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Seeing the New Domain Forest through the Trees

Posted by Heather DelCarpini on February 2nd, 2012 at 9:19 am

There’s been a lot of noise recently about a major change in the structure of the Internet which could have a big impact on online marketers -- the decision to allow new domain extensions. With so much chatter both on and offline, it’s worth taking a step back and a practical look at what’s happening in order to make sure your company doesn’t get caught up in the commotion.

First, some background. There are currently a couple dozen generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) like .com, .org, .biz and .jobs, but a few months ago the Internet’s governing body, ICANN, finalized plans to allow for (potentially) hundreds more. My colleague’s previous iMediaConnection article, “5 Questions about ‘Dot Anything’ Domains,” is a great read if you really want to understand the basics of domain names and what was announced last summer.

Why all the recent noise?

The reason you’ve heard so much about “new domains” over the last couple weeks is because ICANN officially began accepting applications for new gTLDs on January 12th. It’s important to note that this will be a long process – which is good, because this isn’t something to be rushed into. Keep in mind that these new domain extensions won’t be appearing overnight. Applications will be accepted from now until April 12th, and after that, ICANN will have to evaluate each application to decide which will be approved. With all the due diligence that’s required, we won’t start seeing the first new gTLDs hit the market until sometime in 2013.

If you’re managing online marketing or branding for a large company, you should definitely start paying attention to the process if you haven’t already. At this point, you should be thinking about the potential benefits and drawbacks of owning your own domain registry and should start discussing the possibilities with your colleagues. There are significant costs and technological factors involved in owning/managing your own gTLD, so it’s not something that every company will need (or want) to do. The application fee alone is $185,000 and once approved, you need to invest in the necessary infrastructure to manage the registry. However, when ICANN began accepting applications a couple weeks ago, it also announced a new applicant support program to ease the burden on organizations that would like to establish new public interest gTLDs. Qualifying organizations will receive financial assistance – including a reduced application fee of $47,000 – and pro bono services.

Companies that decide to move forward and apply for a gTLD only have a few weeks to act – the deadline to register for ICANN’s TLD Application System is March 29th. Those that decide not to apply for their own domain extension can sit back and watch the process unfold… for now. Once ICANN begins approving applications and announcing which new gTLDs will be launched, large companies and SMBs will want to quickly consider a strategy for buying new domains. For example, .nyc is rumored to be one of the new extensions, so if you own Joe’s Flower Shop in New York City, you’ll want to plan on purchasing JoesFlowerShop.nyc when that registry starts selling domains.

To sum it up – if there’s any chance you may want your own domain extension, you need to act quickly. If you don’t, you have a few months before you really have to start paying attention.  There’s a lot of noise out there about this important change to how consumers navigate the Internet, but if you step back, consider the timeline, and create a sensible strategy, you’ll be in a good position to protect your brand and drive traffic to your online properties.

For a full outline of ICANN’s published schedule, visit: http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/announcements-and-media/announcement-23jan12-en

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