The expansion of the generic top level domains is upon us and the debate as to whether or not one should attempt to acquire or not acquire has intensified. The basic premise behind ICANN’s (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers) gTLD expansion is that the nature of the current digital landscape calls for a more brand-centric approach in order for it to continue to grow. In layman’s terms, the world is running out of .com’s, .org’s, .net’s, etc. and so we need new options for domain names. In ICANN’s own words:
“ICANN has opened the Internet’s naming system to unleash the global human imagination. Today’s decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind,” said Rod Beckstrom, President and Chief Executive Officer of ICANN.
And so it is an endeavor to better mankind and serve humanity… [insert vinyl record scratch noise here]. Really? Well let’s look at some of the facts from both point and counter-point, and see if altruism is really what’s behind the movement.
The overall value of acquiring a Top Level Domain has been questioned by experts in the field of marketing. Some of those who strongly advocate pursuing one of the expanded gTLD options contend that it will completely change the integration of offline branding with online marketing efforts due to the broad brand recognition it provides. Advocates also speculate that the expansion into the new .brand, .category, .anything domain structure additions would be the ultimate game changer in organic search results, nudging the algorithms drastically in favor of the new gTLD’s for searches on the applicable keyword you have chosen to trademark.
Those who advocate not engaging in the application process and subsequent purchase of gTLD’s contend that only the mega brands will have the necessary resources to pursue and win their desired .brand or .category gTLD. Antagonists also speculate that there is a distinct possibility that the search engine algorithms will adapt (or be forced to adapt) to these new gTLD’s in order to limit the preference shown toward the gTLD’s over the traditional .extension domains. These contentions have increased lately and some of the foundation for their contentions are based on the current climate of class warfare rhetoric, and increasing government regulation on free market activities. Google could come under heavy scrutiny for favoring only the very wealthy should they allow the new gTLD’s to dominate the top organic search results as ICANN is anticipating they will. Antagonists contend that this type of scrutiny would only add to the current legal battles that Google has been encountering from both the FTC as well as competitors for favoring its own properties and results over those of its alleged competition.
Location3 Media contends that by purchasing the right gTLD for your brand you could see enormous lift in organic search results for the chosen category, brand or keyword. However, with the current cost limitations, and with the many unknown elements involved, the potential for large-scale engagement in purchasing gTLD’s in the first round will likely be somewhat limited. Engaging is a gamble, and an extremely expensive gamble at that. Consequently, for those who do engage in the application/purchase process you must ensure that you have the necessary asset fluidity to be an early adopter, and must ensure that the potential for gain outweighs the potential risks involved.
Should you have interest in pursuing ownership of your own gTLD you may apply for the direct brand name, or you may also choose to apply for a product name, or a category (ex.: .signs). Assessing whether or not to engage in the application process for a gTLD should include feedback from, and inclusion of, your legal team, digital marketing support team, board of directors, etc. A decision must be reached on what gTLD to apply for and how it will be used.
If you choose to move forward with your decision on acquiring a gTLD your team will need to delve into the areas of discovery, assessment, recommendations and orchestrating the application preparation work which is extremely lengthy. The deadline for submission is a four month window which began in January and goes through April of 2012, with the next anticipated submission period coming somewhere near 2015 to 2016. If you were approved for your Top Level Domain it would publish sometime between 2013 and 2015 depending upon the level of interest and/or complications ICANN is encountering.
Objections or string contention issues may arise concerning the gTLD you are applying for. When those objections arise you will need to have your responses carefully crafted to validate why your brand is the most deserving and well-suited brand to own the particular gTLD it has applied for. As contentions arise it will cost you money to respond to those contentions and if another party has applied for (or objects to your application for) the same gTLD then a bidding war ensues.
Costs for initial application are in the neighborhood of $185,000. After that you must pay annual registry operation costs in the neighborhood of $100k to $350k per year; the first three years of registry costs must be “proven” up-front meaning it must be readily available or the credit amount must be verified.
Your brand gTLD would act as a trademark and should be protected as a trademark would be. Over 1,000 gTLD’s are anticipated to be acquired in the first application round so if you do wait out this initial first round then you will in all likelihood miss out on many of the .category gTLD’s you have interest in acquiring. Many .brand TLD’s may still remain available for future application periods but you may have had to file your own contentions throughout the evaluation process in order to have retained their availability.
So, in an attempt to present an unbiased viewpoint on the benefits of acquiring or not acquiring a generic top level domain I hope that you now feel somewhat more informed. Regardless of which way you decide to go, I think we can be assured that when some sort of initiative is launched to actually better mankind, usually it doesn’t come with such financial strings attached.
Some additional reading resources: