Hard earned lessons from Twitter on branded domain extensions

Even forward-thinking companies like Twitter manage to miss a golden opportunity from time to time. For example, when ICANN (the nonprofit that manages the domain space on the internet) opened up applications for domain extensions for a specific window of time, Twitter failed to apply for the .twitter domain.

Barring a few minor restrictions, anyone with US$185 000 could apply for ownership of a new top-level domain extension by the deadline in early 2012. All told, 664 different brands applied for domains. While brands such as Canon (.canon), Barclays (.barclays), BMW (.bmw), and Nike (.nike) were awarded their own names, some big companies had to compete for more generic terms. Google ended up spending US$25-million for ownership of the .app extension, and Japanese company GMO paid more than US$41-million for the rights to .shop.

Twitter, which did not apply for any extensions in 2012, reached out to ICANN shortly after the first round of applications closed. The social media giant has stated that it intends to purchase .twitter in the next round and could purchase other domain extensions as well.

In fact, many who didn’t apply publicly lamented their mistake and are now asking ICANN to reopen applications. While the next round might not happen until 2019 or 2020, this push from Twitter and others indicates that companies have already begun to recognize the positive impact a unique domain extension can have.

Why is Twitter atwitter over .twitter?

As time goes on, more brands will understand the tremendous value of owning their domain space. The first wave of “.brand” applicants are now starting to migrate to their own branded domains. Recently, Barclays bank converted its main website to www.home.barclays, and global imaging giant Canon launched www.global.canon. If Twitter had won its bid, for example, it would have the power to give every user a unique .twitter URL (such as “sass.twitter” instead of “twitter.com/sass”) and could charge a premium for that service or reserve it for special accounts, email, etc.

Twitter could also use its branded domain to grow business and revenues through specific feeds. Say you wanted the day’s news — you could go to news.twitter or find the latest in sports at sports.twitter. When you went to one of those links, you wouldn’t see your friends’ posts; it would just be news.

No need to follow and unfollow groups or individuals and try to sort through the clutter: Meaningful and logical domain names and extensions can provide companies with the flexibility to deliver intuitive services while broadening the reach and impact of their brands.

This extension strategy may work well for Google. After purchasing .app for a hefty sum, Google has gone into the domain name registrar business at www.domains.google and applied for a number of other extensions. In May, Automattic, the parent company of the dominant WordPress blog and website platform, announced that it was behind the US$19-million purchase of the .blog extension. It’s not hard to imagine how popular that domain will become for the more than 150-million business and personal blogs on the internet.

How to avoid looking like a phisher

Larger brands, especially those selling products directly to consumers, benefit from the trust that branded domain extensions provide. If I receive an email from NikeRunning.net, for example, I would have no idea whether it’s real; just about anyone could have registered a .net or other generic extension.

If I get an email from Running.nike, however, I know that it has to be Nike contacting me. A potential scammer couldn’t register an official .nike address.

The only way to be absolutely certain would be to see something from .nike — and therein lies the power of branded domain extensions. They establish instant recognition, credibility, and trust. In other words, they make brands seem more legit.

More “generic” unique domain extensions can be just as trustworthy. Some generic extensions, such as .bank, are regulated to make users feel safer. No company can purchase a .bank domain name without first proving that it’s an actual member of the banking sector. Chase.bank is real, but ChaseBank.whatever could be anything.

Moving to the right of the dot

Companies that missed out on the first round of applications for branded domain extensions, as well as those that don’t want to spend the cash, can still put some unique domain extensions to good use. Some exciting options that are available now — or in the near future — include:

.app: Websites are cluttered, and app store search engines don’t always function perfectly. Rather than force users to navigate through screen after screen to find your app — and lose the interest of many in the process — why not advertise yourbrand.app as a simple way for users to interact with your brand on mobile?

.news: If your brand has press releases or product updates, a .news extension could be just the thing to keep your user base informed. This could be set up as yourbrand.news to point to your company’s press mentions.

.club: Most big brands have a loyalty or affinity club, and what better way to invite users than with a .club extension? Swatch watches uses Swatch.club as a pointer for its Swatch Club, and many other brands use .club to add an air of authority to the gathering place of their most loyal customers.

.shop: If your brand sells directly to customers, you should have a yourbrand.shop domain that points to the product page or online store. This allows shoppers to bypass your homepage and go directly to purchasing.

Even if you don’t have your own brand domain name, there are hundreds of other domain extensions available for savvy brands to leverage in intelligent ways.

After exploring these options, do you see ways to boost your brand by enhancing its domain portfolio?

Feature image: Uncalno Tekno via Flickr



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