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The new .uk domains seem to be unstoppable, despite the many potential drawbacks for UK businesses and consumers. 

Here are a few reasons why I, and others, think this is a bad idea...

There is no real demand for it

The .co.uk domain works perfectly well for the country's online businesses, and there is no urgent need to change it nor any major sign of demand from businesses or consumers. 

In fact, the only justification I can find comes from research that "79% of British consumers prefer to use a .uk domain when buying online".

This figure comes from Nominet's own research, carried out in 2011 and, since I cannot find the full survey or methodology anywhere, it's hard to make sense of that statistic. 

It's effectively a tax on the UK's digital economy

If you have a site on the .co.uk domain, then you're effectively obliged to buy the .uk version. This is for several reasons: 

  • If .uk becomes the domain for the UK, you can't afford not to have one for your site. 
  • Fraud. Someone could easily buy the .uk version of your site and use it for phishing, as the distinction between .uk and .co.uk is a subtle one. 
  • Exploitation by competitors. A competitor site could buy the .uk version of your domain and use it to siphon off a chunk of your search traffic. 

Estimates vary, but some guess that the new domains could cost the UK's digital businesses between £50m and more than £100m when you take into account the costs of acquiring the new domains, changing stationery, staff time, technical changes, PPC and so on. 

As Dan Barker points out, "it's quite sad to think of the amount of money it would cost UK business, with no real upside".

It benefits Nominet and its members more than anyone

The benefits of the new domain extension are unclear at best for businesses, but the extra renewal fees will certainly benefit Nominet. 

Depending on the uptake, and based on a £5 per year renewal fee, Nominet stands to make more than £25m, and perhaps £40m+ from .uk. (thanks to Edwin Hayward)

The Nominet voting system isn't exactly democratic

As Emily Taylor explains in this excellent article, the voting system in Nominet is somewhat puzzling to an outsider. It's reminiscent of rotten boroughs from the 19th century and before. 

It isn't one member, one vote. No, for each domain you possess, you get an extra vote. Thus, the big domain businesses control most of the votes.

Just 1% of Nominet’s membership controls over 60% of its voting power. Therefore, is it any surprise that policy coming from Nominet favours the interests of this 1%?

The security justifications for the new domains are not backed up by the facts

Nominet has tied the new domain changes into security measures meant to reduce the £27bn lost to online crime in the UK each year. 

First of all, much of that £27bn comes from IP theft, which the new measures won't deal with. Secondly, if security is an issue, why not introduce these measures for existing domains? 

Nominet has not really answered this question effectively,but one thing is clear. Security is not a justification for .uk domains. 

It devalues .co.uk 

This Nominet website is still promoting .co.uk as a great place to be, but it's about to reduce the value of these domains. 

How? Here are just two ways:

  • SEO. Will the new .uk domain carry more weight with the search engines? If so, then your search position is at risk. 
  • Security. If the new domains are billed as more secure, this implies that the others are riskier. 

The difficulty of acquiring the .uk version of your current domain

Let's hope, if you're an online business, you have the .org.uk, .plc.uk (and so on) versions of your domain, as well as the .co.uk version. 

Otherwise, you may face a battle to grab your .uk domain. This kind of confusion does not help business. 

According to Nominet's consultation document:

We propose to grant registrants of existing third level domain names under Nominet’s management (.co.uk, .org.uk, .me.uk, .ltd.uk, .plc.uk, .sch.uk,) a six month period to exercise a right of first refusal to register the second level equivalent. Recognising the range of second levels that make up the register we propose to grant the right to the currently registered domain name string which has the earliest registration date. 

The modified release process would eliminate the need for detailed factual assessment of the merits of competing claims and the need for auctions to resolve ‘tie-break’ situations. On balance, we believe it would be fair, simple to use, less expensive to operate and less costly for end users and remain in line with the principles of first-come, first-served.

In summary

It seems likely that the new domains will go ahead, though this isn't finally decided just yet, simply because the members of Nominet with the most influence (domain name businesses) are supporting it. 

However, it offers few, if any, real benefits for UK businesses, and promises to land them with lots of new costs, the uncertainty of acquiring new domains, and some real problems if they aren't able to secure the new version of their current web address.

