With big changes afoot online, now may be the perfect time to take another look at your domain name portfolio, as Stuart Fuller explains.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, ICANN will start on the programme to revolutionise the Internet. I had hoped to say evolution rather than revolution in that first sentence, but recently the brakes have been put on the programme following concerns over the security and stability of the current Internet infrastructure, which may mean some significant changes to the way things work.
These changes will not be an evolution of what we have today, so my use of the red flag-waving ‘r’ word is deliberate. This further delay has not surprised the many brand holders who have experienced a number of false dawns in what is expected to be the biggest ever change to the way we use the Internet.
The current delays do, however, give brand holders an opportunity to catch their breath and assess their domain name strategies before we embark on a programme that may see up to 20 new domain name suffixes introduced every week over the next three years.
If monitoring the use and misuse of vital digital online assets is hard today, imagine what these changes will mean for brand holders. In a recent study of IT managers in the UK, NetNames found that 60 percent of companies had no formal strategy in place for the monitoring of online brand abuse, be that simple domain cyber or typosquatting, or advanced counterfeit and piracy monitoring. That’s a worrying statistic when the landscape is about to change so dramatically.
Domain name abuse has been a thorn in the side of brand holders for many years and, with up to 600 new unrestricted domain suffixes soon to be launched, the need to have a formal approach is greater than it has ever been. Unless a brand is aware of what options are open to it today, how can it plan for tomorrow?
Nobody is expecting brand holders to rush out and register every combination of their key digital assets in all 600 open generic top-level domains (gTLDs)—such an approach would be foolhardy, incredibly difficult to administer and, above all, prohibitively expensive.
However, some thought now as to which gTLDs will be key to a brand will save significant time, trouble and money in the near future. The use of the services of a Trademark Clearinghouse agent will also greatly assist in the protection of digital assets, whereby a brand holder can use the sunrise period for each open gTLD to protect its IP, either through a standard registration or, where available, a blocking non-resolving gTLD.
The new gTLD programme should be an opportunity for every brand holder to assess its existing portfolio and how it is being utilised. Recently, working with a new client, we found that more than 50 percent of its existing domain name portfolio didn’t resolve to a valid website. Their domain name provider had happily taken annual fees but provided little guidance in ensuring those assets were being ‘sweated’, as my learned accountant friends would say.
Over the years we have all been given advice around the latest ‘trend’ in domain registrations. Whether this be from Google, keen to improve its algorithm (which ultimately is kept a secret to ensure it maximises the revenue from sponsored ads), or from search engine optimisation (SEO) gurus, brand holders have followed advice in registering domain names.
The age of the double (or even quadruple) hyphen is long gone. Some ‘vanity’ country code TLDs, such as .tv, .dj or .fm, are now treated in a completely different way by Google but the rest, in most cases, are simply irrelevant. As web users, we have all become programmed to think dot com or bust, so the idea of investing in .la, .us or .nu hasn’t really benefited a brand in those local markets.
Yet, despite these registrations falling out of fashion, our domain name portfolios are littered with the memories of yesteryear. We think nothing of clearing the clutter from our desks once in a while, yet we dare not touch our domain portfolio—just in case. Granted, cybersquatting and subsequent traffic diversion is a growing problem, but do you still need to worry about consumers being confused between mybrand.com and mybrand.aq?
In addition, popular browsers such as Firefox and Chrome allow us to search within the browser bar, meaning that the results we are presented with from a search are tailored to our location. So unless we are in a permanent scientific camp on Antarctica there is no reason why .aq will come up in the most relevant results.
Now is as good a time as ever to start preparing a domain strategy that will enable you to remove the domain names from within your portfolio that serve no purpose and incur a cost. Again, using a term from my friends in finance, ‘you need to dispose of assets that give you no recurring return on investment’.
A proper strategy
A domain name strategy isn’t just about determining which domain names you should delete. It should be a living document that governs the way you handle your digital assets today and especially tomorrow, when the new gTLD programme gathers momentum. The five key elements of a strategy should encompass:
4. How; and
What are the key brands, trademarks, word marks, slogans and geographies that you should by default hold registrations for? What happens if you have gaps in your portfolio at the moment? What action should you take against clear cybersquatters? What monitoring should you have in place for domain name abuse?
When should you register these domains and in what state? Should they be active registrations, blocking registrations or defensive? Should you use your trademark to register in the sunrise phase or take the risk to wait until the land rush?
"Cybersquatting and subsequent traffic diversion is a growing problem, but do you still need to worry about consumers being confused between mybrand.com and mybrand.aq?"
Why should you hold certain domain names and why you should delete others?
How should the domain names resolve? Should they all be using permanent redirects? Should all country code domain names forward to a single gTLD, such as .com, if there is no ‘in-country’ presence? How do we register a name? How do we determine whether we should keep a domain name?
Who is responsible for registering domain names? Who is the technical contact? Who is the billing contact? Who should authorise any domain name changes?
This list is not exhaustive. It should be a starting point, with all the stakeholders along with your domain name management company answering the questions and filling in the blanks.
Not only will the domain name strategy give you the reasons for retaining the key names in your portfolio, it also provides justification for a good spring clean. Think of it as an MOT for your digital assets, a once a year exercise in reflecting on the contents of your portfolio, while also looking forward at the opportunities the future will bring.
Never has this statement been so true: evolution is defined as a positive development of an idea, a concept of state. What better way to welcome the evolution of the web than starting with your own small slice of the Internet.
Stuart Fuller is Director of Communications and NetNames. He can be contacted at:
This article was first published on 01 September 2013 in World IP Review
ICANN, domain names, gTLD, trademark clearing house,