Hundreds of new domain name extensions are about to launch in 2013. This will create the largest rush for names in the history of the internet. Businesses need a strategy to protect their brands and trademarks.
At the same time, entrepreneurs and domain speculators (“domainers”) vying for their chance to snap up great generic names need some strategies to take advantage of the opportunity and carve out their own piece of internet history.
The new wave of generic Top Level Domains
A few years ago, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the governing organization for generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) like .com, .net, .org, .biz—decided to expand the number of domain name extensions in the world beyond the current 22. After years of consultation and debate, ICANN now has 1,917 applications pending review and approval. This development will change the landscape of the internet as we know it.
Three new groups of gTLDs will be released:
1. Generic domains like .web, .shop, .hotel, .blog, .site, .music, .eco and .food
2. Geographical domains like .quebec, .berlin, .nyc, and .paris
3. Brand- or company-specific domains like .IBM, .Zappos, .Google and .Nike. Companies will likely retain these domains for internal use rather than for public registration.
Protecting your brand in the face of the new domains
Most mid-sized and large companies already own extensive domain portfolios in an effort to protect their trademarks and brands across the 22 gTLDs and hundreds of country code top level domains (ccTLDs). As a domain registrar, my company, Webnames.ca, has clients that own thousands of domains. They protect exact matches of their trademarks and non-trademarked brand names, misspellings of their trademarks and brands, and generic words associated with their industry across a vast number of domain extensions.
Our small-business clients tend to take a more budget-conscious approach, although companies that rely on an online presence for their business will make sure that their domains are properly secured across the board. Typically, the more successful the business and the more competition, the higher the risk that someone will come after those domains.
Here are a few steps to take when coming up with a domain strategy:
- Compile a list of trademarks, service marks, company names and subsidiary names, product or brand names, and industry terms.
- Compile a list of common misspellings of the above.
- Determine which names you feel are most at risk of being registered by competitors or cyber squatters.
- Consult a trademark lawyer to determine if there are brand names or terms that you can trademark, particularly those ones at high risk from competition or cyber squatters. You can’t prove someone is infringing on your names if you have no legal rights to that name through a registered trademark.
- Make a list of where you do business or where your target audience will be coming to your website from.
- Review the list of new domain extensions to determine which ones are relevant to your industry and the geographical locations where you do business. Larger businesses with a bigger budget are more likely to protect their names across more extensions, whether they are relevant to their industry and location or not.
- Pre-register your names. And, where applicable, ensure that you indicate domains that are associated with a registered trademark, because you’ll get priority over the general public to those names. More information will soon be released about a Trademark Clearing House process that will validate registered trademarks and facilitate registration across all the domain extensions rather than having to re-submit trademark data each time.
The “domainer” opportunity
Each time there’s a launch of a new domain extension, speculators jump in to register popular names in the hopes of reselling them later for a profit. Massive domain sales in the past—such as investing.com (sold for US$2.45 million in 2012), social.com (sold for US$2.6 million in 2011) and sex.com (sold for US$13 million in 2010)—demonstrate that there are still huge profits to be made by selling the right name. While many of the top earners have been .com in the past, some notable sales made public in other extensions during the past year were WebHosting.co.uk (US$500,000), CDN.net (US$185,000), Flights.ca (US$120,000) and Toys.xxx (US$125,000), among many others.
If you want to get in the game, here are a few things to remember:
- Short, memorable domains that are one word or a few letters are most valuable.
- Choose words and names that people would want to buy. One way is finding words that are searched for a lot in Google. Google Adwords Keyword Tool allows you to enter terms to see how popular the words are in searches. Google Trends lets you compare search volume patterns for search terms across regions and see what the “hot searches” are. Similar tools are available on Bing Trends, Yahoo Buzz or Twitter Search.
- Look at past top domain sales and pre-register these names in the new extensions that are about to launch. Don’t forget variations of these. And consider less competitive names in specific niche industries.
- To build value in the domain for resale, a domain that has been registered for a longer period, has more traffic (based on Alexa traffic rank, for example) or has a higher Google Page Rank with more back links will be more valuable. Putting some energy towards building a website on a good domain name will increase its resale value over time.
- Make sure you don’t infringe on someone’s trademark when you register a domain. Check the Canadian trademarks database or the US Patent & Trademark Office’s database first.
This column is reposted with the permission of Business in Vancouver, which posted it originally on www.biv.com.
Cybele Negris is president and co-founder of Vancouver-based Webnames.ca Inc., Canada’s original .ca registrar and one of the country’s leading providers of web hosting and other internet solutions. She has been on the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs for the past nine years.
More columns by Cybele Negris