Everything Brands Need to Know About the Benefits of New Top-Level Domains.
For two decades, the Internet has known just 22 top-level domain names (TLDs). You know them as the last part of Internet addresses, for instance, .com, .net or .org.
Beginning in 2012, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulatory body for domain names opened up applications so that any organization (or individual with $185K to cover the fee) could get their own TLD and a bigger piece of the Internet. .Citibank, .kmpg and .nyc are just three of hundreds of examples.
How will this change the rules of online engagement for consumers, brands, marketers and IT teams? Neustar teamed up with experts including Google, ICANN Wiki and marketing agency Pappas Group to answer some of the questions businesses are asking.
What are the benefits of a new TLD?
New brand TLDs offer a unique and significant opportunity to drive brand affinity, build trust, enhance security and engage customers.
The benefits of activating your brand TLD include:
Put Your Brand in Bright Lights
No matter how catchy your domain name is, anything ending with dot com is necessarily another “dot com.” The fact that we instinctively think of this suffix shows how hard it is to stand out by using it. With a branded TLD, e.g. www.offers.yourbrand, every listing of your web address becomes a brighter billboard helping you compete more effectively in the marketplace.
Build Trust in Your Brand
A brand TLD gives your customers a guarantee they’re on an authentic website. It’s peace of mind in an age of phishing, scamming and lookalike sites that try to defraud customers by stealing personal information.
In a survey-based report on new TLD consumer preferences, Fairwinds Partners, a domain name consulting and digital strategy firm, shares why users will trust .brands:
“Survey participants exhibited a strong preference for navigating to .BRANDs when given the choice between .BRANDs and .GENERICS,” says Fairwinds.
“Consumers are likely to embrace brand name gTLDs without too much hesitation and will expect to find relevant content there. Brand owners should keep this in mind as they roll out their new gTLDs to ensure that Internet users will find the content they are looking for when they begin navigating to .BRAND gTLDs.”
Your brand’s credibility and your customer’s trust will increase with a .brand website that has valuable and relevant content.
Make Your Brand Accessible
Running a new campaign or customer event? Goodbye odd names, long names, and awkward juxtapositions; adios www.mybrand.com/salesmarathon; hello, brand-specific, product-directed, customer- friendly alternatives that make instant sense. Imagine going from canon.com to printer.canon, camera.canon, and of course, shop.canon. For the company, it’s easier to cross-promote; for the customer, it’s easier to remember.
New brand TLDs also provide unique ways to boost customer loyalty. Branded emails like firstname.lastname@example.org and community sites like connect.bmw give customers a personal way to identify themselves with brands and enjoy the benefits.
Safeguard Your Brand Supply Chain
New brand TLDs can extend a “chain of trust” through your chain of affiliates, partners and sales channels. By owning both sides of the dot, your company gets to decide which other entities may register a domain name ending with your brand.
This assures customers that they’re dealing with a certified dealer or an approved agent. The advantages will be particularly evident in fields such as real estate, technology and software, insurance and consumer packaged goods, and as with everything else Internet-related, other strong use cases will materialize.
Who’s doing it? Industry landscape overview
There are a total of 1751 new TLD applications, comprised of brands (635), generics (1060), and geographies (56). More than half of all brand TLDs fall into financial and technology verticals. Furthermore, 41% of brand TLDs were applied for by Fortune 500 companies, mostly in financial services, retail, technology and transportation.
Will a new TLD hurt my SEO?
A top-level domain is just one of hundreds of elements in a search algorithm. Early use cases indicate no negative search impact, and even potential benefits.
A website’s TLD is just one of many pieces in the algorithms that power search engines such as Google.
“If and when there is enough information that [.brands] should be a signal [in search], it would become one,” says Google strategic .brand partner manager, Lauren Kelley.
New TLD holders should (as now) focus on building highly relevant content on their .brand and .generic to earn search visibility.
“If Nike launches lots of .nike domains with highly relevant content, for example, over time [.nike] may surface higher for Nike searches,” says Kelley.
For now, applicants can see how Google is reacting to newly launched TLDs on the web with a simple site parameter search of “site:. brand” or “site:.generic.”
Initial observations from our own research include:
- In a search for VDI guru, VDI.guru ranks higher than VDIguru.com.
- For Monash University, the first organization in the world to go live with a .brand, monash.edu.au continues to lead results over .monash.
It’s safe to say that there are no negative impacts. “If you’re building new content complementary to your .com, it won’t hurt,” says Kelley.
Recent TLD history confirms this notion. Cartier now uses Cartier.us as its primary web address in the United States. As shown below, a search for “Cartier,” Cartier.us ranks #1 in search results, with its .com counterpart ranking second.
