Despite the Association of National Advertiser's (ANA) protests, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is expected to issue a new batch of domain names at the end of the month. While the initial thought of being able to have a branded top-level domain seems exciting - and a marketer's dream - the threats that could come with this expansion could (and really should) stifle a majority of that excitement.
First, let's quickly review what is about to happen in the simplest of terms. Currently, there are a finite amount of top-level domains: .com, .info, .org, .net, .edu and .gov are some of the most common here in the States. If you have surfed internationally, you may also be familiar with country code top-level domains (TLDs) such as: .uk (United Kingdom), .fr (France), .hu (Hungary) and so forth.
Starting at the end of April, ICANN is going to expand this finite list to allow for brand-centric and additional generic domains (gTLDs). Therefore, in May we could not only start seeing URLs with .fashion, .auto, .sports, .restaurant, etc. (there are already over 1,900 submitted applications for gTLDs) but we could also begin seeing branded domain names: .google, .microsoft, .jcrew and so on and so on. Sure, it seems like a great opportunity for brand marketers to further promote their companies and clients, but take a second to think about the possible consequences of this 6000% expansion to our world wide web.
The first possible threat is directly tied to the greatest appeal: brand relevant domains. It's important to evaluate which general top-level domains (gTLDs) could affect your brand and then evaluate if it is in your best interests (strategically and financially) to invest in new domains. Be sure to consider all possibilities and not just focus on trademark protection in general but also competitive moves; for example, there has already been an application for the registration of .sucks (which really could if purchased by the wrong hands). There have been steps proposed by ICANN to create a database that would allow brands to register trademarks and in-turn be notified if someone tries to buy a domain using that trademark. However, considering we are less than a month away from the expansion without any implementation of this database it is a bit worrisome.
As you audit your brand, or those you represent, make sure to consider the geographic possibilities for domain names. There have been over 60 applications for the institution of TLDs such as: .london, .nyc, .vegas, etc. While this is another enticing possibility for building strategy, the gates are being opened so quickly that the feasibility of actually purchasing every appropriate domain as it becomes available is unlikely. Completing comprehensive audits of your existing domain names, brand goals and overall market demographics is vital to strategically and successfully adjusting to this new era of "www" without breaking the bank.
Another threat is overall security, not just for businesses and brands but also consumers, and we know if consumers don't feel secure on the internet online-companies will suffer. Everyday we are hearing about different forms of cybercrimes such as phishing, typo-squatting, counterfeiting, etc., which is occurring with just 22 TLDs. Imagine the scamming opportunities after that number increases from 22 to 1,900 plus. The Federal Trade Commission has voiced their own concern and called for heightened safeguards, however, as this expansion rolls out be sure you are being proactive and communicative about the safety of your consumers and their information.
Next week the board members of ICANN are circling up in Beijing to solidify the introduction of what I am calling, "The Great Internet Expansion". I am sure we will hear a great deal of opposition being vocalized at ICANN and a loud cry for a much better structure and safeguard to their plans over the next few weeks but in the meantime I suggest everyone take intentional time to understand what this big change will mean for you and the brands you represent.