This article originally was published by the Baton Rouge Business Report on Sept. 29, 2014
By Penny Font
More than 1,300 URL extensions are about to become available. Should your company switch or expand from .com?
Where once .com, .org, .net and .biz prevailed, companies soon will have more than 1,000 generic top-level domains from which to choose to brand themselves online.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, recently decided to vastly expand its addressing system to include the likes of .florist, .repair, .homes, .technology, .construction and more.
This means a company like, say, Community Coffee could adopt community.coffee as a URL.
So how’s a company to decide whether or not to make the jump? We asked MESH account director Jason Feirman to share his thoughts on the pros and cons.
With experience in creative direction, brand management, project planning and graphic design for traditional, digital and social platforms, he routinely assists clients in developing unique, effective strategies. The publications director for LSU Athletics for more than a decade, he oversaw the creative team and visual brand identity of one of college athletics’ most recognized brands.
Feirman, former American Advertising Federation-Baton Rouge president, has received numerous national awards for his work from the College Sports Information Directors of America and AAF and was recognized as the 2010-11 AAF National President of the Year. He also received the 2013 Ralph Sims Award for lifetime achievement in advertising education.
How big of a deal is it for business that ICANN has significantly broadened the pool of available domains?
Immediately none. But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. From a corporate branding standpoint, you want to always be on top of maintaining your name for websites and the ever-changing social platforms. It will affect different industries at different times as these domain names become available. I would make it a point to review the 300-plus on the list now and keep an eye out for others planned for the future.
Let’s look down the road a year—eons in tech time. In terms of business, what will the new norm look like with these new domains? How might they affect search results and other online factors?
At first they will be used to simplify the message or provide a unique link for consumers to find your company. Some of the new domains are meant to help a consumer understand what industry you work in, but others could have a reverse effect if used incorrectly.
Should a business with a .com or a .net domain switch to an extension that may describe its product or service better, or will .com always be king?
You should never switch and leave the old one in the dust. It has taken companies decades to establish their .com URLs. It would be like 1-800-Flowers giving up its memorable phone number. Definitely secure a domain if you see it as a future enhancement to your company’s brand or messaging to consumers.
What if you’re one of those entities with a ridiculously long URL? Does it make sense to switch, now that there are more options?
In each case there will always be exceptions. We always recommend the shortest possible website address, Facebook name and Twitter or Instagram handle. This makes it more likely a consumer will be able to recite it when they need to find you. Brevity also helps when you have limited space to publish these connection points to your company.
At the very least, should I lock down any generic top-level domains relevant to my business to prevent competitors from using them, or is that just a colossal waste of money?
If one of these domains matches your brand’s marketing and communication messages, then at least purchase it so your competitor doesn’t. Trademark issues have become tremendously difficult to police with the establishment of many different relevant platforms and now new domain names, but losing out on valuable ones could be more damaging in the long run.
What are the pros and cons of switching to one of these new URLs or securing them to forward to my main site?
The pros include consistent branding and a clearer name to direct consumers to your company and your products or services. Online users are tremendously more sophisticated, and you want to continue to make it as easy as possible for people to find you, whether they are directly typing in your domain name or using a search engine.
The cons are the various unknowns. The ever-changing search engine algorithms used could one day outweigh the importance of these in the future more than your current address. Another con is that change takes time, and you never want to make it hard for your customers to find you because they were not informed.
Is this going to create a trademark nightmare, given early indications of heavy cybersquatting on URLs involving big brand names?
No doubt. However, with time and the correct legal documentation, you should have no issues resolving it if you find something with your name has been taken.
What’s the best strategy if my business ends up a target of the .sucks domain expected to go live next year?
This is just another channel for naysayers to badmouth a company. It is no different from a letter to the editor in newspapers and magazines or picketing at the entrance of your headquarters. These voices will never be silenced, and all companies should have a crisis management plan in place for the various public relations issues that can arise. This could be another one, but it can be resolved with similar tactics. My guess is sports fans will be all over these to claim their rival team names, coaches and players.
Can you give me three examples of how I might utilize these new extensions in my digital marketing efforts?
Simplification: If one of these domain names that become available contains [all or part of] your official company name, you can reduce the amount of characters. For example, BRRivercenter.com could become BRRiver.Center.
Memorable messaging: Center an advertising campaign around a unique URL, in a way ad campaigns currently use hashtags. For example a local restaurant could center a campaign around a special SundayBrunch.Menu.
Clear communication of your product or service: This will be the most common change: for a company to take what they do out of their .com address and use a domain for their industry—.plumbing, .construction, .repair.
What else is on the horizon for online marketing?
Everything on the horizon has to do with the mobile device. You have seconds to grab attention, steer attention, educate and convert on a mobile device. Making the path simple to understand, memorable and trustworthy is a balance all companies should not take lightly. Even if your company’s transaction doesn’t occur online, in most cases it starts online.