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Avoid an identity crisis as domain names get personal

Businesses must take action to protect their trademark ahead of the launch of generic domain names.

There’s been a lot of talk about GTLDs (generic top level domains) over the past few months and now The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation behind them, has confirmed their introduction, what exactly do retailers need to do?

GTLDs mean the section after the dot on a web address domain name can be created by the owner of that domain. Historically, domain names have ended with .com, .org, .net or a country-specific name, but the generic domains allow this to be changed to specific brand names such as .diesel or .riverisland,
or more general terms like .fashion.

The first round of GTLD applications has closed but there will be more rounds to come and retailers need to think about what their GTLD might be and the strategy behind it. While many might not see the need to add another domain name to the business, it should be monitored as it allows others to buy a business’s domain name.

Nick Fenner, brand protection specialist at law firm TLT, explains the first step retailers must take to protect their brand. “To assist brand owners, ICANN has set up the Trademark Clearinghouse system as a central repository of trademark rights. Retailers will need to register trademark rights with the Trademark Clearinghouse as part of their brand strategy,” he says.

“The Trademark Clearinghouse will enable brand owners to receive notification of any applications to register domains identical to their trademarks and conduct dispute resolution procedures to challenge unauthorised applications more efficiently.”

Technology writer Kate Russell, author of Working the Cloud, a guide to doing business online, agrees that brands should be aware that anyone can apply to name and register a GTLD but highlights that the cost of $185,000 (£121,000) for an initial evaluation will be prohibitive for individuals. However, she says: “Much like general use TLDs the costs are likely to start high and come down over time. Ten years ago you would pay about $50 (£32.60) for an average .com domain name but if you tried registering one prior to 1995 it would have been an investment of thousands of dollars.”

Russell states that GTLDs have been introduced because of the growing demand for new websites. “2012 figures suggest there are more than 600 million websites and that figure is growing by some 51 million a year,” she says. “With a finite number of TLDs there are a limited number of web addresses, meaning people have to add numbers, letters or other unique identifiers to their URL, making it harder to remember. Adding more domain extensions will open the web to billions more personalised, easy to remember web addresses as the internet continues to grow exponentially.”

Neilson Hall, head of SEO at digital marketing agency iProspect, believes initially GTLDs won’t have that much of an impact on the customer. He says: “The fact they are priced so highly means only certain brands will be able to leverage the new format and those brands tend to be the ones that already have considerable brand presence. They could potentially be used to increase the amount of natural search visibility by occupying more of Google’s real estate by placing unique content on individual pages across multiple domains.”

However, critics suggest these new domain names are just another expense to a brand or retailer, and one that is likely to confuse customers, making them unsure of the security of a site with a domain name they are not used to. Either way, GTLDs are being applied for and will come into fruition in some form, so businesses need to monitor the online activity around their brand name to ensure it remains protected.

Companies that have applied for GTLDs

● Amazon
● Apple
● Boots
● Lipsy
● L’Oréal
● Macy’s
● Next
● Walmart

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