Last month, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees Internet domains, went live with a long-drawn-out plan to massively expand the number of Internet generic top-level domains (gTLDs) available to businesses.
This is big news in the Internet world; over the past 30 years, only 14 new generic top-level domains had been created. This new plan will introduce hundreds and perhaps thousands of domains per year, and the first few – including .singles, .camera, .clothing and .bike – are already being rolled out by a company called Donuts, which has submitted more than 300 potential names to ICANN for approval. Google has also submitted for more than 100, including gTLDs to protect trademarks such as .google and those that have “interesting and creative potential,” such as .lol.
Businesses owning a trademark were allowed to submit a claim during a sunrise period before the names became available to the general public. More than 20 new gTLDs are now generally available from Donuts, with a handful of new ones coming out each week. Other domains will become available soon from other companies approved by ICANN.
Although a new name may be approved, it doesn't mean anyone can register a new domain in it. There are three phases of approval for each domain:
- Sunrise, a 60-day period during which legal trademark owners worldwide can stake a claim.
- Pre-registration, determined by the owner of the gTLD, where applicants can pre-register names for a price to be negotiated.
- Open registration, where anyone can register a new domain.
So what does this mean for SMBs, and why might they be interested in these new domains? First and foremost, it gives small businesses the ability to get in on interesting and simplistic domain names because of the sheer number of possibilities becoming available and the specificity of many, such as .plumber and .limo.
It also helps visitors understand what your company does just by looking at your URL – if you’re not a limousine company, you probably haven't grabbed a .limo domain. However, a company stuck with www.jonesandsonsjewelryco.com can add in www.jones.diamonds as its URL with prices starting at $40 per year.
Still, a number of questions still need to be answered before this becomes a no-brainer for SMBs. Because they are so new, there is not yet enough information on these gTLDs to understand how search engines will view and rank them. Unless it can be proven that they are given as much SEO weight as .com addresses, small businesses will likely take a look at what's available and may invest in one or two if the price is right, but steer clear of using them until the situation crystallizes. Until then, much of the land grab of new domains might be restricted to bigger companies looking to protect their brand.
It also might require a bigger marketing spend to get customers who are set in their ways to visit the new URLs, and SMBs with minimal marketing budgets may find this an insurmountable hurdle. Until mindshare is established for the new domain, SMBs will likely have to bear the cost of maintaining two domains and employing redirects to the new domain from the old site.
Consult your web hosting provider to learn more about the pros and cons of pursuing a new gTLD for your SMB.