Domain experts on the slow start for new gTLDs, and what may turn the tide 18 Jan 16
Opening this year’s Com Laude Domain Conference, managing director Nick Wood acknowledged that “it has been a slow start” for the ongoing expansion of the new gTLDs program. Noting that, as of January 8, there were just over 11.5 million gTLD domain registrations (compared to 290 million across legacy domains) he pointed out that “many people say that nobody is buying these domains”. However, as well as examining the possible reasons for this sluggish start, conference delegates also received an overview of the factors that could lead to increased profile and take-up in the near future.
It is fair to say that 2016 will be an important year for the new gTLD program - as Wood notes, “the real blockbusters are yet to launch”. This alone will likely lead to increased uptake and, in this regard, Google should be a key player. The company has clearly identified value in particular strings, having paid $25 million for one of these ‘blockbusters’ (‘.app’) at auction. And once it starts using and promoting these new TLDs in a public way, this should increase awareness – as was pointed out by Wood, the day after Google unveiled its ‘.xyz’ web address for Alphabet (‘alphabet.xyz’) there were more than 10,000 registrations in the TLD.
Google is also likely to be a major player in another way, specifically through the search engine treatment of new domains. Wood argued that, until recently, Google’s attitude to new gTLDs in search results could be characterised as “mildly positive” but this has evolved and through 2015 Google has moved to clarify its treatment of new gTLDs – namely that its “systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs” and that, as long as configured properly, moving from a legacy TLD to a new gTLD will have no negative impact. Wood observed: “Barclays had a difficult time with Google but now you now see ‘.barclays’ showing up in search results and it is working pretty well for them.”
From an early stage, one expectation was that ‘.brands’ such as ‘.barclays’ would drive awareness of, and trust in, the expanded online space. The argument was that, while the introduction of hundreds of new TLDS may lead to new generics being initially treated with suspicion, branded spaces may be more quickly trusted, and therefore help drive awareness levels of new gTLDs. However, a number of obstacles that ‘.brands’ have faced were identified at last week’s event, with the aforementioned search engine visibility just one factor.
Name convention architectures have been an additional hurdle, with brands having to formulate conventions against a complex backdrop – Wood explaining: “For instance, it’s difficult for brands to use a country name at the second level. So you may want to have, say, ‘italy.gucci’ and the like, but some countries will make you go to them for permission.” Other challenges exist where email clients don’t recognise emails using new gTLDS and allocating domains in closed ‘.brand registries to particular licensees.
These wrinkles will get ironed out as common naming conventions are established and – crucially – as more ‘.brands’ go live. This will lead to the use and profile of these offerings rising and could thereafter result in the expected bump in awareness of the wider new gTLD program.
A final factor that should drive increase awareness – and subsequent take-up – are marketing efforts by those with plenty at stake. One such is Donuts, the single largest applicant of new gTLDs. Like Google, it has invested heavily in new gTLDs, with Amy Repp, director of partnership - Europe at Donuts, confirming that the company is “looking at acquisitions and expect to acquire additional TLDS”. Having made this investment, the registry is throwing its marketing muscle behind the expansion. Repp explained that “with the fact that there are so many new TLDs yet low consumer awareness, we realised we had to do things differently”. For this, the company created a four-prong consumer advertising program, incorporating presence at trade shows (whether domain industry events or vertical market shows), increased PR outreach, participation in speaking programmes and social media advertising. She notes that the latter has been particularly effective for the company as they are able to “drill down and target individuals to give them info on how new TLDs will work for them”.
These activity has been complemented with a range of targeted consumer-facing activities in conjunction with registrars, utilising home page banners and search engine promotion, social media posts, display boxes, Google ad campaigns and content marketing.
Perhaps most effective, though, has been publicity around high profile adopters. These include Kanye West choosing ‘Yeezy.supply’ to sell his clothing range, the National Theatre using ‘wonder.land’ to promote a Lewis Carroll-inspired musical, the campaign for ‘myrescue.dog’ and Lionsgate opting for ‘thehungergames.movie’ as the address for its movie franchise-related content. Reflecting this, the company is seeking other partners, with Repp stating: “If you have an interest in a domain name that could be big ticket, even if the name is in reserve, you should let us know. We are always looking for high profile adopter partners and know that the best publicity will come from working with big brands.”
For many in the trademark world, the jury is still out on just how impactful the new gTLD program will be (although Wood notes that there is tangible interest in a second window of applications, stating that he has “a couple of dozen” potential applicants lined up for round two). However, with new gTLDs, including ‘.brands’, being delegated on a regular basis, the landscape will likely look a lot different in 12 months. Perhaps there won’t be a ‘big bang’ moment, but the picture is evolving. Crucially, those who have invested big in the program are working hard to ensure a healthy ROI.
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