With ICANN set to allow the expansion of the pool of gTLDs, you can be sure that many marketers will be hearing, and thinking a lot about, domain names in the near future.

But are domain names becoming less important? Ev Williams, who started Blogger and co-founded Twitter, thinks so.

In a blog post, he lays out the reasons he thinks domains don’t mean as much as they used to. They are:

  • The popularity of search (read: Google).
  • Auto-completion functionality in browser address bars.
  • The lack of address bars in mobile browsers.
  • The prominence of companies using not-coms (think: last.fm, bit.ly, etc.).

According to Williams:

While a good .com name is still worth a lot, it’s not as crucial to success on the internet as it used to be. And the forces that have made it less important will continue to make it less important over time (especially the mobile-related ones). I’d still opt (and pay up) for a nice, clean .com if I could get one, but I wouldn’t consider it a must have.

Far more important: choosing the right product and brand names.

Needless to say, Williams makes some good points. Picking a horrible brand name because a .com is available is certainly not advisable, and success on the internet doesn’t require the six or seven-figure acquisition of a ‘premium‘ .com.

At the same time, companies probably shouldn’t completely ignore the advantages of a .com:

  • For many, .com is still the internet, and the internet is still .com. Therefore, a .com carries with it a legitimacy that companies may not find with a .biz, .info, etc.
  • While companies like bit.ly have succeeded with not-coms, branding a not-com isn’t always easy. This may be particularly true for companies that don’t get viral exposure or target the most tech-savvy audiences.
  • Confusion is still a problem. If a ‘real’ company is using a .com that’s an exact match for your name (or your product’s name), there is a real risk of confusion. In other words, it’s usually a lot more comfortable to own the ‘default‘ TLD (.com) than to compete against someone else who is actually using it.

At the end of the day, choosing the name of a company or product is never easy. Given the shortage of available .coms, it’s easy to embrace the notion that domain names are less meaningful and will continue to decline in importance.

Should a company rule out a name because the .com is unavailable? No, but the truth of the matter is that the domain name will realistically still play a role in branding decisions.