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When Making Things Harder for New Users is the Right Choice

I used to think about buying domains the same way I think about buying a car in East Germany in 1982. There were few options, you made your purchase without fuss and nobody cared what you did with your Trabant once you drove it off the lot.

Since launching a top-level domain I have a fresh perspective on that buying process. On April 25, we released .eco to the world. We followed about 1,200 previous TLDs. Where there had just been a few horseless carriages—.com, .org, .net and so forth—now there are scooters and SUVs and hybrids and cross-overs to suit your every whim and need.

Like any other TLD, anybody in the world can buy a .eco domain. However, unlike 99% of TLDs, each buyer or “registrant” has some hoops to jump through before they can start using their new .eco.

To activate a .eco domain, you first have to pledge your commitment to positive change for the planet and then share your environmental actions on a public-facing .eco profile. This is a process similar to setting up a basic social media profile—it usually takes about 10 minutes.

Each .eco website has an equivalent profile page. For example, here’s StudyAbroad.eco, featuring SEA Semester’s study-aboard-a-schooner environmental program. And here’s the Study Abroad.eco profile.

The collection of .eco profiles also becomes a searchable directory of businesses, organizations and people committed to environmental action.

So why erect an obstacle to our on-boarding process and make it harder for people to start a .eco website? Doesn’t this fly in the face of every growth-hacking article and best conversion practice on the web?

For the .eco community to thrive, it’s key that domain holders stay true to their pledge, and be truthful and upfront about their environmental impact. We envision .eco not only as a branding platform and a community, but also as a tool for consumers to have more confidence in the environmental info they find online.

First, the profile process has a significant impact on potential greenwashers. The formal nature of the process and the pledge deters the casual bad actor, and encourages them to go elsewhere. Even the notion of the profile system has evidently been discouraging, as we haven’t spotted a single greenwasher in the many domains we’ve sold since launch.

We’ll be monitoring profiles and encouraging .eco members and others to use our soon-to-be launched feedback system to identify .eco profiles that concern them. If a .eco domain is being used in a way that undermines the community’s effort, we’ll take action.

In addition to filtering out the baddies, profiles.eco gives us a precious opportunity to orient and educate new users. By guiding them through the process, we’re reinforcing the values of trust and transparency, and showing them that they’re part of a global movement.

Lastly, there’s the Ikea Effect: “a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created.” When a user does a little legwork, their satisfaction with their completed creation increases.

While it applies to Swedish furniture, I see this most often in the on-boarding experience of most computer role-playing games. Before you even play the game proper, there’s a character-creation step that is often fetishistic in its detail. By the time the player steps out into the virtual fantasy world, they’re already invested in their character, thanks to the work it took to create it. Our profiles work the same way.

So far, the profile system is a strategy that’s paid off. 53% of .eco buyers have already set up a profile, which is an exceptionally high activation rate for the domain industry. More importantly, nearly all of the websites launched on .eco have aligned with the values we established when we won the TLD.

So far, it’s .eco 1, greenwashers 0.

Trevor Bowden is cofiunder of .Eco.