Popular start-up tech publication Tech Cocktail recently switched from using its keyword inclusive URL techcocktail.com to a shorter name: tech.co. As shown below, it sustained all of its original search rankings with the new .co extension, and it continues to rank #1 for “Tech Cocktail” in search.
LeWeb, the #1 Internet event in Europe, with over 3,500 participants from 76 countries, also saw positive results in SEO when they transitioned from Leweb.net to Leweb.co:
- Prior to the switch, Leweb.net was not the single #1 listing for branded “Leweb” terms and not in top 150 listings for competitive terms such as “2012 web conference.”
- After a smooth transition and content optimization in May 2012, Leweb.co experienced ranking increases of over 50 spots for more competitive terms such as “2012 web conference,” and a 123% increase in monthly organic visits.
“The same rules that apply today will apply tomorrow: content and relevancy,” says Kelley.
Will switching to a new TLD confuse my customers?
Not likely. With clear customer communication and a strong roll-out plan, today’s customers are likely to welcome your new TLD with open arms.
According to Jeff Neuman, Vice President, Registry Services at Neustar, a .brand TLD may in fact decrease customer confusion across the globe:
“Today, brands are securing a large portfolio of domain name extensions depending on where in the world their website is accessed. While .com is prominent in the U.S., brands also use a number of country-specific extensions like .ca in the Canada and .cn in China. Combined names like .com.au and .co.uk make an even more complicated experience for global customers and brands.
Now, with a .brand, customers can access one, consistent website (e.g .google) from any location in the world – eliminating confusion and strengthening brand identity.”
But how quickly will customers jump on the .brand bandwagon? Fairwinds Partners predicts a rapid learning curve:
“Today’s consumers are used to the rapid evolution of new electronic devices and platforms delivering better and more targeted online experiences. This rapid learning curve and willingness to adapt will help consumers and brand owners as new gTLDs are rolled out.”
Moreover, the wide use of brand pages across social media networks illustrates how today’s online consumers are quick to adopt online hubs for accessing products and services. Facebook and Google+ brand pages are just one example. We also see this adoption in the widespread use of vanity URLs for marketing campaigns. History indicates that consumers will go wherever the type of information they want is hosted – regardless of the address.
Can I monetize my new TLD?
Yes. New TLDs are just like any other business asset, and can be used to support and generate revenue.
While generic applicants rely on individual sales of names to generate ROI, brands can experience .brand benefits in other ways.
“Most brands that purchased a .brand have some idea of how they will use it,” says Anthony Pappas, president of Pappas Group, a marketing agency whose clients include TLDs .co, .us and .nyc. “Value for brands isn’t in the selling of the domain. It’s about having access to a new resource to deepen relationships with customers and support existing initiatives.”
Branded TLDs should be used in tandem with a larger brand strategies, says Pappas. “A great example of this is .nyc, which the City of New York applied for to support its Digital Roadmap initiative.”
In a press release, former chief digital officer Rachel Hoat describes the city’s motivation:
“Our digital strategy is focused on improving the lives of New Yorkers through investments in technology infrastructure, education, data, engagement and industry. The introduction of .nyc will spur unprecedented local civic and economic activity.”
What are the 100 promotional names we get?
ICANN allows .brand and .generic TLD applicants to activate up to 100 names necessary for the operation or the promotion of the TLD. These names can be registered and used during the Sunrise period, the first phase of new TLD availability.
According to the new TLD Registrar agreement, applicants must either:
- Register such names through an ICANN-accredited registrar; or
- Self-allocate such names and with respect to those names submit to and be responsible to ICANN for compliance with ICANN Consensus Policies and the obligations.
After the sunrise period, these names can be released for registration to another party or entity at the registry operator’s discretion. If the Registry would like to allocate any of these names prior to or after the Sunrise Period, it may only do so by having ICANN approve a “Qualified Launch Plan” which is subject to an amendment to the new TLD Registrar agreement and certain limitations set forth therein.
When choosing which promotional names to secure, .brands should make sure these names align with their holistic TLD strategy. This is an opportunity to test new campaign names to help you reach your business goals.
What are good examples of brands using a new TLD?
The current .brand landscape looks conservative. Few brands have finalized their agreements with ICANN to date. However, some brands are already activating their nic.brand as the first step in expanding their online presence (nic.neustar included).
Insurance company AXA is among the first to launch a .brand TLD website in English. The company began a slow rollout of the TLD, with domains.axa dedicated to educating employees, affiliates and customers on the benefits of the new TLD:
"Protection: .AXA is your trusted destination to better protect you online
Innovation: .AXA fostering innovation and digital culture
Simplicity: easy navigable new .AXA domain names to explore AXA"
It’s clear from domains.axa that the .AXA domain name is here to stay – and big plans are already underway:
“The registration and the use of dotAXA domain names will be therefore exclusively reserved to AXA and its affiliates. When you visit a website with an Internet address ending with .AXA, you can be certain that it’s authorized by AXA and overseen by us.”
