In less than a year we are likely to start to see a plethora of new internet address endings to rival the likes of the familiar world of .com and .co.uk.
After years of planning, months of form-filling, and some delays, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the global body that oversees Internet domain names – could be set to approve some of more than 1,900 applications for a whole new set of Internet address endings known as generic top level domains (gTLDs) such as .nike, .bbc and .apple.
This shift in the foundations of the Internet aims to offer greater choice, encourage competition and stimulate innovation. The lion’s share of applications have been submitted by early adopting global brands looking to secure their trademarks (such as Amazon, Google, Apple et al) and so called ‘generics’ such as .shop, .web, .cash, many of which are backed by venture capital or competing brands. With just over 1% of applications from UK corporations, have the earlier adopters stolen a march on their competition? Will we see further innovation in the way businesses leverage their domain names? How fertile is the ground for a possible second round of applications?
The expansion has been a long time coming and of around 40 applications from the UK, 25 have been made by British brands. A recent Nominet survey amongst UK businesses also indicates that 41% were unaware of the changes. This is perhaps not surprising given that although ICANN has worked hard in promoting the benefits and opportunities to the domain name system industry, awareness of the programme outside of the industry and interest levels in domain name suffixes amongst UK business are relatively low.
According to research commissioned by Nominet, 61% of British businesses with websites have no plans to buy any more domain names while one in five plan to keep their existing domains and buy additional ones. For new gTLD applicants, this highlights the opportunity and the challenge in explaining the benefits of a new domain name.
It is likely the first time that most businesses and internet users will become aware of the new gTLD programme, and start to consider their choices, is when successful applicants begin to open for customers during anticipated pre-registration awareness and sales campaigns, or when brands start to roll-out their own TLD in their own marketing and customer experience initiatives.
For new gTLD operators, as well as established gTLD’s and ccTLD’s reacting to a new market context, the challenge will be in creating genuine consumer value. There is a lot in a name and those few letters at the end of the web address do count in terms of customer decision making. Almost two thirds of British businesses said their domain name is important to their brand while our annual research, revealed increasing levels of trust and preference for .UK domain names when searching for products and services online. For the newcomers, creating this value will require careful attention to consumer needs, innovative business and policy models, as well as industrious ways of marketing in a category that has to date been reasonably static. If this can be achieved a second round of applications could be well seeded.