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SXSW Recap: Innovative Startups Deserve Innovative Domain Names

Posted by Jeremiah Johnston on March 19th, 2014 at 6:24 am

I’m fresh back from another amazing trip to Austin for South by Southwest Interactive, and the inspiration I always bring home with me continues to linger like in years past. I was lucky enough to give a presentation on the ins and outs of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). These are the extensions that will be joining .com, .gov, .net, and the others we’ve become accustomed to over the Internet’s nearly three decades in existence. There will be hundreds of new extensions introduced this year, and some of them have already started to go live.

While walking the floor at SXSW, it’s hard not to be impressed by the many, truly innovative startup companies in attendance. But sadly, many of them had names that did their brands little to no justice, and a few of the companies I spoke with told me that they settled for company names simply based on what matching domains were available. Needless to say, most were not aware of the options available among the thousands of new extensions that are becoming accessible.

Herein lies a huge missed opportunity for startups, and one of the main reasons the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is responsible for overseeing the Internet’s domain names, decided to introduce hundreds of new gTLDs this year.  Basically, there haven’t been enough unregistered .com names to go around. Some companies have gotten creative by doing things like dropping all the vowels in their name – and sometimes strategies like this can work – but those branding gimmicks have their downsides, and overall the availability and affordability of good .com real estate has forced most businesses into a corner.

Great, innovative companies like the ones I met in Austin deserve better, and new TLDs give startups and marketers a nearly unlimited amount of strategic and creative choices for their web names. This week alone, extensions like .computer, .uno, .systems and .builders are hitting the market, and there will be more and more variety to choose from until they’ve all been released.  There could be up to 1,000 of them launched this year.

A great web domain gives startups and other businesses a foundation on which to build their brands or specific marketing campaigns. With so many new options flooding the market, it will become much easier for companies to find shorter, more memorable, or better-targeted names.

Like we saw with the first Internet land rush of the 90s and early 00s, new domains can go fast, which is why it’s important to keep an eye on the release schedule for new extensions and have an idea about which ones might interest you.  If you’re committed to your company name and already have a registered trademark, stay ahead of the land rush by signing up with the Trademark Clearinghouse. That way you can apply for matching domains before the public during each extension’s sunrise period, which run for no less than 30 days.

If someone else gets to that perfect name before you do, you could be paying an infinitely larger amount of money in the long run, or you might not get that name at all.  While the initial process may seem daunting, it’s an investment in which the benefits outweigh the cost. In fact, if history repeats itself, the best domains could end up selling for big bucks.

To close out my presentation in Austin, I reviewed the top 25 most expensive domains ever sold, a list that was topped by Sex.com selling for $13M in 2010.  After I stepped off the stage, a number of people approached me and were surprised by those figures, reconfirming the fact that many people are still unaware of just how valuable good domains can be.

I didn’t see much of a presence from new gTLDs at SXSW, either from new registries marketing themselves or companies utilizing new extensions – besides, of course, the .XYZ Squad and their purple full-body spandex suits! However, I did see some country code domains like .CO (Colombia) and .ME (Montenegro) continuing their ascent into to mainstream due to good marketing by the registries and the companies using them. Their success could be a good bellwether of things to come for other new extensions, but overall it’s still too early to tell just how quickly domains will be adopted.

As a mecca for interactive marketing, SXSW 2015 will be an interesting benchmark to see just how successful new extensions become in their first full year of use.  If there’s a community that can put them to good use, it’s the creatives who attend SXSW, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting next year’s trip to Austin to see how new domains are being put to use.

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