The ‘rules’ of the Internet have been well established for quite some time. Each of us goes about our online lives safe in the knowledge that we have a pretty good idea of which sites are ‘good’ and those that are ‘bad.’ And yet every now and then, something happens that turns all our perceptions upside down.
This time it is The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), decision to lift the restrictions on Generic Top Level Domain Names (gTLDs), clearing the way for branded web extensions to become a reality. The application process opened on 12 January and after months of debate, we’re about to find out exactly what this will mean for the Internet and its users. (You can read CBR’s original news story here)
So, how are things going to play out? Well the facts are that securing a branded domain extension name is not cheap. Each application costs an eye watering $185,000. On top of that successful applicants will need to invest in their infrastructure to demonstrate to ICANN that they can run each registry. The regulatory guidelines that sit behind doing this are extensive, and rightly so. Companies will need to offer fraud protection, brand protection and technical support as a bear minimum. For many of the ‘super brands’ that are expected to apply, this sits far outside of their core business activities and understandably some are nervous that if they secure their domain a bumpy road lies ahead. ICANN takes its obligations very seriously and will be paying close attention – there will be no tolerance of slip ups.
Apart from the cold, hard statistical facts the new gTLDs are expected to bring with them some significant changes. Regarding what those changes actually are, right now no one can say for certain. Looking back at the implementation of previous top-level domain names, they’ve been implemented with varying success. For those that have succeeded such as .co and .me (Yahoo bought me.me), the critical factors have been cost and trust. And it will be these two elements again that will determine the future of the new gTLDs.
The price of the branded web extension rules most companies out of the running. You’d expect only the world’s largest brands to participate and yet mega brands such as Pepsi have already said that they won’t be participating. Perhaps when you consider the ongoing support of administering the domain and then the additional investment required in educating customers to change their behaviour, it’s not surprising. And then on top of this there is the underlying cost of overhauling all marketing communications. At a time when consumer spend is being squeezed, brands can’t afford to make seemingly frivolous decisions.
But if they don’t register for the domain, what does it mean for the brand? With more and more top-level domain name regulations being relaxed, what domains do brands build value in? And if the new gTLDs are successful, does that mean that their domain identity becomes irrelevant and instead they find themselves in an SEO war with competitors as they battle to be top of the Google rankings? In a recent Nominet survey, the organisation found that 49% of people search for a company via a search engine and then click onto the supplied link. But would they click if it was a .music URL instead? Or would they view the link as suspicious? And that in essence is the great unknown of the new gTLDs – how will consumers react to them?
One thing is for sure – the introduction of new gTLDs is certainly going to be closely followed. If successful, the way we interact and engage with brands will be fundamentally changed forever. All our previous preconceptions will fly out of the window. Whilst no one can predict right now what the outcome will be, the move to relax the rules on gTLDs shows that ICANN believes that the Internet has a lot more innovation and opportunity to offer. And that can only be a good thing.