The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) published details of the 1,930 applicants for new domains last week.
The list revealed a surprising number of well-known businesses vying for both branded and generic top-level domains (TLDs), including .bbc, .amazon and .music.
Google has been busy bidding for no fewer than 101 TLDs, while Amazon has applied for 76. At $185,000 for each application it isn’t a cheap process, so Google clearly feels that big things lie ahead for .are and .boo.
One of the most popular domains is .app for which ICANN received 13 applications.
So how will ICANN allocate the new TLDs and why would the BBC want to go through the painstaking effort of migrating its hugely popular site to an entirely new domain?
Afilias has been providing TLD registry services and DNS solutions since 2001, so to find out more about the new round of applications I spoke to CMO Roland LaPlante...
Why has ICANN decided to create all these new TLDs?
There’s been quite a lot of discussion about the TlD space around how creative and innovative it is. ICANN doesn’t believe it should be in the business of limiting the internet, it should be expanding the internet.
So it has come to the conclusion that it shouldn’t be a gatekeeper, but more of a tool for expansion.
What is the benefit for a brand to have its own TLD?
It gives brands a short, memorable destination that can be included in marketing and advertising, and that consumers can easily recall at a later date. Having your brand as that TLD is the ideal solution in the DNS we have today.
Consumers can’t be expected to write down or recall long URLs, so having something short and memorable is the best way to grab their attention.
Also, when you start an online business these days you can’t name it what you want, you have to name it based on what URLs are available. Now URLs will start to become much shorter and there will be more choice.
The second benefit is security. There’s no end of counterfeiting going on these days, and consumers don’t know whether they are buying legitimate goods when they go online.
Now, brands such as Rolex will have 100% control over their domain and can use it to validate anyone who is licensed to sell genuine Rolex products.
So consumers will know when they see the .rolex TLD that they are buying the real goods.
Most major companies already have well established websites, such as bbc.co.uk. Why would they need to change such a recognisable URL?
I don’t think anyone is going to get rid of their .com or .co.uk sites anytime soon, but ten years from now the internet will be very different and more complex, so one way for companies to retain that trust and security is to own their own space.
Many people have queried the security around IP addresses, but that’s because they haven’t read the rules laid out by ICANN. With previous rounds, such as .biz, there was an issue with cyber squatters, and it became the responsibility of the intellectual property holders to take action against them and reclaim the domain.
But as part of the process on this occasion the Trademark Clearinghouse will have to verify the TLDs before they can go live. It’s a significant improvement and, while it hasn’t been tested, it should offer real protection against cyber squatters.
Why does an application cost $185,000?
It is ICANN’s estimate of the administrative cost of each application. There are a lot of processes that it has to go through, and a lot of it has to be outsourced to experts which costs a lot of money.
It also includes legal costs, as ICANN expects there to be some legal challenges during the application process.
At the end of the whole process it expects to break even, it’s not trying to make any money.
How will the new domains affect backlinks and SEO?
The truth is that nobody knows. I believe that as brands put content on their new sites, as long as its good quality and useful, then TLDs related to brands will quickly move up search rankings.
But it also depends on the overall quality of the TLD, as if it is full of bad sites then the entire TLD could be downgraded.
To go back to my previous example, I think if you are searching for Rolex five years from now, and the TLD has been carefully nurtured, then these new domains will come to the top in search rankings. But it will take time.
The TLDs that ICANN previously made available, such as .museum, have never really become popular. Why will it be different this time?
All the previous rounds were generic terms rather than being based on a business or community. At Afilias, it has taken us ten years to generate awareness of .info, but that TLD now includes more than 8m websites.
When it first launched there were many places that didn't even recognise .info as a valid email address, but awareness of different TLDs is more common now.
Also, the brands that have applied for the generic terms this time round are bigger players with huge financial support, so they might be able to have a bigger impact in the short term.
The branded TLDs will have less of a hard time as people already recognise them.
A lot of the generic terms, such as .music and .app, have several applicants. How will ICANN decide which applicant has the best case?
In the past ICANN had to make the decision between applicants, but now it has taken a step away from mediating such disputes so it's more objective and less of a beauty contest.
Assuming all applicants meet the necessary criteria, then there will be a period when businesses that have applied for the same TLD will be able to work it out among themselves.
If they can’t decide between them who should be the sole applicant for a particular TLD, then it will go down to a bidding process. You can argue whether or not that’s the best process, but I think ICANN has looked at it and this is the fairest way to decide things.