From next month you’re going to start seeing a whole range of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) popping up online. Alongside longstanding ones like .com and .net, you’ll see geographic, special interest and brand name ones like .africa and .joburg, .sport and .radio, and potentially, .cocacola or .microsoft. Should you rush out and secure every possible permutation that vaguely relates to your existing site or business? Probably not.
In the last few weeks I’ve gotten a number of emails telling me domains I own — but with which I do nothing — are about to expire, and that if I wish to continue (not) using them I need to renew them. Having only three domains I actually use (and that’s probably still two more than I need), I’ve opted to forgo renewing the rest. Why? Because if you know my name and a little about me (my name is pretty common), a search is all you need to find me online.
For years there were only 20 or so gTLDs. A few years back the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or Icann — the non-profit body that oversees domains) announced it would be creating more gTLDs and called for suggestions. Icann received over 1 900 applications. Some include the likes of .xxx and .sex, which should please those who’d rather have dedicated spaces for things they’d rather not see and can, thus, more easily protect against.
More importantly, in a move that sees Icann nodding at the inherent internationalism of the Internet, non-Western scripts will now be supported. This recognition of regional and cultural differences is also the primary motivation for location-specific domain names. It’s a move to be lauded, but that still doesn’t mean you need to fork out the annual registration fees for some of the new domains, particularly if you have an existing one.
The need for additional domain names is symptomatic of our era of unprecedented production (at least when it comes to data). People are constantly creating more websites, apps and online services (never mind myriad abandoned Myspace, Tumblr, Flickr and Pinterest pages) that need categorising, but our digital taxonomy with which to do so has, to date, been fairly limited.
However, do most individuals or businesses really need location-specific or otherwise unique domain names? Sure, if you have a branch in Cape Town and another in Johannesburg it might be nice to have a domain name for each, but if you’ve already got an online presence you’ve probably already found a solution, either by listing your various branches on a contact page or — in the case of multinationals – simply routing visitors to regional sub-pages based on their IP address.
Moreover, if your company has aspirations of doing business across borders, relying on a region-specific domain name may actually do you a disservice and water-down the strength of your weighting in search results when compared to using a single, dedicated domain. Well, disservice may be a stretch given how the bulk of Internet users actually navigate the web today.
People seldom type out website addresses in full any more. All major Internet browsers support search functionality right in the address bar and, thanks to your search history, unless you’re sufficiently disciplined/paranoid to set your browser to clear your cookies and browsing history every time you close it, addresses tend to get automatically completed before you’re three letters in.
Moreover, with bookmarks, RSS feeds, and above all, social media, most of us tend to click links to interesting content, rather than input them manually. When we do actually type something it’s more often than not a search term, particularly if we can’t remember whether a particular website is a .com, .net or .org.
As in the early days of the Internet, the reason most often put forward for securing any permutation of a domain relating to you or your business is to prevent cyber squatting – where individuals or companies register domain names they don’t intend using in the hopes of selling it to someone who want to for a profit.
However, unless you’re a global entity (or a reviled one who can expect pranksters to take advantage of the new domain names to try and taint your brand online) you’d do better to continue putting excellent, relevant content on your current domain because page ranking algorithms like Google will do the rest when it comes to ensuring your discoverability. It’ll also save you a fortune in domain registration fees.
I suspect that the bulk of purchases of the new domains will be made by governments, those with deep pockets, those wanting the digital equivalent of a vanity license plate, or (as was the case with the Cook Islands’ .co.ck domains, which eventually had to impose restrictions on who could register one) creative folk with a penchant for wordplay.
Whether or not you go the costly route of trying to protect your brand online by registering (potentially dozens of) new domains it’s encouraging to see the Internet becoming more inclusive and more flexible. It’s a brave new .world.