This piece has been featured in the May 2020 edition of Sum News, published by Massachusetts Society of CPAS.
You’ve seen web addresses that end with .org, .edu, .com, and likely others. These extensions, known as top-level domains, are now supplemented by over 1200 nuanced and private extensions like Amazon’s .aws. Now it’s public accounting’s turn with the 2020 roll-out of .cpa. The launch of .cpa is being administered by CPA.com, the AICPA’s technology subsidiary. The AICPA won the rights to the .cpa domain from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees domains, and they are encouraging CPA firms to make the switch. Let’s look at the Pros and Cons, and what it would take to make the change if that’s the direction you decide to go in.
The Case for Changing to the .cpa Domain
Nearly 360 million unique domain names were registered worldwide as of the third quarter of 2019. More than half of those used .com and .net domains. These generic domain names don’t tell you anything about the site owner’s expertise or industry. By contrast, using the .cpa domain signals “trust and distinction,” according to CPA.com. At the very least, anyone who sees that your website name ends in .cpa will immediately know what it is that you do.
The AICPA is committed to maintaining a high brand reputation for the CPA designation. With cyber criminals rampant online and active in their email phishing attempts, the AICPA took measures with .cpa to improve cyber security. Erik Asgeirsson, President & CEO of CPA.com, says that the difference between the .cpa domain and other domains (like .com) will be a higher level of security. The registry that will run the .cpa domain will monitor it for malware and malicious activity, he says, which doesn’t happen with general domains like .com.
Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, the president and CEO of the AICPA said in the AICPA press release “We want the public to have confidence that someone using a .cpa domain address for email or a website is affiliated with the CPA profession.” Therefore, only approved CPA professionals will be allowed to register .cpa domain names. The aim of this is to increase confidence in CPA firm websites and email communications. Phishing strategies include creating look-alike domain names to trick people with illegitimate sites or illegitimate emails. Let’s say there’s a firm named Miller, Landon, Quinn & Thomas, and its website is mlqtllc.com. If a cyber criminal wanted to deceive the firm’s clients into providing personal financial data, he could create a similar-looking site called m1qtllc.com. A client who receives an email with that link might not look closely enough to notice one letter had been changed, and could be tricked into providing personal data. But if the firm’s site used the .cpa domain, any look-alike domain would be noticeably different.
Potential Downsides to the .cpa Domain
While changing domains could help you from a branding and security perspective, it will hurt your SEO (how your site’s pages rank and appear in search results) strategy for a year or more. Switching domains can lower your site’s page rankings due to Google’s preference for sites that have longer history and performance (e.g.- established click-through rates, consistently fresh content, inbound links, no security issues). Properly redirecting your site from .com to .cpa (see the next section for more on this) tells Google that you’d like to confer the .com site performance to the .cpa site, but it’s not 100%. Also, there’s nothing you can do about the history (age) of the site; that will start again at zero. Lastly, Google has confirmed that new domain extensions will offer no ranking advantage over traditional .com or .org domains.
In addition, we’ll have to see how much marketing effort the AICPA puts into promoting the .cpa domain to the general public. Without some unified roll-out, your clients may see the .cpa and actually shy away from it vs feeling more comforted, since any change can be met with hesitancy due to cyber security concerns.
The offline expense of a domain change will include updating and reprinting items that have your domain name on them such as your business cards, stationary, folders, banner stands, and other printed items. Be sure to take this expense into account when making the switch.
Domain Change Logistics
Changing your domain won’t require you to change your entire site, or rebuild it from scratch. The process is like forwarding your mail with the USPS. The process requires attention to detail and knowledge on how to redirect site traffic correctly. It’s critical not to take any shortcuts here. Instead of redirecting all pages from your .com domain to the homepage of the new .cpa domain, you’ll need to execute a thorough and in depth 301 redirect mapping plan so that each page is sent to its new equivalent page. For example, you would send mlqtllc.com/team to mlqtllc.cpa/team.
Making the transition should be fairly smooth, though there may be some hiccups. When your site domain changes from .com to .cpa, anyone who has bookmarked the old address should be automatically redirected to the new address if the redirects were implemented correctly. Because many of your contacts are likely wary of phishing scams, and may be alarmed when they’re redirected to a new page, you may want to acknowledge the change by sending out an email or adding a notification message on the site.
In addition to your website’s name, your firm email addresses should also be updated to match. For the fictional firm of Miller, Landon, Quinn & Thomas, their website would change from mlqtllc.com to mlqtllc.cpa. An employee’s email address might change from email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new .cpa domain isn’t available just yet. CPA.com is still working to meet ICANN requirements and is preparing the technical elements necessary for the launch. There’s no word yet on exactly how much it will cost to adopt the new domain. CPA.com only says that prices will be “competitive with market rates,” which is about $15 a year per domain. Early registration will run through the first half of 2020, and the domain should be generally available to the community by the end of the year.
For now, interested CPAs can learn more here. I’ll be sharing updates as information becomes available, but please reach out if you want me to directly inform you of anything I learn. I’m sure you know you can always contact me with questions about this new domain, or anything related to your website. If you decide to make the switch, my team can help implement that with you. We can work together on everything from the purchase of your domain name through the AICPA’s process through to re-mapping your website properly and updating your stationary.