A seismic shift is taking place in the landscape of the internet. But despite the huge potential impact it could have on businesses, the change seems to be taking place almost unnoticed beyond the tech savvy communities.
After years of planning, months of form-filling, and some delays, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the global body that oversees internet domain names - revealed details of almost 2,000 applications for a whole new set of Internet address endings such as .nike, .bbc and .apple.
This will mean a major shake-up in the familiar world of .com and .co.uk, with a plethora of new choices such as .shop or .music coming on stream from 2013. But our research shows that, despite over 90% of businesses being aware of how important a domain name is, the majority of businesses - 55% - are not aware of the changes.
So whether you feel you have missed the boat (and its $185,000 price tag), or are in the blissfully unaware majority, what does it mean, is it too late, and what should your businesses be doing about it?
Firstly, it’s worth saying that you have an opportunity to object to ICANN if you feel there’s an application that infringes your IP rights. And secondly, if you missed this chance to apply for your own suffix, it will be a few years before the window opens again.
For everyone else, it’s important to remember that these changes won’t happen overnight, so there’s no need to panic. But when they do there’ll be a far greater choice of domain names, so now’s the time to make sure you have a strategy in place. Keep an eye on developments and decide if any of the new domains are relevant for your business.
Domains will mean things to different people – long- established .uk domains are trusted and as such are preferred by British web users. On the other hand, of the new domains on offer, a .bank might come to represent a secure online banking experience. A Welsh business could signpost its heritage to Welsh consumers by opting for a .cymru domain.
It helps to ensure sure one department or person has responsibility for your domain name , and they should be monitoring renewal dates (.uk domain names and .coms can be registered for up to 10 years), so you can make the most of any opportunities.
In time, search engines may come to show a preference for specific TLDs for specific searches – just as Google.co.uk’s relevance criteria gives preference to .uk site results. It’s too early to say what the impact will be, but savvy businesses will be monitoring developments.
Indeed, some people have questioned the point of domain names when ‘search’ is increasingly prevalent. Yet domain name ending could be set to become an even more important part of a business’s geographical or corporate identity; vital not only as a means of navigating the internet, but also as a shorthand for consumers to differentiate and filter search results.
Will new gTLDs be a runaway success? Of the applications on the table, not all will pass muster. And of those that pass the financial and technical tests, it’s inevitable that there will be winners and losers. But the change is coming and it’s worth watching.
Lesley Cowley OBE is CEO of non-for-profit organisation Nominet