If you’re at a start-up or already running a small business, your domain name is a key asset and your window to consumers and the rest of the world. Chances are you spent a few hours (at least) finding and registering a domain name that fits your goals and business strategy—likely in the .com space. Why .com? Well, the Internet landscape that exists now is heavily tilted toward .com; in fact, over 75% of all (global) domains are in the .com space.
The folks who ‘run’ the Internet, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) are out to expand the number of domains available, allowing branded and generic registries like .web, .app, .mail, .news, .love, .hotel, .cloud, .citi, .green, and .apple to come online in the next few months. Almost two thousand new .brand and .term names will go live, with many of the new registries in Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic—the first time that non-alpha numeric symbols will identify a registry.
Many small businesses in the US aren’t even aware of the impending changes, while the reaction from large business owners in the United States has been awareness mixed mostly with skepticism that this will actually happen. They are incredulous that ICANN wants to create more space on the Internet where bad actors might cybersquat, phish, spear-phish, or more generally scam the public, while costing brands money to police and protect their trademarks and intellectual property. The Association of National Advertisers (“ANA”) and 47 other major associations joined together in 2011 with the sole purpose of killing off the ICANN expansion. The President of the ANA has stated that U.S. business will be “irreparably harmed” by the program.
Even so, the roll-out is moving forward (with some fits and starts) and these new domains will be coming to a computer near you very shortly. Just this week, in fact, it was announced that the first new registry strings will be in Chinese characters. The .anything era is truly upon us.
So, if you own or manage a brand,what steps should you take in the coming months? The lawyer in me says: it depends. Here are a few things to remember as you plot your strategy:
- DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: The Internet is not going to hell in a hand basket. There have been new registries introduced over the years—.mobi, .museum, and .tv, for instance—and nobody paid much attention.
- OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND: Many of the good web addresses are taken right now, but that is going to change. For start-ups and small businesses looking for good domain names, there are going to be many more choices. In the past, choosing a name was frequently accompanied by having to purchase that name for hundreds of dollars on the secondary domain market, at brokers like Sedo.com.
- PLAY A LITTLE OFFENSE: If your small business has developed a valuable brand name, make sure you look at the list of new registries, or consult with someone who will do it for you. If your business relates to a niche area that might benefit from a domain in a new registry, it might be worth registering a few to see if those registries pan out and become “go-to” places in the future.
- PLAY A LITTLE DEFENSE, TOO: Your business might be hurt by someone who registers your trademark in a new registry. While you shouldn’t register every domain under the sun (and you probably couldn’t afford to anyway), you can identify some relevant registries that have domain names that will be cheap to own and hold onto. Further, if you have a registered trademark, you can take advantage of early registry or “Sunrise Registration” periods that will allow you to get in early and protect your mark. Get familiar with litigation alternatives like the UDRP complaint process that can save you money and time if you have to recover a cybersquatted domain.
- IT’S ALL ABOUT SEARCH: Making sure that your startup or small business maximizes its content, via search engines like Google and Bing, is probably the most important aspect of your digital presence. There is no way to know how search algorithms may be affected by the onslaught of new registries. However, search is certainly going to evolve, and may even become more niche, with search engines within registries becoming an important way to search verified or trusted sources within a space.
The new domains are coming, and sooner than you think. Be ready to play offense and defense when they do. Your brand name is one of your business’ most important assets; don’t ignore the potential problems and opportunities this expansion of the Internet can provide for your business.