Nominet has so far failed to put forward a convincing business case. Bizarrely, it even says this isn't its purpose when carrying out consultations. 

Quite simply, if a non-profit organisation which is supposed to exist for the benefit of all online businesses and internet users wants to bring a change with such potential impact, it's not unreasonable to expect a solid business case. 

So, with no convincing business case for .uk, the potential costs and confusion for online business the proposed changes will bring, combined with the £25m+ Nominet stands to make from this, it's hard not to be cynical... 

 

What do you think? Good or bad idea? Will you be grabbing the new .uk domain for your business? Let me know below...

Graham Charlton

Published 16 September, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (15)

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Rob Millard

Rob Millard, SEO Client Director at VCCP Content

Not sure that the "devalues SEO" argument is true - if your .uk domain is 301 redirected to your main .co.uk domain, there's no problem right?

If you choose to migrate from your .co.uk to your new .uk, you might see some short term losses but again, handled in the right way, it shouldn't be a problem.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Rob I was thinking more of search positions being diluted if someone else has the .uk version of your current domain name.

over 2 years ago

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Keith Pollard

It's simply a money making exercise driven by the domain name re-sellers and speculators. It is of no benefit to the industry at large. Nominet as a non-profit should represent the interests of all members, and not be driven by the ambitions of large for-profit businesses.

over 2 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

Unless the ".co.uk" becomes obsolete then , yes, the value of the ".uk" will be totally acceptable and companies will thank themselves for buying their second level domain names. If Google.uk were to be the main port of call for searches then it would have to be compulsory (like our .fr)... But for the cost of a domain name, why would one not want to own it?

over 2 years ago

Rob Millard

Rob Millard, SEO Client Director at VCCP Content

@Graham given Google's down-weighting of exact-match domains last year (http://www.seroundtable.com/google-emd-update-15776.html) it shouldn't pose much of a problem - companies should be able to manage their brand search results with social media profiles etc.

Anyway - sorry to nitpick, good post!

over 2 years ago

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Edwin Hayward

@Keith Actually, "domain name re-sellers and speculators" are some of the most adamantly opposed to the idea of .uk. Being "inside" the industry, they were some of the first to see the gaping holes in Nominet's proposal.

The main drivers for .uk:

- Nominet stand to make a ton of money and gain more power and influence in the UK internet industry
- Nominet's partner registrars get a huge influx of extra business selling .uk domains to existing and new clients (the top 1% of registrars have 60% of the votes)

In fact, it's instructive to look at all the reasons Nominet have put forward for launching .uk. In V2 of the consultation, there are no security benefits left (all the security aspects were stripped out after the V1 consultation closed) and no benefits of any kind for the 10,000,000 existing registrants - only extra costs and consumer confusion.

I've covered this at length (with full sources - I don't believe in loosely throwing around data I can't back up) in my V2 consultation response, which you can download from http://www.mydomainnames.co.uk/v2response2.pdf

over 2 years ago

Neale Gilhooley

Neale Gilhooley, MD at Evolution Design

This is a self serving exercise on behalf of Nominet and their coffers. I'm angry that they represent and push the .co.uk meanwhile they come up with this devaluing distraction which will actually cost most businesses more money - and leave consumers baffled and possibly open to making mistakes online.

True a single .co.uk is not that expensive to a business, however like many companies and brands we have a raft of names which does cost a lot to maintain and for no benefit other than self defence and keeping the squatters and abusers out. As a small design consultancy Evolution Design has about 40 domain permutations and we may need to add up to 10 more, each and every year, forever.

Also being based in Scotland we are also having to face up to adding .scot domains as well, and who want that one?

It is a real issue as we did have a domain dispute recently when an SEO company registered similar domains and ran them against us until they were forced into liquidation by HMRC, Nominet were not of much use then, unless we paid for the entire Dispute Resolution Service process, for that story see: http://www.edinburghdesignconsultancy.co.uk/?p=12

over 2 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Neale

the link in your blog is 404'ing - the one to IPO.

over 2 years ago

Neale Gilhooley

Neale Gilhooley, MD at Evolution Design

Hi Deri

I just checked and it worked for me, the first page is http://www.edinburghdesignconsultancy.co.uk

Thanks for your interest.

over 2 years ago

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Edwin Hayward

Worth noting that Nominet hired in an external consultancy, Nomensa, to summarise the results of their first round of consulting on this issue.

