Protecting yourself online in the new domain name age

The online world has long been a space in which brands and businesses have jostled for attention.

Until recently, there have been only a small number of domain extensions available, with the most popular ones including ‘.com’, or ‘.co.uk’.

The limited number of possibilities meant that prime domain addresses were fiercely fought over, with the market becoming increasingly saturated as rising numbers of brands looked to establish an online presence.

Now however, a new programme spearheaded by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is changing the face of the domain name marketplace - by introducing more than 1200 new domain suffixes to the internet.

As a result, the small and somewhat stale pool of traditional .com and .co.uk domain extensions has become far more diverse, and we’re now seeing extensions which are brand-specific (.LEGO), geographic (.NYC), and even foreign-scripted (.شبكة). The move is designed to open up the domain name space, and inject a new level of competition into the market.

In total, more than 1200 new web extensions are due to be launched over the next few years, and the influx of new domains presents both significant opportunities and threats to brands. Here are some key insights to help navigate the new domain name programme:

1) Identify which domains are being released, and when

It’s important for marketers to be aware of the different types of domains which are being released, and how each type could affect their brand. There are six main categories:

- Internationalised Domain Names: Where the domain suffix is in a foreign-scripted (.شبكة).
- Brand-specific domains: Where brands register a whole suffix, eg. .GOOGLE
- Geographical domains: Such as the recently-launched .LONDON
- Sector-focused: Such as .SHOP or .LUXURY
- All-purpose domains: Such as .World and .LINK
- Generic domains: Such as .CLUB and .COOL

Marketers will need to have an idea of when each domain is being released, in order to begin the registration process. There is a calendar available which maps out the already confirmed timescales for the new upcoming domains.

2) Identify the opportunities

Brands can use the new domain addresses to increase command of their online presence, and better control their corporate image.

For example, a clothes retailer could utilise the .SHOP, .LUXURY or .FASHION domains to help consumers associate the brand with a specific area of expertise, which has a valuable effect on revenue.

The new domains allow brands to create striking and memorable domain addresses, and demonstrate high levels of consumer trust. A business could perhaps utilise the .TRUST suffix to further verify the brand’s identity online.

The location and language-focused domains (such as .LONDON) help brands to appeal to a target audience, and allow visitors to know what the site is likely to deliver.

3) Identify the threats

Protecting your brand’s identity and trademark should be uppermost in your mind.

The new domain programme presents three main areas of threat which need to be negated. All three threats below pose significant damage to a business’ reputation online, so brands need to be vigilant.

i) Brand damage:

Unhappy or disgruntled customers can damage your brand by registering domains such as yourbrand.SUCKS, or yourbrand.WTF

Domains to keep an eye on: .SUCKS, .GRIPE, .EXPOSED, .CHEAP, .ADULT, .PORN

ii) Fraud:

Phishing threats are on the rise, and criminals could register your brand against a new domain to masquerade as you, and steal customer identities/passwords.

Domains to keep an eye on: .GROUP, .SOLUTIONS, .ONLINE, .FINANCE

iii) Counterfeiting

Domains which could be registered used for the sale of counterfeit goods using your brand, such as ‘yourbrand.cheap’.

Domains to keep an eye on: .SHOP, .DEAL, .DISCOUNT, .SALE

4) Protect your brand

Brands need to ensure they have a complete overview of how their name is registered and used online.

The first step is to register their trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH). Set up by ICANN, this is a single database of registered trademarks which offers protective mechanisms tailored to trademark holders.

Registering your brand has two distinct advantages:

  1. You will have ‘first dibs’ on registering new domains related to your trademark, before the domain registration process opens up to the general public. This significantly minimises the chances of cybersquatting, where third parties look to exploit your brand name, or masquerade as you online.
  2. Having registered in the TMCH, brands are notified if anyone else attempts to register a domain using your trademark. You will then have the opportunity to take swift and decisive action if there is a breach of trademark ownership.

The new domain programme is expanding the internet significantly, and the opportunities for brands and their marketers to bolster their online offerings are numerous.

That said, there are pitfalls and threats which can prove costly for brands to correct, and they need to be aware of the protective mechanisms which are in place to prevent damage to business’ trademarks and reputations.

Jan Corstens is World-Wide Project Manager at the Trademark Clearinghouse.