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Vast landscape of new domains coming Feb 4

In all the years since the web sprung to life back in 1991, only a surprisingly small number of Top Level Domains (TLDs) have been available. TLD refers to the final characters that follow the dot in a domain name, such as .com or .org or .net. Countries have their own TLD, like .ca for Canada or .de for Germany. Although the USA always had .us as a country-specific TLD, the vast majority of websites have relied on a very small group of alternate TLDs. Of these, .com alone has expanded to encompass 111 million specific domain names, making up more than one third of all websites.

Anyone trying to create a new .com finds the process challenging because there’s simply nothing left. Even multiple-word combinations have been taken.

Anyone trying to create a new .com finds the process challenging because there’s simply nothing left

In 2000, a small number of additional TLDs were made available, then a few more in 2004. These included .biz (used by the Adwiz because of its catchy ring and because adwiz.com was already taken), .mobi, .name and .jobs.

Two factors influenced behavior

Unfortunately, these alternate extensions never really took off in the marketplace. There seem to have been two factors involved in the slow growth of non-.com domain names.

One is that most of the others, with the exception of .net and .org, came with a much higher price tag. For example, when first released, .mobi (intended for mobile websites) required an investment of over $100 annually per domain name compared to just $9 at the time for the .com version. That put it into a price range where the decision to proceed with several domain names required management discussion prior to purchase authorization.

Another reason, and the most important, is that people are creatures of habit. We are used to .com at the end of a domain name. We expect it! In fact, some browsers defaulted to filling in .com automatically when typing into the address bar, a practice that went on for many years and created user behavior that still exists today. Asking people to type something else can feel different and unexpected. While this isn’t necessarily a problem (adwiz.biz is easy to remember because it’s distinct), it causes many business people to think twice about the decision to go with a non-.com TLD.

All of that is about to change.

Biggest land grab in web history

In 2008, the world’s domain licensing authority, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), began the process of opening up the biggest land grab in Internet history. For a fee of $185,000 any company could put in a request to control a new TLD with an almost unlimited variety of characters.

Google, Amazon, Donuts and a number of other corporations jumped into the fray, each requesting hundreds of new TLDs. In June 2012, ICANN announced it had received a total of 1,930 applications for 1,410 unique domains from about 1,000 different entities. Of the 1,930 applications, 751 names are contested by 231 applicants, which in the case of non-trademarked names will be decided by auction.

A few of these have already been launched, but ICANN will release huge numbers on Feb 4, 2014. You’ll be able to choose from .baby, .mortgage, .ads, .web, .church, .cars, .earth, .film, .book and nearly 1,500 others.

What does this mean to your brand?

If earlier efforts to create alternate domains didn’t take off, why are people so positive about this one?

One reason is that the new TLDs will likely be priced much as .com is today. Most companies want their TLDs to become dominant and that can only happen when there is lots of demand.

The companies involved have paid out millions of dollars for the rights to offer these new domains and they intend to recover their costs and make a profit. The prices being charged for pre-release orders are already reflecting the profit motive. Some TLDs are going for $25 annually while others like .build are costing $99 per year. I have no doubt that some adjustments will take place after the initial rush begins, but this gives us some insight into how much money is potentially on the line here. Ownership isn’t everything — long term renewals are where the money really gets made, so it’s not just a matter of selling initial names but seeing them used. The .mobi failure taught an important lesson about long-term desire. The companies promoting these new TLDs have a vested interest in making sure that they generate serious desire to own and use them.

Another reason is that Google is also involved in the play for these new TLDs. The company has requested 101 new names. Google’s influence on the web is so vast that it often defines web behavior. Web designers and marketers make an effort to optimize websites to build on Google behavior, since that leads to increased visibility.

If Google has an interest in promoting alternate TLDs (as it does), then .com will gradually lose its influence over the web. Some of the TLDs Google has asked for include .store, .shop, .home and .free. You can be sure that Google will market these opportunities very aggressively and that none of these will suffer in search results. People will try to take advantage of this reality. Indeed, if you own a store you may eventually use storename.store as your primary domain name rather than storename.com because of real or perceived benefits in Google searches.

With Google owning an interest in alternate TLDs, then .com will gradually lose its influence over the web

According to Quartz, some experts think this is a dangerous idea: “I think there is some risk of confusing people. People have been trained to go to their banking websites only if it ends in .com or .co.uk and now if you get them to go to .secure or .bank it could create a false sense of security,” says David Ulevitch of OpenDNS, an internet infrastructure company that helps web users get to the right website.

Time will tell if these new TLDs will find the popularity these companies are expecting, but those in web marketing will be paying close attention. There is huge potential for growth with domain names like luxury.cars or kids.toys, and smart marketers will capitalize on the opportunity. Whatever happens, the web is about to change in a pretty significant way.

One thing is certain: If you’re in business, think strategically, before the best TLD for your brand is gone forever.

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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