.ελ domains – guidance by Chris @ KefiWeb

The world of domain names is dominated by the English language and the suffix “.com”. However, there are country specific suffixes.
When I went looking for English language guidance about the .ελ variant for Greece – I found nothing. That may have been as a result of my ineptitude or impatience. If you have seen such guidance – please let me know.
This guidance is my take on .ελ domains. It is based on personal experience. It is neither definitive nor exhaustive.
First – a bit of background.
In 2018 I mentioned a .ελ domain on social media and asked for comments. Several came back that included feedback like:-
“I went to that website. It had a couple of funny squiggles after the domain name.”
So here are some basics.
The basics – ελ = Greek letters epsilon, lambda = first two letters of a top-level domain extension introduced in 2018.
Perhaps confusingly there already existed the “.gr” suffix for Greece.
There are historical reasons for the .ελ domain suffix only being released in 2018. However, this guidance is about the “here and now”.
Domain registration
In common with most countries there is a domain authority for Greek domains (.gr and .ελ). It licenses registrars. My preferred registrar is papaki. (not an affiliate link!).
A key factor to take into account is that .ελ (and .gr) domains have to be “cleared” by the national level domain authority. This can take between 5 and 7 working days.
Whilst you can update name servers within minutes of the registrar’s site showing the domain, it is wise to allow about one week before going publicly “live” with the site.
This usually means it will be a week before handling associated web site stuff can go ahead. By way of example – sitemap submissions to search engines are usually only successful after the formal “go ahead” has been given for a domain.
Greek domain names and .ελ suffix – server and browser considerations.
Most servers are ASCII based and they “natively understand” only English alphabet and special characters.
This means that one has to resort to using punycode with ones web hosting account. The punycode for ελ is, for example, xn--qxam
Greek language domain names also need to be handled as punycode.
At times this can get messy and confusing.
The domain name αλφα.ελ in punycode translates to:-
Presentation of domain names in browsers and popular global sites.
Web browsers vary in how they handle non-English inputs. Most mainstream browsers on desktop/PC, tablets and mobile phones will handle the Greek alphabet characters.
However, notably, mainstream sites will often translate – and serve up – the Greek inputs as their punycode equivalent.
As at the time drafting this (July 2019) Facebook would show punycode against sites where pictures were shared to it from a web site.
Choosing fonts that can handle Greek alphabet and punctuation.
Although the situation is improving, the range of fonts available that render the Greek characters is quite limited.
Open Sans seems to handle most that I throw at it. Moving beyond the “web safe” fonts – Monserrat handles things quite well.
Beyond that for “normal” fonts one is likely to end up using paid-for fonts. Certainly “hand written” fonts are severely limited.
Users’ browsers may use fall-back fonts where their native fonts do not encompass yours. This may mean using web font kits to serve up pages where the presentation of the words and punctuation is important. These can add significantly to the load time of pages.
Security considerations
The use of “xn--” prefix has a history of black hat use. With the global reach of the web and the need to handle non-English characters more widely, the situation is improving.
Nevertheless it is prudent to check with a web host that they are happy to handle “xn--” for web sites and/or any email services.
Find a domain name registrar(s) who can handle .ελ (and .gr) domain names and who allow for DNS redirection.
Check with web hosting and email provider that they can handle punycode (“xn--“).
Check what fonts are available.