ICANN has approved the addition of new custom top-level domains. What does it mean for your business?
The global organization that oversees the Internet has approved a dramatic expansion of the generic top-level domains used in Web addresses. The changes, which could take affect by the end of 2012, would expand the current set of 22 top-level domains, including .com, .net, and .org, to include hundreds or even thousands of new possibilities.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to approve the change at its meeting in Singapore on Sunday. The decision sparked a flurry of speculation over how it could possibly change the face of the Internet -- and perhaps create a while new set of business opportunities.
While current top-level domains use generic terms, the expansion paves the way for companies to use trademarked names. In the future, the Internet environment might be populated with sites ending in names like .google, .pepsi, .apple, or even .bieber (c'mon, you know it's coming).
Part of the excitement comes from the relatively low cost of acquiring a top-level domain: According to ICANN, it will cost $185,000 to register and $25,000/year to operate the domain name. That's peanuts for large corporations, and it's not even out of the question for smaller firms with a compelling business reason to create a custom top-level domain.
But this could also get messy and complicated for a couple of reasons.
First, there is sure to be a gold rush of domain-grabbing to stake claims on Internet addresses and avoid the possibility of cybersquatting. Even though ICANN says it will use a diligent review procedure to make sure parties have a very valid claim to a new domain, not everyone is convinced it's up to the task.
ICANN will also have to judge the merits of competing legitimate claims on the same name. Who, for instance, would have the better right to the hypothetical .chicago domain? The city or the band? Should my alma matter or the city in England get .manchester?
You can see that there's a mess coming, something a lot of companies will be trying to avoid when registration for the new GTLDs opens from January 12-April 12, 2012.
Second, many businesses might jump on the domain-name bandwagon just for the sake of better branding or better search engine optimization (SEO). Some people are already suggesting that keeping a .com or .net address will be the equivalent of slumming it with the riff-raff, and that in turn will make SEO worse for a company's website.
Before you get spooked into buying based on that pitch, heed the words of SEO observer Danny Sullivan, who cogently reminds us that it's not just the address of a website that increases SEO.
"Bottom line--the new names will almost certainly mean nothing special to search engines. They won't have any super ranking powers," Sullivan writes. "If you managed to get .money, that doesn't mean you'll rank tops for money-related terms any more than people with the existing .travel domains do well for travel--because they don't."
That's a very important takeaway from the ICANN announcement, because Sullivan has seen the hype that has come from past domain name changes, such as the shift to 63-character names in 1999 and the .biz and .mobi top-level domains that came along in the last decade.
SEO is also about content, traffic, and who links to whom. Keep that in mind when you hear the hype about getting your very own GTLD.
GTLDs will be a big change, but there's no reason to feel your website will be lost if you don't get one for your business. Provide the service, the content, and keep your clients and partners happy; your site's existing address will do fine.
Brian Proffitt is a veteran technology journalist/analyst with experience in a variety of technologies, including cloud, virtualization, and consumer devices. He is also an adjunct instructor with the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. Check out Brian's website, Proffitt Margins, for more information.