The internet is currently having a major makeover. Thousands of new top level domain names, otherwise referred to as TLDs, are now being rolled out by the governing body responsible for maintaining the functionalities of the Internet (ICANN) after years of talkfests and unfulfilled deadlines.
These changes have important implications for online marketing and brand management, so here is a summary of the things you need to know.
1. What do the TLD changes mean?
Right now there are only 22 gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains). These include the ones we’re all familiar with:
- .org and
(These are apart from the geographic TLDs such as .au, .uk, .de, etc.)
Soon there will be THOUSANDS of new gTLDs, including the following examples:
…along with many, many more.
This means that instead of millions of businesses around the world rushing to try to register a .com, there will now be a multitude of alternative options to choose from.
These new domains will seem strange for consumers at first, but inevitably they will soon become accustomed to typing in these new and very different internet addresses.
In addition, larger brands will have the opportunity to register their own TLDs. So soon you can expect to internet addresses such as:
…or even one-word addresses such as “westpac”, “hyundai” or “monash” (now already being used by Monash University).
2. What new TLD opportunities are there for my marketing?
This of course will depend on the market your business is chasing. For example, if you make special surfboards you’d like to sell all over the world, you might like the idea of having your website at myboards.surf. Or perhaps you own an online store selling skincare products but it has been impossible to register skincare.com or skincare.net, you might now try to register skincare.shop or skincare.store. There might be some debate around the SEO advantages of such a domain strategy, but I’m a firm believer this will help your website to be found more easily.
The key question is whether you would like to promote your business to international markets or Australians only.
If you would prefer to confine your business activities to Australia then I see no reason to give the new domains another thought. Having a dot-au on the end of your web or email address will continue to be the preferred option for Australian consumers.
If, however, you have any plans at all to reach out to international markets, you need to give these changes some serious consideration.
3. Should I consider registering new domains for the future?
There are plenty of stories around of entrepreneurs who have made small fortunes by having the foresight to register dot-com domains during the early stages of the internet, then on-selling them for hundreds of thousands or even millions. No doubt those speculative opportunities will be around for the future, but unless you know this world intimately, my advice is that this sort of speculation is best left to those who know what they’re doing. This whole scene has become a lot more complicated.
For regular business operators thinking of improving or adding to their existing internet addresses, there may now be opportunities to pick up much better domains for future use. Particularly if they have been frustrated by not being able to register preferred titles in the past or are dissatisfied with an existing cumbersome domain which may be too long or too ambiguous.
However I’m predicting the vast majority of Australian businesses are going to find their best option will be to stick with their good old .com.au. There are a number of reasons for this which I will discuss soon in my next blog.
4. How can I protect our brand name?
Actually, this is a really important issue and the answer is not one you’re probably going to like.
The short answer is that you will NOT be able to protect your brand name from being registered elsewhere around the world unless you can afford to pay a LOT of money to register a LOT of new domains or set up your very own TLD.
Here’s the longer answer:
The best way to explain this is to use an example. Let’s assume you have a manufacturing business making a niche product called Splendiferous. You’ve sold these Splendiferous products around the world for years and you’ve done all the right things in registering the name as a trademark in Australia and even in some of your overseas markets.
My recommendation would be that you consider registering a few new domains for future opportunities to expand your web presence internationally. So you might register with ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse (more explanation on that coming up) to give you first dibs at securing domains like splendiferous.shop or splendiferous.web. That way you have a better chance of owning domains which could become useful in the future. However, there will be so many new TLDs being released in coming years, the chances are there will be other businesses registering domains such as splendiferous.systems or splendiferous.sale.
If you represent a multinational with deep pockets, you might consider registering “splendiferous” as your very own TLD. Then you could establish any number of second level domains such as shop.splendiferous or sale.splendiferous. Your email addresses could be john@splendiferous and everyone would learn that if there are any more letters added to the end of the web or email address, it’s not likely to be authentic. But the cost of this is quite prohibitive – about $180,000 registration and then a further $25,000 each year for the administration fee. And that’s not including the cost of getting the lawyers or agents to conduct the laborious administrative processes for you!
5. How do I go about registering a new domain name on one of the new TLDs?
The easy way would be to get somebody like me to help you with this or, if you have a larger budget, you might talk to your local patent attorney. The process is going to be quite a lot more complicated than picking up a dot-com from the likes of Godaddy.com.
Right now a large number of aspiring domain registrars are jostling to own the rights to new Top Level Domains. ICANN have invited 989 applicants to contract with them, but there are probably thousands more in the pipeline. Many of these registrants will have differing processes and requirements for people like you or me to register a new domain with them.
There are third party providers offering preregistrations, but you’d be ill-advised to pay for such a preregistration because there will be no guarantee of them being able to actually secure the domain for you.
If you plan to secure new domains for your registered brand (an example could be slatters.shoes) then the process will be to register the brand name (in this case “Slatters”) with ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse. You will then be notified when the new TLD (“shoes”) becomes available (in this case, probably in May 2014). As part of the initial phases of launching each new TLD there will be a 30-day sunrise period where trademark owners will be offered first dibs to register their trademark under each new TLD.
6. What’s the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) and should I register?
The Trademark Clearinghouse (http://trademark-clearinghouse.com/) is ICANN’s database of verified trademarks which has been set up in the hope of providing some sort of protection to trademark owners in the new era of the expanded domain name system.
If you hope to register a business name which you have not registered with IP Australia, then this isn’t an option for you.
However if you are after a new domain containing your trademarked brand name, then you’d be advised to register with the TMCH. That way you’ll get the first go to register the domain of your choosing (assuming it’s a registered trademark) when each new TLD becomes available, although you might face competition if another business has registered the same trademark in another country.
Another possible advantage is you will be notified if anybody else applies to register your trademark on another new TLD during its initial sunrise period. As pointed out above, however, with a veritable flood of new TLDs expected soon, you’d be hard pressed to keep track of these new registrations
The cost of registering your trademark with the TMCH is quite reasonable, starting at $150 a year. Be warned, however, that the process is long and tedious. You’ll also be asked for proof of your trademark registration.
The introduction of a vast number of new domain names is already upon us. This will have profound implications for future online marketing opportunities.
If your online marketing is reaching out beyond Australia, or you plan to do so one day in the future, then you need to move quickly to stake your claim within the flood of new domains that are now becoming available.
If you have suffered frustrations in the past in not being able to register your preferred domain name, you now have a huge amount of new opportunities to consider, but be quick.
If you are concerned about securing your registered brand name globally, life has become a lot more complicated and you need to start staking your claim as soon as possible.
If you are happy with your .com.au or .net.au and you aren’t looking to extend your activities beyond Australia, you don’t have anything to worry about. However I would love to see the authorised registrars for dot-au (auDA) introduce new Second Level Domains such as .shop.au or .hotel.au or state-based .sa.au or .nsw.au, but that’s another topic for another blog.