“If you are an AXA entity interested in registering a .AXA domain name, please contact the AXA Web Presence team.”
While .AXA is one of the first brands to launch their .brand, others are destined to closely follow as more ICANN agreements become final and companies realize the value of their .brands.
Do I need to replace my existing .com site?
No. An immediate switch is not necessary. Start by launching your nic.TLD page and other content-specific domains.
An early option is to redirect your nic.TLD to your .com, but this should only be an intermediate step to building a lasting naming convention under your .brand that mirrors your overall domain name strategy. Another option is to create a whole new page to communicate your new TLD plans with customers.
Next, begin experimenting with your new TLD to develop an understanding of what resonates best with your audience. Try a/b testing around new campaigns.
Regardless of how you use your nic.brand, you’ll want to build a lasting naming convention that mirrors your overall domain name strategy.
Consider the following in your planning efforts:
- Current framework: Take note of how your current domain name is structured. Analyze what’s working and what might be improved with your new TLD.
- Customer engagement: Understand how customers are using and engaging with your current domain space.
- What established campaigns could benefit from a .brand TLD, and what future campaigns might benefit?
- How will you educate the marketplace on your .brand?
- Who will manage and maintain your brand TLD naming convention?
In summary, your naming convention should reflect and enhance how your company already does business.
Is my nTLD secure?
As noted earlier, branded TLDs indicate to customers that they’re on an authentic websites, not a counterfeit. This is one of many security benefits.
Most of today’s brands are following a defensive domain name strategy. The majority of a brand’s domain name portfolio is comprised of protective registrations, says Neuman.
Now, companies can move away from a defensive registrations and focus on building a lasting .brand strategy.
Another advantage of new TLDs is faster response time to attacks. If a company’s TLD account with its registrar is compromised, the business will have direct control in mitigating the attack when its websites are hosted on its own TLD. With a generic name (.com, .org, .net), companies need to work through a multitude of registrars to uncover and mitigate attacks. When .brand is attacked, the attacker cannot move it anywhere outside the brand’s control, as the domain is under its own registry instead of a registrar.
As the only entity with access to the TLD, a brand can immediately contact its registry customer service to stop an attack, instead of working through several registrars.
Of course, no Internet space is inherently hacker-proof. You’ll want additional tools such as threat mitigation services, a requirement of ICANN, to block malicious actors and protect your brand and customers.
Can I or should I invest in other general new TLDs?
You’ve made big investments to secure your .brand. Does this mean you should you ignore all other new generic TLD opportunities? The answer depends on your business strategy.
Where are your customers? What are you selling? Are there specific communities that you are a part of, or philanthropies you support? Is there a growth segment you are focusing on? The answers will shape your decisions on leveraging new generic TLDs.
As a brand, imagine joining a community of owners under a grouped moniker. Several brands could take advantage of “descriptive” generic TLDs such as anheiser.beer, coke.diet, mattel.coupon, nyc.fashion, cartier.gold and neustar.green, among others.
There’s no harm in testing names for a certain period of time to see what names best serve your goals.
The Internet is becoming more personal. It needs a crucial differentiator to target the right segments. By enabling your entities to align themselves with others that share common interests, your brand could benefit. Don’t hesitate in joining forces with others in the space and begin laying claim to the specific market segment.
Where can I learn more?
The following resources will keep you current on the latest ICANN news and TLD developments:
- ICANN: Visit http://newgtlds.icann.org for the latest news, developments and policy updates in the new TLD space.
- ICANN Wiki: ICANN Wiki, a neutral organization dedicated to serving the domain name community, offers a comprehensive webpage on the new TLD program: http://icannwiki.com/index.php/New_gTLD.
- Domain Incite: This blog (http://domainincite.com) on the domain name business, covers the latest tends around the new TLD space.
- Domain Name Wire: Domainnamewire.com offers expert analysis on important new TLD topics.
For more on how Neustar can help you launch your new brand TLD, both internally and externally, contact us at email@example.com. We’re already helping organizations like yours make the most of their .brands. With more than 10 years of experience in growing domain name registries, Neustar has what it takes to help launch, grow and optimize your TLD. Wherever you are in the process, we can help get you where you need to be. The sooner we start, the more successful and valuable an asset your namespace can become.
Learn More About Our New TLD Registry Services
We’re already helping organizations like yours launch, grow and optimize their TLDs. With more than 10 years of experience in growing domain name registries, Neustar can help make your namespace a more successful and valuable asset.
For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.