New Top Level Domains: Are They Needed or Not?

For most people, internet suffixes are not something that are given a great deal of thought, but they are part of life online. Wherever you are in the world, you can visit google.com to access the global page for the search engine, but there are numerous international variants available as well — google.co.uk for the UK, google.fr for France, google.cn for China. You probably don’t consider the existence of many suffixes or TLDs (top level domains) beyond a familiar handful.

Wherever you are in the world, .com is universally recognized, but each country has its own version as well. These are the addresses that most companies and individuals want to bag for their site — they are the ones that matter. Of course there are numerous other familiar TLDs: .org for charities and non-profit organizations, .gov for official governmental sites, but this is far from being the end of the story.

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There are also numerous slightly smaller TLDs: the likes of .biz, .me and .net. While these are all perfectly valid and fairly widely used, they do not have the clout of a .com or a country-specific URL. But if this list already seems lengthy, things are about to get even more complicated, particularly for businesses.

In order to protect a brand’s name it is quite common for companies to buy up TLDs in bulk. For example, microsoft.de redirects to the German Microsoft site, and microsoft.fr takes visitors to the French site. Consider the number of country-specific TLDs that exist and you can imagine that a business wanting to secure its name around the world has quite an administrative task on their hands — and quite a bill as well.

But if you thought things were difficult now, they’re just about to get a whole lot worse. Theoretically, the letters that make up a suffix can be anything you can think of, but this could lead to confusion and a chaotic market. A whole new batch of top level domains is to be released — everything from .music and .club to .hotel and .church — but are they needed, and do web users actually want them? The existence of a .dance domain will appeal to some, but there are a limited number of dance studios around the world looking to bag one.

A TLD for every occasion -- soon you'll be spoiled for choice.

A TLD for every occasion — soon you’ll be spoiled for choice.

A raft of companies involved in web hosting and domain registration are pushing the new top level domains, including 1&1 who have opened up reservations for the hundreds of TLDs that are to be unleashed. Over the next three years, more than 1,000 TLDs will become available, and reservations are important for anyone looking to secure the perfect domain.

I spoke with Richard Stevenson, Head of Corporate Communications at 1&1 Internet Ltd to get a better idea of the thinking behind the new TLDs and what it means for website owners.

Is the release of new gTLDs likely to result in a raft of new cybersquatting incidents? I’m sure there’ll be lots of people waiting to jump on Microsoft.web and Microsoft.shop for instance.

As with any new domain launch, many UK firms will be motivated to buy in order to protect themselves from cyber-squatting or infringement.  With such a large number of options, we recommend that businesses begin to think now about which new gTLDs could have most impact upon them.  There is certainly no need to panic – simply begin to research which domains would make sense to apply for in the short and long terms.

ICANN has brought many new rights protection tools into the new gTLD program.

Will there be any sort of preference given to existing owners of corresponding .com or .co.uk addresses or will it be first-come, first-serve?

Each new gTLD will have formal sunrise and land-rush phases in which copyright holders can submit their applications.  The ownership of a .com or .co.uk will not give a party any automatic preference in securing a new gTLD, rather every copyright owner will need to demonstrate their case.

Indeed, the protection of trademarks and copyrights is a cornerstone of the entire launch process.   ICANN has gone to great lengths with new procedures to make protecting trademarks easier for companies.  There is a new ‘Trademark Clearing House’, which provides a centralised vetting of trademarks that is applied to all new gTLD applications, and will surely make protecting a trademark easier for businesses.

Trademark protection mechanisms are also in place with the registries.  For example, for the first 90 days of a domain launch, ICANN requires registries to supply a Trademark Claims Period, in which certified trademark holders will be notified of any attempts to register their names – allowing them forewarning of any issue.

Are the TLDs that are being released based on research? For example, how much call is there for a .restaurant domain?

The individual registries have done a lot of research into the potential markets and relevance for their new gTLD offers. After all, it costs a lot of money to be a registry for a new gTLD.

Are there any indications of what prices are meant to be like and how long ownership last (is there a difference between different TLDs as there is being .co.uk and .com for instance)

We expect the new gTLDs to orientate their prices and registration cycles in line with existing TLDs, and so we expect pricing in the market to remain fairly consistent in the coming years.   The length of registration period will be decided on the individual registry provider, but in general we expect the new gTLDs to be in one year registration cycles, just as popular choices today like .com.  If you register through a large, expert domain provider such as 1&1, your domains will be automatically renewed for you each year so that they can never be ‘lost’ in error.

Is it just SMEs that are being targeted by the new TLDs or are there some that would be of more interest to individuals (like .me.uk)?

Absolutely, there are a number of consumer-related domains (such as .blog, .photos, .cool, .fun, .ninja) that are capturing consumers’ attention.  These will surely be used to enhance personal online identities, for blogs, personal websites, customised email etc.

Looked at cynically, this could be seen as a money-making campaign (what company is not going to want to buy every single TLD that is related to their name?). Is there a genuine demand or need for these new domains, or is it just a new option that it is hoped will be attractive to enough people?

We have been genuinely surprised by just how brisk UK demand has been for pre-orders of new gTLDs.  Our portal has received thousands of orders since launching on 1 July.

The creation of more than 1,000 new gTLD domains will mean a revolution in the way all of us identify websites.  Websites will now be able to leverage addresses relevant by theme — such as subject area, geographical location, website type, business sector etc.  The launch will mean a less crowded Internet, as there will be a far greater range of options for an Internet address.  For business owners, the result will be great new potential for capturing traffic and developing their digital branding.

For many new gTLDs, there will be significant interest from all around the world.  Businesses will now compete internationally for each domain and so awareness and timeliness from small business owners is critical.

I expect there to be a huge demand for local new gTLDs such as .London.  As SMEs are most often focussed on their local market, and local search engine results are vital to them, geographical domains like this will likely be an important consideration for them in the years ahead.

The new wider aspects of online identity that new gTLDs can deliver will be liberating – enhancements can be made with visibility, relevance to a subject, localisation, specialisation, and aspiration etc.

Practically speaking, a business will now be able to leverage different options for different website sections or audience types – corporate pages, product pages, and even optimise their brand positioning.

If several people pre-register the same domain, who gets it? How is this decided? How long will a reservation stand after TLDs are actually released?

Aside from applications made by trademark holders and the premium Landrush phase, all the new gTLD registrations are on a purely first come, first serve basis.  Before the launch, your provider will likely ask you to reconfirm our pre-order or pre-selection and provide payment details so that they can attempt the registration for you.  On the day of the launch of a new gTLD, providers such as 1&1 will submit their customers’ pre-registrations to the registries as quickly as possible.

It is therefore wise to pick a domain registrar who has global scale, technical systems and experience to enable a strong success rate in securing new gTLDs.

With the current climate surrounding policing the internet, blocking access to porn etc, could the new TLDs be used to correctly categorise websites so that all adult content could be grouped together? Are there any checks in place to see whether someone registering a .shop domain doesn’t use it for adult content?

Individual registries will have their own plans or policies around ensuring that a new gTLD is used for a relevant website.  Whilst I have not heard of any specific plans as yet, it is possible that a policy to block porn usage could well in time be adopted by some new gTLD registries, if this could enhance the gTLD reputation or safeguard search rankings for their domain holders.

 

What do you think of the new domains? Will you be snapping one up, or are you happy with a .com website? Let us know in the comments section below!


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