Navigating New Internet Domains

New Internet domain extensions keep increasing. Registering for one is pricey, but most businesses can't afford not to.

For a long time, only 22 generic top level domains (gTLDs), such as .com, .org, and .edu, were available for businesses looking to set up shop online. But since opening up applications for new gTLDs in 2011, ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has approved applications for approximately 700 new gTLDs to expand the number of available namespaces on the Internet and provide more options to businesses of all sizes.

Applying for a new gTLD costs a company $185,000, plus a yearly fee of $25,000 if it's approved.

As the expansion rapidly continues over the next few months, it’s likely the Internet will look like a different place, and businesses shouldn’t wait until then to prepare. Consider the following steps for navigating the complex industry of top level domains.

Understand the issue at hand
It's difficult to talk about how the domain expansion might unfold without making the distinction between generic top level domains (gTLDs) and branded top level domains.

[New generic top-level domains rolled out earlier this year, with hundreds more coming. Read New Domain Names For Sale: 4 Facts.]

Many of today's top brands have been quick to apply for and secure their own branded top level domains, even if they're not sure what they're going to do with them. Canon for example owns .canon, Bank of America owns .bofa, and Oracle Corporation owns .oracle. However, for companies that did not get involved in the costly process of securing a branded domain name during the first round of applications, the best option is to take advantage of generic TLDs.

Extensions like .app, .club, .trade, or .vacations that are or will be made available to the public are just some of the over 400 generic terms that most businesses should be researching further. Many web suffixes have already been made available, but the most sought-after extensions are still yet to come.

In the coming months, ICANN will be making decisions on the most applied-for and hotly contested TLDs. Currently available TLDs are of great interest to many industries, but some of the most highly-anticipated extensions like .blog and .art  have yet to be released due to multiple applicants vying for ownership.

ICANN will continue to adjudicate ownership as more domains join the ranks of the ones already available. Companies should identify the relevant, available domain names and the ones being made available so they can intelligently discuss the potential each one has on impacting the business.

Are new gTLDs right for the business?
The assumption by ICANN is that new gTLDs are right for a business. However, some businesses are going to be just fine using the traditional .com domain name. If the brand is unique or well-known, customers or users are going to find you either way. However, a brand like weather.com, for example, might decide that because its name is such a generic term that new TLDs can provide an additional way to strengthen its brand online. It could benefit from promoting its apps at weather.app, host its radar screens at weather.maps, or even create an educational site at weather.wiki.

In fact, we know this is something of value to weather.com because it has actually registered its trademark so that it gets an early opportunity to secure the extensions it wants before public availability. Remember, if you don't get the name when it's available, there is no guarantee it will still be there when you want it. If the answer is "yes these could work," make sure you get them before it's too late.

Stay educated on domain name availability
Once you've identified the domains that are relevant and beneficial to your business, it's critical to stay educated on their availability. As mentioned earlier, many new gTLDs are available and ready for purchase. However, there are several stages of domain availability that need to be considered. Registrars will offer a sunrise period for trademark holders to register first, sometimes followed by a limited land rush period, and then finally general availability.

Signing up for newsletters and ICANN alerts for domains that have been identified will ensure a business doesn't miss out. ICANNWiki is another great source to see which domains have gone live, which ones are still to come, and to track any progress on the decisions ICANN is making that might affect domain availability.

Register like it's 1995
The next logical step is to preregister as soon as possible for all the domains that will work for your business, much like when the Internet was in its infancy and the most popular domain names were picked up quickly by those thinking ahead.

While there are significantly more extensions this time around, the same rule applies and once the domain is gone, it's gone. The only way to get it back might come with a hefty price tag down the line, and it's worth making the minimal investment now to avoid fighting for it later. This is especially important for brands with generic names like Hotels.com that are at risk for trademark infringement.

While extensions like .design and .menu intuitively make sense, the fact is most people are not accustomed to seeing new domain extensions on the Internet when searching for information. Yet as more and more domains are used by the brands consumers interact with, this is bound to change quickly. Companies should get on board now so that in a few months they can avoid the crush of domain-seeking companies that didn't act sooner.

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