Smart Answers

New Domain Names Are in the Works. Would Your Business Benefit?


Question: I heard that a bunch of new website addresses–besides .com–will become available in 2014. How should a small business like mine take advantage of these new domain names?

Answer: You’re right about a big expansion in what are called “top-level domains”–the letters that follow the dot in website addresses. It’s scheduled to start this spring, though it has been delayed over the years. The process is the part of a program undertaken by Internet gate-keeper ICANN to go from several dozen familiar top-level domains such as .com and .net to several hundred new ones, including brand names (.google), locations (.nyc), and generic terms (.sports).

If you think your business could benefit by reserving a website address that uses one of the new TLDs, you can read more about how they are being assigned and made available here. Small businesses that settled for long, hyphenated, or otherwise cumbersome .com addresses because their first choices were already taken might want to reserve their business name followed by their city, for instance, like johnsplumbing.nyc. Or their business name plus their industry, like tennispro.sports.

“It’s a pretty exciting time but some small businesses may get lost in the shuffle,” says Jeremiah Johnston, general counsel at domain name marketplace SEDO.com. “There are going to be hundreds of new extensions. Some will be clearly relevant and others won’t. For instance, with something like .sports, if that’s your business vertical, you should jump on it. Other more general extensions like .web or .shopping are so broad that whether or not they are successful is going to depend on the registries that are launching them and how much they invest in marketing them.”

Jonathan Hirshon, principal at Silicon Valley marketing company Horizon Communications, is skeptical about how big an impact the new TLDs will have on Internet traffic and sales. He points out that after nearly two decades, .com still dominates domain extensions, with nearly 53 percent market share worldwide. The next-most popular TLD, .net, is used by only 5.6 percent of website addresses globally.

Newer extensions introduced within the last several years, such as .info and .biz, attract only 1.5 percent and 0.9 percent of website users, respectively. “After .com, everything else is very fractured and these new TLDs will only make the situation worse,” Hirshon says. “Getting people to go beyond .com, especially in the heartland and other less-technically savvy parts of the country–good luck with that.”

He points to two extensions–.info and .xxx–that he feels are growing rapidly and might have commercial potential. For small businesses looking to export, establishing a website with a relevant country code extension, such as .cn for China, might also make sense, he notes.

Commercial builder George Minardos, who has spent several years and more than $1 million securing the rights to sell website addresses using the .build extension, says such objections are short-sighted. “This should be looked at as an updated branding opportunity. Very soon, the name to the right of the dot is going to be as significant as the name to the left of the dot. The Internet is changing so fast, it’s not smart to be stuck in the old ways.”

Pre-registrations for his .build domain extension are available through GoDaddy. He plans to market aggressively to companies in the construction industry, he says. “Anytime there is change, there’s going to be resistance. But some of the smartest companies, like Google (GOOG) and Amazon (AMZN), are heavily invested in this expansion in a big way.”

Karen_klein
Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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