?

Earlier this year, the ICANN Security and Stability Advisory Committee published a report concluding, ‘the use of emoji in any label of a domain name should be discouraged’.

They highlight the following major issues:

1. ‘Many emoji are visually similar and can be difficult to distinguish’.

Remember that snowman emoji domain? There’s another version of it without snow.

I didn’t even know there were two snowmen emoji before writing this – and I really like emoji.

It’d be pretty easy to confuse the two snowmen, input the wrong one in your browser and wind up in the wrong place. I did.

Now think of all the different variations on a smiling face emoji. There’s ‘smiling face‘, ‘smiling face with smiling eyes‘, ‘grinning face with smiling eyes‘ ‘smiling face with open mouth‘ not to mention ‘smiling face with open mouth and smiling eyes‘, and that’s just for starters.

Grinning face with smiling eyes AppleSmiling face with open mouth AppleSmiling face with open mouth and smiling eyes Apple

The smaller they are – in a browser address bar for example – the harder to tell the difference between them and the greater the room for error.

2. ‘There’s no common standard for how emoji should be displayed’.

Across devices, it’s another story: take the rolling eyes emoji.

On iOS, it looks as if it’s filled with utter disdain:

Face with rolling eyes Apple

On a Samsung device, it’s a rather adorable sidewise glancing happy face:

Face with rolling eyes Samsung

Emoji sentiments aside, when it comes to domain names, the ability to describe and remember the emoji matters. But if there’s no standard for what emoji look like on different devices and apps, how are you going to convey these emoji domains to users in a compact, yet memorable way?

‘So, if you’re on a Samsung phone it’s that kind of half smiling, eyebrows raised happy sideways looking emoji, and on Apple, it’s the disdainful eye rolling one’.

And don’t forget to mention the not-so-familiar .ws TLD.

3. Modifiers present an ‘obvious confusability challenge to users’.

On top of all this, emoji can now be modified. You can use different skin tones and hair colours, and emoji now come in various combinations of groups or family units.

Awesome for general use – not so awesome for a domain name. The second you modify an emoji, you’re further increasing the possibility of a user typing the wrong thing into their browser.

For colour blind people and screen reader users, this confusability is amplified.

Will emoji domains ever catch on?

Basically, emoji domains are an absolute minefield – one that ICANN understandably wants nothing to do with.

When I bought ❤️✏️.ws I was quite surprised it was still available. I bought it mainly because it was a few quid and I thought it would be cool to own.

It was really more of an impulse buy *a just in case* move – just in case they became popular, or just in case someone else bought it and I was left full of regret.

A year later and emoji domains are far from mainstream. In my day-to-day use of websites (and I use a lot of different websites each day), I’ve not had the need to type in an emoji domain – other than when buying one from i❤️.ws.

Next month, my emoji domains are up for renewal – at triple the price – and I’m not entirely convinced they’re worth it.

But I’ve grown quite attached to ❤️✏️.ws, so I’m going to hold onto it for at least another year (and leave it doing nothing more than redirecting to unramble.com).

If you’re thinking about getting one yourself, I’m clearly in no position to judge. But I wouldn’t recommend using an emoji domain as your primary website address.

The point of a website address is for people to easily find your site. If it’s difficult to share or access, you’re only making it harder on your users and that’s not good for business.

One day, with improved consistency across devices and apps, and more emphasis placed on accessibility, emoji domains might be more widely used. Google is already working on redesigning all their emoji to be more standardised. So fingers crossed, others catch on too.

Until then, I think it’s best emoji domains continue to be used sparingly, if at all.

OK, ok, but how can I get my hands on one?

Just over a year ago, Jon Roig built ❤️❤️❤️.ws and presented it to the company he works for (GoDaddy) at a hackathon.

From what I can tell, the website is essentially a punycode translator and search combined into one. When you type in emoji, they’re translated into punycode and it searches a database to see if your dream emoji domain is available. If it is, you can then go ahead and buy it from GoDaddy.

More recently, Jon Roig updated the site to allow you to search combinations of text and emoji. To mark this new update, he (of course) renamed the site i❤️.ws

I’m not endorsing GoDaddy or emoji domains, but if you do want one, that’s probably the easiest way to go about it.

Prior to the creation of this tool, it was a big hassle to get hold of an emoji domain. Lots of providers didn’t bother selling them – lot’s still don’t. Now, it’s still a bit of a hassle, but easier than before.

A few other ccTLDs also allow emoji domains, including .to and .ai. But sourcing these from a relatively reputable supplier is another matter entirely, and one which I’m yet to explore.

Tips for choosing an emoji domain (if you must 😜)

If, like me, you’ve been sucked in by the thrill of owning your own emoji domain, here’s a checklist to help you pick one that will be relatively user friendly:

Like to chat about choosing an ideal domain name (emoji or otherwise) for your brand? Don’t hesitate to get in touch👌

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9th November 2017

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