[First posted on 26th March 2013]
For more than 25 years now, the world has been familiar with generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and country code TLDs (ccTLDs). gTLDs refer to Internet domains with general address extensions such as, ‘.com’, ‘.net’, ‘.edu’ and ‘.gov’ addresses, while ccTLDs refers to a country code for extensions such as ‘.my’for Malaysia or ’.us’ for United States.
Charged with these domains is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization that oversees Internet domain assignments.
On 20 June 2011 ICANN’s Board of Directors approved a plan to increase the number of generic top-level domains (new gTLDs) for brands and organizations which will include:
Brand: examples; .samsung, .malaysiaairlines, .honda
Generic: examples; .music, .casino, .car, .charity, .media, .photo, .design
Geographic: examples; .sydney, .hongkong, .singapore, .china, .paris
Why this? Well, as more people head online and more companies develop web-based offerings, demand for internet real-estate is likely to soar, and gTLDs are seen as being an answer to internet saturation.
The majority of catchy, memorable and simple domain names have already been registered long ago in the current pool, and many have significant commercial value today.
How will this move impact Brands?
1. Brand protection:
There is a possibility that businesses will feel anxious over this move as they will have to spend an excessive amount of money to register domains across all new gTLDs in order to protect their Brands from being cybersquatted.
But there’s good news. This time around, ICANN has put in place some safeguard measures where applicants for a Brand gTLD will undergo a rigorous application process that considers applicants’ existing trademarks.
There are certain cases where it is recommended for a Brand to register its second-level domains in new gTLDs. We’re referring specifically to category or geographical-term gTLDs. For example, a major automotive like Honda will likely find it beneficial to register Honda.auto as well as other domains like Honda.Penang, to use as dedicated sites for their local sales centres, or to redirect users to Honda.com.my. Of course, it will not be necessary for Honda to register all the domains. In essence, companies should determine which are applicable to their business and to decide which domains to register as well as to develop a strategy on how to use them.
2. User personalization:
Companies that acquire new gTLDs are able to provide personalized domain names to their customers to use as customized portals. Let’s take the Honda example again. Imagine Honda allows its car owners to store information on service updates on .HondaHistory. Honda could give John Doe the domain name JohnDoe.HondaHistory, where he could have direct access to all of his stored information without having to navigate through the Honda.com.my homepage to log in. Honda could even send John information about upcoming service reminders or new launches to his personalized email John@JohnDoe.HondaHistory
Such personalization concepts may change the way how companies engage with their customers in the future as users may be expecting Brands to provide a more customized experience.
3. Impact on Search:
Will the new gTLDs impact search engine rankings? Some say that it will because search engines deliver the most relevant and authoritative results. So if companies are aggressively acquiring new gTLDs and publicizing them, search engines will adjust their rankings and will give weight to the new gTLDs. Others argue that the new gTLDs will not help with search engine optimization and also will not create a big enough impact to significantly tip the scale.
The fact is search engines guard their algorithms jealously, so there is no way of knowing how or even whether, they will adjust them to account for new gTLDs. That said, established Brands that have spent much in search engine optimization to achieve the high search engine rankings they currently enjoy should at least employ a conservative strategy of redirecting their new gTLDs to their existing sites. Alternatively, Brands can start using the new gTLDs to host campaign microsites until it becomes clear how search engines will adjust their ranking algorithms to these new domains.
Will the new gTLDs have any real impact on a Brand? (Remember the failure of .asia and .mobi?) Probably not in the immediate future. It will take years for the new gTLDs to become viable for companies like how the .com and .net did for them. It will take time for the new gTLD policies to be worked out and automated. However, we expect community-driven domains like .music, .sports and .film to become more available and accessible in the future.
What new gTLDs mean for your brand
Will new gTLDs impact search?
9 Things You Need to Know About ICANN’s New Top Level Domains