all.good? 5 tips for domain management and the new generic top-level domains (gTLD)

Checklist for domain management:

  1. See domain names as assets
    Domain names are valuable and require due consideration as a part of corporate branding.
  2. Establish domain management (organisation, processes, financial resources)
    Clear rules for registration and release help to ensure that all important domain names are registered.
  3. Protect your own brand
    The procedure for dealing with brand infringements must be familiar to the person responsible for domain management so that they can react quickly when necessary.
  4. Monitor the launch of new gTLDs
    Regular monitoring must take place to check whether new domain names should be included in the portfolio.
  5. Consider domain management in budgeting
    Additional financial resources are required for the registration of additional domains. This must be provided for in the budgeting.

Swiss Federal Railways SBB are accessed on the World Wide Web via the address sbb.ch. From there, you can go to the timetable, the ticket shop, the apps or the travel agency. So far, so easy. Internet users are used to accessing a website via a country-specific top-level domain, such as .ch. This could change in the future. At some point, perhaps we will enter sbb.shop, sbb.timetable, sbb.app or sbb.travel-agency in our browser and be taken directly to the area we’re looking for. Without “.ch/”. Thanks to the new generic top-level domains. But one step at a time: what are (generic) top-level domains?

Country-specific and generic top-level domains

Along with country-specific top-level domains (TLD) such as .ch, .de or .at, there are generic top-level domains (gTLD). The best-known example is .com. There are currently over 110 million addresses worldwide with .com. For comparison: around 15 million .de addresses are registered. Along with .com, other gTLDs include .biz, .info or .name. However, these have not been used very much up to now.

What’s new about the new generic top-level domains

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is globally responsible for domain endings. Following an ICANN 2011 resolution, it is now possible for addresses to end with any abbreviation or word, such as .app or .shop. In July 2013, the first four new generic TLDs were launched: .شبكة (Arabic for web), .游戏 (Chinese for game), .онлайн (Russian for online) and .сайт (Russian for website).

Additionally, big companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft have submitted various applications for new TLDs. So it is high time that we dealt with this topic.

Easier marketing – but also reputation and complexity risks

As with many new web phenomena, the topic of new gTLDs is causing a degree of uncertainty. On the one hand, it opens up countless new possibilities. Easy-to-remember domains such as audi.a3 or sbb.app will be possible – even shorter and pithier than sbb.ch/app or audi.ch/a3. Just two words connected by a dot. A regional reference will also be easier to communicate, for example with addresses such as post.vienna or sbb.zurich.

On the other hand, as always, there are a number of risks. The risks range from reputation damage (yourbrand.sucks) to phishing (when fraudsters register sbb.shop and request passwords) to more complex domain management. Instead of sbb.ch, all the combinations named above would have to be registered.

What needs to be done?

The following checklist provides an overview (not inclusive) of what companies should do in the light of the approaching mass of new gTLDs.

1.       See domain names as assets

It sounds banal, but domain management is still being neglected in many companies. Domain names are part of the brand and the CI/CD, and therefore their value should not be underestimated. So it is worth compiling a list of existing domain names and checking whether it is necessary to make additional registrations of domain names or whether domain names can be disposed of.

 2.       Establish domain management (organisation, processes, financial resources)

In a suitable organisational unit (e.g. E-Business, Marketing or IT), a position should be established to perform active domain management. This involves more than merely approving the yearly invoice for domain costs. Domain management tasks are, for example, the registration of new domains, brand protection or continuous monitoring of trends (such as the nTLD). The processes for managing the domain names should also be regulated. This can prevent valuable domains from being sold because, at first glance, they no longer seem to be needed. This sometimes happens, for example, with brands that are no longer actively communicated, but that are still firmly rooted in the minds of the customers.

3.       Protect your own brand

ICANN provides a range of mechanisms for brand protection. Brands can be entered in the Trademark Clearinghouse database (USD 150 per trademark). In what are known as Sunrise periods (30 days after the launch of a new TLD), brand owners are issued with a prior claim for domain name registration.

A brand owner who discovers a copyright infringement can invoke the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS) or Uniform Domain Name Dispute Policy (UDRP) procedure to enforce their trademark rights.

 4.       Monitor the launch of new TLDs

Only a small number of companies considered submitting an application for a new gTLD. The registration fee of USD 185,000 per gTLD (source: ICANN) was a major barrier. However, it is still important to monitor which new TLDs were applied for and issued by ICANN. This enables us to determine, for example, when TLDs such as .shop will become available. When a suitable new TLD becomes free, the next step should be initiated, namely reserving a domain and checking a domain name registration. One service for reserving domain names is provided by switchplus.

More information on the phases of assigning the new gTLDs is available, for example, on the Switchie pages of switchplus.

5.       Consider domain management in budgeting

With the new top-level domains, domain management will tend to be more expensive in future. For large, globally-active companies in particular, this can mean a significantly higher budget commitment. This should therefore be included in the budget calculations so that the corresponding financial resources will be available. According to Wolfram Schmidt, CEO of switchplus, a larger company should provide around CHF 30,000 per year for this.

So is it really necessary to act already?

As with many developments, it’s not clear what the future holds for the new TLDs. Everyone who is active in digital business will see tendencies that seem to have a lot of potential and then later disappear (e.g. Second Life). However, there are also phenomena that begin unspectacularly but grow into something really big and enduring (e.g. social media or the iPhone).

The new gTLDs probably belong in the second group. The first new gTLDs are being launched right now. Large companies like Amazon and Google have applied. And in Switzerland, BAKOM is launching the .swiss domain (see interview in SWITCH Journal, October 2013, p. 16).

It will probably take a while longer for companies and users to exploit the full potential of the new top-level domains for an alternative way of using the Internet. At the moment, it is assumed that the first new gTLDs will not be freely available on the market until mid-2014. It will also take some time to establish domain management and monitoring of the new TLDs within an organisation. So it is worth tackling the topic now.

> To the Unic Spotlight: Interview with Wolfram Schmidt, CEO of switchplus ag, on the topic of generic top-level domain