On your marks: getting set for new gTLDs

30-04-2012

Kate Hutchinson

On your marks: getting set for new gTLDs

ICANN’s new gTLD programme opened for applications on January 12, 2012, and more than 100 organisations have already registered to apply for new domain extensions or ‘strings’.

ICANN’s new gTLD programme opened for applications on January 12, 2012, and more than 100 organisations have already registered to apply for new domain extensions or ‘strings’. Kate Hutchinson investigates the key details.

Some organisations have planned to apply for multiple strings under the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) programme, while some are focusing on just one. Online speculation as to how many applications there will be have ranged from hundreds to thousands. With the looming possibility of so many new gTLDs entering the existing domain name space, many companies are at a loss as to how to adjust their domain portfolios to accommodate this influx.

While the full list of applications to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is not yet available, many applicant groups have announced their intention to apply. A comprehensive list can be found online at http://uniteddomains.com/newgtlds. The path to approval will be lengthy, but ICANN’s timeline shows that the earliest new gTLDs could be available in the first quarter of 2013.

It is useful to think of the new domains as falling into the following five categories: geographic, functional, interest, community and causes.

Geographic

As the name implies, this category includes new gTLDs based around a geographic region or location. Announced applications include .bayern (Bavaria), .nyc (New York City), .london (London), .paris (Paris), and .quebec (Quebec).

Functional

Functional TLDs are a more innovative use of domains, putting the site’s use right in the URL. Examples of functional TLDs include .shop (e-commerce or shopping sites), .bank (banking and fi nance sites), .secure (secure soft ware sites), and .radio (online radio stations).

Interest

This is a group of TLDs that appeal based on an activity or hobby. Some of the proposed interest TLDs are .bike (bicycles), .horse (equestrian interests), .wine (for oenophiles), and .sport (for fans of all sports).

Community

While the official ICANN Applicant Guidebook uses ‘community’ to refer to any non-geographic TLD, this category refers to proposed TLDs that rely heavily on a community usage. In this group, you’ll find .eco (ecological community), and .gay (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community).

Causes

A handful of new gTLD applications are targeting funding for causes, such as supporting non-profit organisations, or raising funding for specific causes. In this category are .ngo (nongovernmental organisations) and .hiv (funding for HIV/AIDS research).

With this perspective on new gTLDs in mind, the next step is for companies to consider which, if any, of these new gTLDs has a bearing on their online strategy.

Aligning company goals with new gTLDs

A simple rule about the new gTLDs that all brands and companies should keep in mind is that, for the most part, new gTLDs are not meant to compete with .com domains. It is a completely generic name at this point and tells a visitor nothing about a site’s content. So it will not be necessary for a company to register its brands and marks across every new gTLD.

“THE SUCCESS OF ANY NEW gTLD WILL BE DETERMINED BY USE; IN THE PAST, MANY DOMAINS HAVE BEEN LAUNCHED AND THEN IMMEDIATELY SATURATED BY SPECULATIVE BUYERS WHO NEVER DEVELOP THEM.”

What your company should consider is how it communicates its online presence, and which new gTLDs will help promote that online presence. For some companies, there will be obvious synergies. For example, companies in the hospitality industry may have an alignment with the .hotel TLD, and vineyards would see the benefits of registering a .wine domain. Conversely, companies should consider what new gTLDs would be a poor fit for their online mission: a .bank domain would be useless to an architecture firm, for example.

Cause-based domains could help companies communicate corporate social responsibility, such as a company making efforts towards good environmental practice promoting its work on a .green domain.

Most promising of all to corporate marketers are geographic TLDs, which not only provide valuable keyword inclusion in domain names, but also point consumers to a site with local ties. Does your company have multiple offices? Consider adding the localised TLD for your company name to your portfolio.

Developing new domains

Once you have selected the relevant domain extensions to add to your portfolio, the next step is to develop those domains into working sites. The success of any new gTLD will be determined by use; in the past, many domains have been launched and then immediately saturated by speculative buyers who never develop them.

To maximise the investment of expanding your domain portfolio, you should plan to develop those names, in line with the purpose of the TLDs. Consider the boost to search engine ranking for domains that contain relative keywords to the right of the dot, directing leads and customers to a company’s targeted website.

Just as companies now incorporate social media into their online strategies, in the future they will need to incorporate a place for new domains. If you purchase a .eco domain, you can build content promoting the ecologically-friendly practices of your company. Assigning a purpose to each new domain is a key part of developing your online strategy.

Defensive registrations

Opponents of the new gTLDs have frequently stated that the programme will force companies to register untold numbers of new domains to protect their brands and marks. But the structure of ICANN’s programme makes it clear that this will not be necessary. For one thing, the establishment of a Trademark Clearinghouse is designed to protect the rights of trademark holders. And second, many new gTLDs will have restrictions on who can register their domains in order to meet their objectives.

According to Carolyn Hoover, chief executive of dotCOOP, the registry for .coop domains, launched in 2002, when asked if she had encountered any issues with companies looking to register .coop domains defensively, “.coop domains are allotted only to cooperative organisations, so they are not a candidate for purely defensive registrations”.

“We did initially have some organisations that tried to push us on this. In almost all cases, these potential registrants were not eligible cooperatives and were, I assume, trying to test our verification process. So they were rejected because they were not eligible,” she said.

However, if you identify some new gTLDs that your company does not want to be associated with, a defensive registration may make sense. The Huffington Post and The Washington Post both had their names cyber-squatted after the launch of the .xxx domain in the last quarter of 2011. While the merits of blocking a .xxx domain are obvious, companies should examine the list of applicants to ensure that they don’t overlook any domains that they may want to keep out of the hands of third parties.

On the surface, the proposition of hundreds or thousands of new gTLDs could be unsettling, but by taking a measured approach and analysing the options available you can prepare for these changes and their impact on your domain portfolio in advance. As with any business asset acquisition, researching the options is an important step in the consideration process. Having a strategy in place in advance of the new gTLD launches will be a major advantage for any corporation.

Kate Hutchinson is the marketing and social media manager at United Domains (www.uniteddomains.com) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She can be contacted at: kh@ud.com

This article was first published on 01 May 2012 in World IP Review

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