When consumers first began using the Internet there were only a handful of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to choose from: .com, .org, .net, .info and a few others (this list does not include restricted TLDs, such as .edu, .gov, and .mil since they can only be used by specific types of organizations or registrants). While there have been attempts over time to increase the number of gTLDs, the efforts have not gone far, and the original—dotcom—remains the supreme leader.
A couple of years ago ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, decided to allow companies, individuals, and organizations to create more specific domain names around hobbies, industries, businesses, cities, and more, in the hopes that it will increase competition and choice for anyone hoping to create an online presence (https://www.eurodns.com/international-domain-names/icann-new-gtlds/faq/).
What gTLDs Offer that Dotcom Cannot
There are several key features that supporters of the new gTLD system like to point out. First, anyone who registers a gTLD owns and operates a critical part of the online world, and will be in charge of any and all domains that register using that gTLD. These are virtual pieces of real estate, and like physical property it can represent a potential money-making opportunity for those who wish to buy, sell, and lease domain registries to others. Other benefits include:
- Increased awareness and recognition for brands that register trademarked names.
- More targeted marketing and increased online branding using unique and specific domains.
- IDNs (Internationalized Domain Names) will allow for the use of non-Latin characters.
- Geographic, cultural, or community-based TLDs can help bring together like-minded groups and citizens for causes and social interactions.
- New gTLDs offer an opportunity to provide better products and services to consumers.
Currently there are close to 700 registered gTLDs in about 20 different categories (see the full list at www.newgtldsite.com/new-gtld-list). You can find broad TLDs such as “.medical” or more narrow ones such as “.[city name]”, and everything in between. The total number of gTLDs is projected to at least double, and could get much higher.
The Four Types of TLDs
There are a few different categories that new top-level domains will fit into, depending on what you want.
- General TLDs will be available for almost anyone to register with few restrictions. Examples of generic terms might include .movie or .furniture.
- Community TLDs will help raise awareness and rally support around a group or cause. The term “community” is not restricted to geographic areas, although you can get community-geographic TLDs with support of the local government in your geographic area. Other community examples could include religious groups, charities, or hobbies.
- Brand or trademark TLDs will be restricted to the companies or individuals who own the rights to the name, such as .Target, .Apple, or .Sony.
- Geographic TLDs are the final category for specific countries, cities, states, or even continents such as .Europe, .Paris, or .Texas.
There are also variations for TLDs in non-Latin languages, such as Mandarin, Cyrillic, Japanese, and Arab. Millions of applications have poured into ICANN for these domains, which are similar to Latin-based languages in terms of the available categories and potential extensions.
Many Consumers Not Ready to Switch
While the prospect of being able to target marketing, increase brand awareness, and encourage competition online is certainly intriguing for businesses and brands, recent statistics have shown that consumers still prefer dotcom over any of the new gTLDs. There are a variety of reasons that people have not been rushing to new TLDs, but often it boils down to the fact that consumers are familiar with dotcom, and worldwide brands have built a powerful presence around their .com websites.
In a 2012 interview Rob Grant, a “domainer millionaire” who buys and sells thousands of websites and domain names from his company WebMediaProperties.com, was confident that dotcom is not going away anytime soon. Its online presence—websites from the largest corporations to the smallest blogs—is undeniable. As with any strong brand, the introduction of several competitors often only confuses consumers and strengthens the one that everyone is familiar with (find details of his interview at http://www.thedomains.com/2012/07/23/rob-grant-on-the-new-gtlds-dot-com-will-always-win-the-horse-race/).
Almost by accident, companies and people have helped build and reinforce the power of dotcom. Billions of dollars in advertising have been spent on dotcom branding, with integrated campaigns across traditional media (television, print) and new media (web and social media) that solidify dotcom’s position at the top of the domain extension world.
It’s also important to remember that this is not the first time new domain extensions have been introduced. As the Internet has expanded over the years there have been other TLDs, such as .jobs, .museum, and .pro. While they don’t offer the same personalization and brand differentiation that the proposed new gTLDs will, they have not gained enough traction to overtake (or even compete with) dotcom.
There is a caveat to the potential for a dotcom challenger—Google spent millions for over 100 new extensions, as did Yahoo and Bing, and if search engines decide to prioritize new domain extensions over dotcom, that could give gTLDs a boost
Considerations for New gTLDs
There are a lot of other technical considerations that brands, companies, and organizations should consider before switching to a new gTLD. For example, there could be problems with website functionality when migrating from a .com to a .brand, search engines might have more difficulty indexing and identifying sites, and all the time spent creating reputable backlinks (which boosts SEO) will likely be lost. Brands should also consider whether their name would make a good extension by asking questions like:
- Is your name short enough to make it easy to remember?
- Are there similar extensions that might be easily confused with your .brand?
- If there are other similar registries, is it worth purchasing all of them?
- Can you manage the registry in a way that ensures it won’t become associated with “spam” sites?
Finally, consumers might just have difficulty finding your website since they are so used to the dotcom extension, which leads to decreased traffic and reduced conversions and sales. With all these potential pitfalls, the new extension might not offer enough value to give up on the branding that your current dotcom provides.
Since it first began the Internet has been changing and adapting to meet the needs and desires of its users. While the new gTLDs present an interesting opportunity for change, it may not be enough right now to push consumers toward this new frontier. Many companies are still waiting to see how it will play out before jumping headfirst into the fray.