The internet is about to get a lot bigger. Whether you want to call it the “not-com revolution,” the “dot big bang,” the “digital real estate boom” or simply the beginning of domain names with personality, the .com’s 30 years of internet prestige may quickly be coming to a close.
During the next several months, over 1000 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will be introduced in a program targeted towards the internet users of the next 10, 20 and 30 years. For large brands, small businesses and everyone in between, the changes coming to the internet can have major implications, so it’s important to understand how to approach these new domain names.
What is the not-com revolution?
Until now, the internet has been largely confined to a few major domain names, the most notable of which are .com and .net. According to an industry brief by global domain name leader Verisign, these two gTLDs compromise more than 45% of the registrants that existed among all top-level domains at the end of 2014. Opportunities for .com addresses are so overcrowded, in fact, that approximately 70% of new requests for a web address are rejected.
Spearheaded by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the expansion of gTLDs will alleviate some of the congestion and allow for better web navigation, more competition among registrars and overall a better representation of the global nature of the internet. Specifically, the expansion will include:
The introduction of brand domains might qualify as the biggest transformation in the history of the web. Big brands like .google and .apple will soon be operating their own private internets that will simplify the experience for customers. A .apple domain might include sites like iphone.apple, itunes.apple and mac.apple that are far more specific and relevant than the existing namespace. According to Nao Matsukata, CEO of FairWinds Partners, “Brands are going to be the ones that ultimately turn the users into believers. In terms of full adoption of new gTLDs, the brands hold a very critical piece of it.”
Generic and community domains
New generic and community domains will help provide clues as to what internet users will find on a website. Domains such as .bank and .insurance will be intended for groups that share common interests or objectives. Generic domains, like .food and .shop, can include a wide array of terms, and will be more appealing to small business owners and the general public.
Jeff Davidoff, CMO of Donuts – a vendor of new, relevant and expressive internet domain names – explains that “there are now hundreds of new options – meaningful domain extensions like .FITNESS, .GURU and .PIZZA” that will give people the opportunity to be creative and authentic with their domain names.
The launch of new .city domains has allowed many of the world’s largest cities to apply for new offerings like .berlin, .london, .vegas and .nyc. Both .berlin and .nyc were ranked in the top 10 new gTLDs worldwide in March 2015. There will soon be a mix of official, business and private city domains that could include examples like weather.nyc, timessquare.nyc or taxi.nyc.
Coinciding with the launch of the gTLDs in 2015 are new internationalized domain names (IDNs). Currently, billions of internet users around the world cannot access the internet using characters in their native language. The new IDNs will be made up of non-Latin scripts, including Arabic, Cyrillic, Simplified Chinese and several others. According to Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s global domains division, the new domains will allow internet users in these countries “to use a single keyboard instead of having to use have dual keyboard when browsing the web.”
Even in the .com era, defense against cybersquatting has been a major consideration for digital brands. Defined as “the registering, selling or using of a domain name with the intent of profiting from the goodwill of someone else’s trademark,” cybersquatting is set to become an even larger concern with the proliferation of new gTLDs. Former Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz said, “online criminals could use the new domains to create countless fake websites designed to simulate the sites of legitimate businesses.”
Other brands see the domain name explosion as costly, exploitative and bound to cause consumer confusion. When ICANN began to accept applications from businesses that wanted to create specialized domains, interested parties had to put up as much as $185,000 in application fees. Brands need to also make a decision as to whether early adoption of new gTLDs is worthwhile, given the low level of awareness among internet users and the declining use of domain names as a direct entry point to websites. According to an eMarketer report, time spent on social platforms and mobile devices globally gives brands good reason to question whether dedicating resources to utilizing new gTLDs is worthwhile.
On the positive side, brands will now have the opportunity to acquire premium domain names at manageable prices. For instance, if a car dealership wanted to create the site cars.com, they would have a tough time acquiring that domain. With the new gTLDs, they can create a domain like cars.sales or cars.dealer which are also more specific and targeted than a .com address. The ability to quickly respond to new trends in a unique way is another reason why brands are getting excited about domain expansions. Having the control to quickly put up a page that isn’t buried inside a website’s .com space will allow brands to use gTLDs for real-time marketing purposes.
Impact on search
As new domain names become available, one question on the top of mind for marketers and advertisers is to what extent they will influence organic search rankings. Google representatives have repeatedly stated that using the new gLTDs will not give an inherent ranking advantage, yet more than 70% of executives in China polled by global domain marketplace Sedo believe that gTLDs will change how search engines present results.
Ultimately, it is not very likely that there will be a change in how search engines rank results in the beginning, instead continuing to reward high-quality content. In 2012, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, responded to questions about gTLDs in search by stating: “Google has a lot of experience in returning relevant web pages, regardless of the top-level domain (TLD). Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either.”
Donuts CMO Davidoff provided an alternate view during a recent interview with eMarketer, explaining that a Google algorithm does not distinguish words to the left or right of the dot, so “Fitness,” being a word that means something, may be more beneficial from a search perspective than “.com,” which does not.
One way or another, the launch of new gTLDs will have a widespread impact, requiring all internet users to adapt. Though large brands were the primary participants in the first round of applications, we’re still in the early days of the not-com revolution. As more companies become familiar with all of the new and exciting options available, they will face the question of whether to invest – a decision that needs to be made in a strategic way.
Latest posts by Tzvi Grosman (see all)
- Weekly Roll-Up: Week of Sept 24-30 - Friday Sep 30, 2016
- Weekly Roll-Up: Week of August 13-19 - Friday Aug 19, 2016
- Catalyst’s Nina Soboczynski and Caroline Canlas Receive 2016 Google Search Excellence Awards - Friday Jun 10, 2016