One thing is for certain: Top Level Domain ownership is big money. The most recently disclosed winning bids for gTLDs was in excess of $18MM. And that was just the first two rounds. There are four more rounds to go. And this doesn’t include the ongoing revenue the winner is entitled to for managing and selling domains against the TLD.
I was asked a few months ago to form a point of view on a domain purchasing strategy for one of our clients. I was pretty forthright with them: this isn’t something we regularly do, but yes, it falls under our domain (pun intended) and we feel equipped to research and form a strategic framework which will inform your business during important moments such as product launches or acquisitions.
Of course I won’t be able to disclose the strategy here, but my interest was recently renewed by a conversation with a colleague and it occurred to me that as digital marketers, TLD and gTLDs are an aspect of our ecosystem we are largely ignoring.
A couple definitions for us:
- TLD – Top Level Domain
- gTLD – generic Top Level Domain
- ccTLD – country code Top Level Domain
There are several more than this, but related to infrastructure and reserved domains, and which aren’t overtly pertinent to this discussion.
Here is a visualization of Top Level Domains as of late 2013 – numbers taken from a GoDaddy report:
.com 74% | .net 10% | .org 7% | .info 4% |.biz 2% | .us 1% | .co 1% | .mobi 1% | .me .5%
So the use of current gTLDs is where the conversation usually begins. .COM is a massive TLD with over 7 times the use of its nearest counterpart, .NET. As of late 2013 there are no more two letter (676 domains), three letter (17,576 domains) or four letter (456,976 domains) .com’s which are unowned (unowned is not equal to not-for-sale).
NOTE: those stats don’t include alphanumeric combinations, none of which are available either.
Big brands own the entire two letter segment and most of the three letter domains. Four letter domains are more diversely spread, and still have a fair number of squatters, looking to make a sale in the future.
When ICANN released additional gTLDs over the last few years, general adoption was slow. Companies and persons alike still covet the .com address. One of the most watched gTLDs, .XXX, slated for the adult entertainment industry, remains largely unused and un-promoted. But I believe gTLD adoption going to become mainstream very soon.
Domain Adoption is on the Cusp
So, allow me a extend a thought. Consumer sophistication is higher than it ever has been. Albeit not on a Moore’s Law trajectory, it is growing. Some of this can be attributed to Twitter who introduced the first widely accepted technical public user controls. The use of the ‘@’ and ‘#’ symbol aren’t just a visual ID system for Twitter users, they are code characters that allow for programmatic functions within the platform. And everyone is using them! On Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – I get texts with hashtags in them – seriously.
Another mitigating factor is the gTLD sister group country code Top Level Domains. Companies utilize the two letter combinations to create natural language syntax. Join.me, Bit.ly, Goo.gl: none of these operate out of a foreign country. (Montenegro, Libya and Greenland respectively) And consumers are becoming more apt at remembering and utilizing them.
What this indicates to me is that the general public is getting comfortable with technical digital concepts. And generic Top Level Domains are poised to be next. Supporting the domain revolution is Search, where some estimate that 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine. And if I am searching a subject, I am clicking a link and not placing a subjective value on the TLD. If a search engine believes that the best result is on http://www.example.mobi and not on http://www.example.com, who am I to disagree? Even if I was to disagree, I might only be with 25% of the search users who get past the first page of results.
Don’t be a hoarder, be purposeful.
For the largest brands ensuring that you have full control over every gTLD for is important. Airlines, major consumer goods and services, I get it. If I were Coke, owning www.Coke.bike is probably pretty important. However if I am Cannondale, I don’t see a reason to own www.Cannondale.cab. (But Cannondale.bike seems like a natural fit, yeah?) Just like with a current domain schema, the onboarding of new TLDs should be thoughtful and have a framework to support them. Since any domain name is a channel, larger brands might consider purchasing domains to offer context to content:
- http://www.example.com for the brand
- http://www.example.support for customer service
- http://www.example.supplies for, well, supplies
- http://www.example.blog for, well the blog
You see where this is going? Where most brands exercised an approach with sub-domains (support.example.com) it is now possible to build out a different model and create natural context to content which is informative to the user, at the Top Level (couldn’t resist).
Of course, some defensive purchases will be inevitable for any company, however a larger approach should be determined quickly so that other elements of the brand can follow suit. Many companies already have a dicey ecosystem of domains and domain management with units and divisions purchasing URL’s like it’s the wild west; and as any digital marketing professional will tell you (and be seconded by their IT counterpart) trying to manage a wild west of domains is similar to putting toothpaste back in the tube, it’s really, really hard.
So simple advice – if your company had or is having troubles with even the dominant TLDs, its time for a framework and some structure or the challenges are only going to become exponentially more complicated in time.
GoDaddy Shared the new gTLDs with the most interest, some of which aren’t available yet.
A list of all current gTLDs as published on Wikipedia. (hint: there are more coming….)