As I venture somewhere far beyond my twenties, I often find myself fondly remembering times when things seemed, well simpler. Channel hopping was restricted to three (or even four) TV channels, there was no internet to distract every waking hour, it was ‘Match of the day’ or ‘The Big Match’…in fact the biggest decision of the week was which penny sweets to buy on a Sunday. What I’m remembering is simply times when choice was far more limited, which is a situation that, not too long ago, was the same for domain names.
The sheer numbers of gTLDs, ccTLDs, ssTLDs, new gTLDs is a minefield of options, risk and opportunity, that unsurprisingly send many brand owners, Counsels and IT Chiefs to despair. The bright side is that there are ways through the minefield and as a starting point here are some of the key factors to consider.
Core Domains – the ones you’re going to use
First and foremost, understand your customer journey. How are users arriving at a website?? Is it direct, organic search, social, paid search etc. How you intend users to find or arrive at your website will be the biggest determinant behind the domain names that deliver a value to your brand and, as a consequence, you should be registering.
The bits to the right of the ‘dot’
Everything to the right of the dot in a domain name should be there to help create context, context that either helps in terms of search results, in country recognition or something that is just easy to remember. These fall into three rough categories:
- Top Level Domains: These are the originals, dotcom, dotBiz, dotOrg etc. Based on the numbers dotcom is resoundingly still ‘king’ in terms of its appeal and use as a primary destination. Does a business generally need to register all of these Top Level Domains?? Probably not, the answer will really depend on how unique your string is and how much potential confusion there may be with another businesses.
- Country Codes: Every country has one of several Country Code domains such as dotFr (France), dotDe (Germany) etc., which are extremely beneficial in terms of in local country search, a domain that will be easily recognisable in country and a platform for local country.
- New Top Level Domains: Whereas Country Code domains (ccTLDs) provide country related context, new gTLDs provide content and location specific context, which can be very powerful i.e. a Paris based retailer using a dotParis domain, or an Engineering firm using dotEngineering or even a dotGroup domain being used as the destination address for a Group of companies.
The bits to the left of the dot
Consistency, consistency, consistency! The part of the domain to the left of the dot (known as the string) is your unique identifier, your brand, product or service etc. Over time strings have morphed into varying elongated and hyphenated forms as companies wanted to add context, or a Country Code domain wasn’t available or a multitude of other reasons. This has served a purpose, but it has also created a number of problems:
- You end up with a potentially large number of domain names
- The strings tend to become longer and less memorable and,
- The more variables you create the more difficult it becomes for an end user to differentiate between the genuine domain and a fraudulent one
The more consistent you keep your ‘strings’, the less of a concern the issues above will be.
The last aspect to consider is language, especially script languages such as Chinese. Do not assume all internet users search and behave in the same way. They don’t!!
Defensive domains – the parts your legal Counsel should worry about
Probably the most contentious part of a brands domain portfolio, but it can also be an immensely valuable set of assets. Whilst these registrations will not actually add value to a brand, they can often help restrict the value that is eroded.
The first point of note is that Trademark portfolios and domain portfolios should align. A good trademark portfolio will remove the necessity for excessive defensive registrations. It does not remove the threat of fraudulent activity, but you can at least feel confident that you have a position to defend via a domain dispute or other legal action.
Defensive domain registrations can then often be a useful tool to prevent some of the more obvious platforms for fraudulent activity as well as ‘future proof’ a business for expansion. Above all:
- Understand where the potential threats are coming from
- Be aware of the coverage your Trademark portfolio provides i.e. countries that require local Trademark registrations
- Be aware of countries that do not support domain disputes or where the costs may be significant