This V1 report can be downloaded from http://www.nominet.org.uk/sites/default/files/NomensaAnalysisFinal.pdf

However, you have to know of the report's existence, because it is no longer linked from any other page on Nominet's website! In other words, unless you already know about it you'll literally never be able to find it.

over 2 years ago

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Pleiades Alberts

So what does this have to say about South Africa where we use the .co.za domain? We predominantly want to attract South African end users and clients. It also builds trust with the end users we're attracting as we are a born and bred SA company that offers competitions by SA brands to SA consumers. Most sites by SA companies use the .co.za domain and it's trusted.

We briefly, very briefly, considered the .com version of our website and ditched it. Yes, it was almost immediately bought up and we've been offered to buy it back. However, that is unconstitutional and we have the relevant international laws that we can call upon if we wish to 'buy' it back.

Please get rid of the captcha code. There's newer versions out there that are more user-friendly.

over 2 years ago

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Dan Winchester, Founder at FreeDating.co.uk

One of the problems with this proposal is that Nominet are positioning .uk as a commercial space, but that is exactly what .co.uk already is.

So we will have two parallel commercial spaces within the UK namespace.

Who does this benefit?

Internet users? No - they have the confusion of two address variations where previously there was one. Their favourite sites could get hijacked by competitors or scammers.

Businesses? No - they must now pay for both variations of their name in the UK commercial name space - something they thought (Nominet led them to believe) they had already secured with .co.uk. Plus they may not get their name at all if a cyber-squatter has the .org.uk. What a disaster that would be!

Nominet? Yes - even though they are a not-for-profit, they openly admit to wanting to grow the Nominet business.

Registrars? Yes, and how! The registrars, who own Nominet, stand to net an absolute bonanza as the size of their UK business could double overnight.

It makes me wonder if Nominet is really a safe custodian of the UK namespace, given that the only stakeholder it seems to consider is the registrars (and itself).

If we must have .uk, why not just migrate .co.uk to .uk, and fund it using Nominets vast cash reserves?

over 2 years ago

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Edwin Hayward

It's interesting that there's almost zero media support for the idea of .uk. Of the 115 articles I've collected since the first consultation began in October 2012, only 11 (9.5%) could find anything positive to say about it, while 42.5% were strongly opposed to the idea and 90.5% were opposed to .uk.

Despite that, Nominet's stance all the way through this process is that there is "broad support" for .uk, although they have provided no evidence to support their statement.

You can see the full media analysis (complete with sources) on my blog http://www.webmastering.co.uk/domain-names/media-sentiment-analysis-for-the-concept-of-uk-domains/

over 2 years ago

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Dan Winchester, Founder at FreeDating.co.uk

Edwin - did the journalists properly understand how Nominet is owned and governed? This piece on econsultancy is the first thing I have read where the author exposes how Nominet is basically a puppet for the large registrars, and the fact that it is a "non-profit" is a complete red herring.

The media should be asking whether Nominet's structure makes it a fit and proper entity to govern the UK namespace on behalf of UK citizens!

over 2 years ago

Neale Gilhooley

Neale Gilhooley, MD at Evolution Design

Thanks guys I did view the report PDF linked by Edwin, it says "The responses to the consultation were analysed by Nomensa"

I'm not sure that Nomensa are an external research consultancy at all - the report has their logo but they appear to be more of a digital design and UX agency based on a visit to http://www.nomensa.com/ they say "Nomensa - We're a strategic UX design agency transforming digital experiences"

Why hire a UX agency to present research findings?

The report does have one pretty "Important caveat #1: Question 11a was confusing and potentially misinterpreted by respondents
11a.

Q. Do you agree that Nominet should consider the provision of
a more secure .uk domain name service with registrations directly
at the second level? This question was potentially confusing to respondents.

over 2 years ago

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