".Anything" Goes

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Kathy Nielsen, head of business development, new gTLDs, Sedo
Kathy Nielsen, head of business development, new gTLDs, Sedo

The Internet as we have come to know it will soon be dramatically changing. In a few months new domain extensions will be introduced and used alongside the ones everyone is already accustomed to, such as .com, .net and .org. The Internet's governing body, ICANN, has accepted nearly 2,000 applications for new “generic Top-Level Domains” (gTLDs), which include terms like .shoes, .music, and .app, as well as brand-specific applications for extensions like .Nike, .Ford and .Macys.

While .com web addresses will likely remain most popular for the foreseeable future, gTLDs are uncharted territory—no one knows exactly what the ultimate outcome will be. Will these new gTLDs become more popular than .com?  Will they fail to capture interest? Will they catch on in specific areas or industries? (It's not a stretch to think of the entertainment industry jumping at the chance to use .movie or .music addresses.)

Regardless, uncertainty is no excuse to be unprepared. Marketers need to understand that this change is indeed coming—and start planning now.

So the next obvious questions are “How does this affect me?” and “Why should I care?” 

Changing how consumers find goods

Let's start off with the ability of consumers and businesses to find your products and services. I'm not talking search engine optimization (SEO) here, but rather the fact that under the current system, people expect to find the best information about brands and products at a .com address.

The new gTLDs, however, have the potential to forever alter that. If a consumer is looking for information on golf shoes, they might try golf.shoes rather than navigating to a popular shoe company or sporting goods store's .com address and trying to find their way from there. If they want restaurants in Boston, they might navigate to restaurants.boston rather than doing a general Google search.

From that point of view, if these addresses do indeed take off, marketers will want to be on top of registering their companies, products and services at the relevant addresses. If .shoes becomes a popular extension, for example, then no one wants to be the only shoe company without a .shoes address, or the company that loses their ideal address to a competitor.

Availability and cost

These new extensions also create an opportunity to secure and build a new and memorable web address that helps you market to consumers and drive your business to new heights. For the first time since the initial .com launch, businesses have the chance to create an address that sticks in the mind of consumers—this time using the space on both the left and right sides of the dot. Google recently made a move in this direction with its Chrome Cast product announcement, opting for ChromeCast.tv as its homepage rather than ChromeCast.com. It's an exciting opportunity, and who knows, maybe the next successful movie news website or book sharing site is as close as a summerblockbuster.movie or used.book address.

Some of the most memorable Web addresses haven't been available since the early days of the Internet and e-commerce.  With the launch of new gTLDs, there will be far more options available to companies and marketers—and they could end up being less expensive than their .com equivalents. No longer will companies have to change their launch strategy or marketing plans because the ideal address isn't available, costs too much, or is being held by an enthusiastic fan who bought wonderwoman.com in 1999 and refuses to give it up for anything less than a screenwriting credit.  Small businesses and startups can benefit greatly from the increased possibilities and lower costs. The .com address you want may not be available or the secondary market cost might be prohibitive—preventing you from owning cornerpocket.com, but letting you easily set up shop at cornerpocket.pool.

Of course, the traditional TLDs like .com or .net may still make sense for many applications and businesses—and there is a thriving aftermarket where marketers can purchase them—but the new gTLDs will offer more options and inventory to choose from. Choice is good in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of the Internet.

SEO benefits

These new gTLD addresses will likely be good for website SEO, as well. Search engines reward quality content, and content is likely to be more relevant on new gTLD domains due to their more specific, descriptive nature (.Boston, .shoes, .music, etc.). Companies purchasing a .ski address, for example, will likely have content dealing with skiing. We may also see a rise in “search by extension” features on search engines as consumers become accustomed to searching .hats or .books sites when looking for those items instead of using a traditional, general search—which will significantly change how goods and services need to be marketed to Web users.

Protection

Along with the greater availability of names also comes the worry that companies will have to once again be vigilant to prevent their trademark from being used unprofessionally or by a competitor. If Nike is marketing Nike.shoes for example, it doesn't want a competitor or troublemaker scooping up a similar name like Nikes.shoes to divert traffic to another site.  That's where ICANN's Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) comes into play.

This is a database that ICANN recently launched as a rights protection mechanism. The TMCH does two things for those who register with it. First, it gives them priority during the “sunrise” period of each new domain extension. This is a period of 30 days or more where trademark holders have the ability to register domains before they're available to the general public. The second, and perhaps more important, function of the TMCH is called the Trademark Claims Service. This is basically an alert service that will notify consumers if they try to register a domain name that includes a registered trademark in the TMCH database.  And to help registered brands proactively protect themselves, they'll be notified too.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that the way people find goods and services on the Internet is going through a dramatic change in the coming months. Whether these new addresses are immediately successful or take a while for mainstream acceptance, they have the potential to forever change the way consumers navigate the Internet.

Organizations that market their goods and services need to be cognizant of this change and begin mapping out what opportunities these new domains bring to the table—and how they can take advantage of the new addresses to better reach consumers, stand out from the competition, and drive increased sales.

Kathy Nielsen is head of business development, new gTLDs, at Sedo


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