We spoke to The Drum about the recent ICANN announcement regarding the extension of generic top level domains. This is a longer version of the Q&A for that article, and some thoughts on what the ICANN announcement could mean for ebusiness and the domain marketplace.

 

What will this change mean for big brands?

Big brands will have a decision to make. Is their current domain strategy adequate, should they move to a new .BRAND domain or should they simply reserve the domain to stop other companies potentially using it? A lot will depend on how the new domains are perceived by the public (and the search engines) and whether global brands think it’s worthwhile to redo 15+ years of domain management. For newer brands, the question will probably be easier to answer; I’d be surprised if .twitter and .google aren’t reserved in the first round of registrations.

What will this change mean for small brands?

Probably not much, at least in the short term. The high purchase price, plus low availability and strict criteria for gaining one of the new TLDs means that they will be out of the reach of most smaller brands. There will inevitably be some speculation around what are perceived to be profitable domain names but it seems that ICANN will try to heavily regulate the process to minimise the potential for domain squatting.

How will this change the way consumers interact with these brands?

Most users are used to seeing and interacting with a .com or country specific domain. In the early stages of uptake I think that companies will have to undertake some PR around their new “brand” domains and how customers can find them. Longer term, they may make be able to differentiate themselves from the marketplace by promoting their brand domain vs competitors.

What effect will this have on the wider Internet?

Due to the limited number of TLDs that ICANN say they are going to make available the overall impact will be minimised due to the fact that there simply won’t be a large number of brand domains around. The vast majority of sites will still operate from a .com or country TLD and that may in itself create a first mover advantage for the companies that invest in a brand domain. They will be able to market their new domain as being exclusive, and unique from the rest of the currently available extensions.

Where is the value in branded suffixes?

The obvious example is to be able to “own” a brand term, and clearly delineate subsets of that term. For example, if amazon purchase “.amazon” they could either create subdomains around country specific regions, e.g. uk.amazon, us.amazon, de.amazon or by genres, e.g. books.amazon, dvd.amazon, etc. Of course, they may decide that their current domain strategy is perfectly good and there’s no need to use .amazon, although it would be a surprise if they didn’t choose to reserve the option to purchase it.

What are the disadvantages?

For companies that have the means (and pass the criteria) to register a brand domain the biggest question will be how to use them. If they choose to replace their existing domain structure and strategy they will have to map the new brand domain across geo and core areas (or both).  While many brands will see the value in registering their own name or a term associated with their industry, most will have to decide how best to use the new domains, without any existing precedent. In addition, it’s unclear at this point how search engines will treat the new domains, although they shouldn’t cause any technical issues around crawling and ranking.

What is wrong with the existing suffixes? Surely these work as brands themselves and help to indicate a website’s function?

There’s nothing wrong with the existing domain suffixes, apart from the perceived higher value that .com has over TLDs on .biz or .info. Virtually all the valuable .com domains are now taken, which means that anyone starting a new business has to come up with a unique brand or purchase a domain name from its existing owner. The new domains won’t solve that issue, but they will provide an alternative route to market to the internet for bigger brands and large corporations. I think within the next 24 months we’ll be used to seeing major brands working from their own domain extension as a way of differentiating them from the “regular” .coms.

For the domain marketplace, the short term risk is the devaluing of .coms that are heavily brand orientated. However, the scarcity of the new domains, and the limited initial registration period means that valuable .coms and country specific domain names are likely to remain the prime internet addresses.

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