On Jan. 12 the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers opened up the Domain Name System to allow basically anything as a top-level domain. This means that you can now expect to see addresses with company names or other specialized words in the part after the dot.
You might, for example, see domains with .beer or .pizza. Or you might see company names such as .ford or .eweek. In fact, with a few exceptions and a few limits, you can find pretty much anything for a top-level domain. Until recently, TLDs were based on the type of site, such as .com or .edu, but that’s all changed with the introduction of generic top-level domains, or gTLDs.
The registration window for the new gTLDs closes March 29, 2012, and the last day for applications is April 12. You can find details on how to apply for a top-level domain of your choice on the organization’s Website, where the details of how this system works are clearly laid out. It’s worth reading.
One of the things you’ll find out is that the new gTLDs will make your life more complex. While it may be cool to have a top-level domain with your company’s name, it’ll cost you $185,000, unless you qualify for the reduced fee of only $47,000. So it’s not cheap. You also run the risk that someone else will register for your name before you do. For example, there’s nothing to keep the Ford modeling agency from getting a new .ford TLD before the Ford Motor Co. grabs it.
It may also be possible for your competitors or even people or companies with no connection to your company to buy your name just to keep you from using it or to perpetrate fraud in some way. While the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) promises not to let registrants take trademarks that aren’t theirs, there are a lot of questions about how this would actually be implemented.
Meanwhile, some companies are already starting to sign up for the new gTLDs. You can see a list, along with some well-thought-out descriptions of how it all works on The New gTLD Practical Guide, a site that appears to be sponsored by Go Daddy. The question is whether you should sign up as well. The answer-like so many things involving the Internet-is, well, it depends.
Overnight Brand Holders Have More Web Territory to Defend
A number of companies are signing up as a way to protect their brand. Domain name registrars are signing up hoping to attract sites for organizations with like interests, such as the .beer gTLD mentioned above. There are a growing number of registrations for causes such as HIV research or UNICEF. But in the case of branding, if you can afford to register your brand, you probably should. It will give you some branding advantages in the future, but perhaps more important, it will prevent others from using your brand in their TLD.
But there are things you have to worry about even if you’re not interested in registering a gTLD for your company or organization. The first is that you have to be sure your security systems and your Domain Name System (DNS) servers will be able to handle the new TLDs. While most modern firewalls, for example, can get updates that will allow them to recognize the new TLDs, not all can. Likewise, not all DNS server software will handle them properly, at least not without an update.
Part of the complexity that you’ll face is that this vast new number of allowed TLDs will also increase the chances of fraud, if only because people using the Internet won’t know for sure whether a site is good or not. For example, if you currently run a business called “Sam’s Store” then perhaps your Website is samsstore.com.
Because of the fame you’ve achieved from selling whatever it is that you sell at a fair price and with great support, you’ve developed a following. Now suppose someone opens a site with the name samsstore.store. And unlike you, they don’t offer great prices and their service isn’t up to your standard. What do you do about your customers that bought at the other site, and are now unhappy with you?
Even if the other site isn’t fraudulent, there’s still going to be confusion among your existing customers, not to mention potential customers who may try to find you using a search engine. How are they going to tell the difference? I think you can already see your marketing dollars starting to head out of your bank account.
The fact is, there are no easy answers to the problems of gTLDs. While they do offer a great opportunity for spreading the word about your brand if you can afford it, they also offer challenges. But regardless of whether you take advantage of the branding opportunities, the one thing that’s certain is that they will increase the complexity of doing business online.