On June 13th, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) approved a slew of new gTLDs (generic top level domains) that potentially create new web suffixes ( or, more technically, strings ) to supplement the existing stable which includes .com. .net, .org, .gov, .mil, .edu, .biz, .info and .int ( country specific gTLDs also exist ). The full list, which can be found here requires a $185,000 application fee, plus a yearly service fee of $25,000 paid directly to ICANN. Needless to say, that’s some serious
The requested gTLD strings included applications from some major pharma companies, with some applying for brand trademarks and program names. I may have missed a few combing through the list, but at last tally they included:
Abbot ( .abbot .abbvie )
BMS ( .bms )
Boehringer ( .boehringer )
Eli LIlly ( .lilly .cialis )
Johnson & Johnson ( .jnj .baby )
Merck ( .merck .emerck .merckMSD )
Pfizer ( .pfizer )
Sanofi ( .sanofi )
Also interesting to note that several of the bigger pharma companies opted to pass on securing a new gTLD string, including Roche, GSK, Novartis, AZ and Bayer. Pepsi, along with a few other mega-brands, have been very vocal about their decision to stay on the sidelines of the gTLD land rush, while Google and others have applied for multiple strings. So who’s going to come out ahead? Those who acquired the domains now, or those who waited? Given the expense involved and the lack of a road map to implementation, the answer isn’t a clear one.
Leveraging a new gTLD faces several hurdles. For one, users who type URLs directly into their browser will most likely use the .com as the primary string in an attempt to visit your pages. Unless your product or company has tremendous brand equity, getting a typical user to find the proper string manually could be tricky. Since most information-seeking goes through a search-engine, direct URL access may not be a huge issue.
Additionally, it remains to be seen if Google, Bing or any other search engine will rank gTLD strings as part of the overall keyword schema. If I search for “iPad apps” will the .app gTLD pages rank higher than others? If so, it could be a boon for marketers. If not, value will have to be mined from other uses.
Secondarily, custom gTLD strings may have huge problems with spam filters early on. Think about your own corporate email system. I get emails blocked from people I know, so imagine what the filters will do when you get an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. Much like all new technologies, user behaviors and product systems will lag behind adoption in unpredictable ways.
In discussing gTLDs with brands and some industry big-thinkers, 3 questions kept recurring in the conversations. If I don’t apply, will someone else get my brand name? What if cyber-squatters hold a gTLD I want? If granted a gTLD, what should be done with it anyway? Let’s examine these one by one.
If I don’t apply for my brand or trademark, will someone else get the string?
ICANN has actually done a lot of work putting together guidelines for making claims on new gTLDs. To put it plainly, if your brand or organization can prove trademark rights, ICANN will review your claim with its legal team and make the appropriate adjustments, even if the gTLD has been claimed by another party. Having a dispute resolved in your favor does not mean you have to pay the necessary fees for the gTLD, only that the domain can not be issued elsewhere. For brands with clear trademarks (Nike, Ford, etc.) resolution on a disputed gTLD should be easy, for other gTLDs with broader appeal ( .app, .shop, etc. ) the resolution will be on a case by case basis, usually with the claimant who’s application was received first having the advantage.
What if cyber-squatters hold a gTLD string I want?
Given the relatively high-cost of securing a gTLD, the possibility of cyber-squatters buying and holding new strings seems relatively low. As illustrated in the previous question, there are mechanisms for disputing gTLDs with trademark ramifications. A potential cyber-squatter with no trademark rights would be foolish to try and claim and hold a gTLD for any kind of branded term, given the high likelihood they would lose any challenge to the name. There is also no secondary market for gTLDs (yet) so there is no quick way to turn a profit from claiming a gTLD.
If granted a gTLD, what should be done with it anyway?
Ah, the $185,000 question. gTLDs pose a number of interesting possibilities for their new owners, but the value could be incremental at best early on. One potential use could be for gTLD string owners to set up ‘walled-gardens’ for users. Since the owner of the string can set permissions, define the rules of utilization, and decide whom has access, one can very easily see how a brand ecosystem can be set up inside a domain. Let’s use Amazon as an example. Let’s say that once all my validations are in place, instead of having to log-in through a user ID and Password I could simply go to http://billevans.amazon in my browser. In theory, the server would recognize my IP, location, and device name to create a more customized and fluid experience. For companies that have multiple brands under the corporate umbrella, visiting a custom gTLD string could serve as my universal log in to all programs and services offered. For pharma this could be huge. As it stands now, customers typically have to register for programs on a brand-by-brand or case by case basis. If visiting billevans.brand could give me access to the entire suite of products and services in the portfolio, it would make it that much easier for me as a customer and more likely I’ll consider other products and services from that company in the future.
On the retail side, for online marketers, gTLD strings could allow companies to better police and enforce who is able to resell products. For instance, Hermes could draw a much clearer delineation between authorized dealers and the grey market for products by only allowing approved re-sellers access to the string. Online retailers with the retailer.hermes address would eventually be viewed by consumers as a far more trusted resource for products.
Like any new technology, the possibilities are only limited by the imagination. It will be interesting to see how owners of their new gTLD stings utilize them. rolling out the new strings, and even then, it will be prone to glitches and hiccups along the way. Do a search for how the last round of gTLDs fared and you’ll get the idea. You also have the advantage of having first mover status and, if you’ve purchased a gTLD for anything but a company name, you have ownership over a valuable asset that your competition does not.
We Passed on the gTLDs, Are We Hosed?
Probably not. If your trademarked name was claimed, you can dispute it. If not, it will be there for the bidding the next time ICANN opens the gTLD market. Even without a gTLD, you do have the advantage of being a fast follower to watch and see what others are doing with their gTLD strings and can learn and adapt should you decide to acquire a string of your own. If you’ve lost out on category or product specific strings ( .coffee anyone ) you’ll just have to get creative the next time.
The Bottom Line
Without a clear benefit for owning a new gTLD it’s tough to say if the investment is worth it, especially given the protections available for reclaiming trademarked names that may have been secured by others. But for those who have new gTLDs to play with, the possibilities certainly are enticing. If you are considering applying for a gTLD in the future, I would recommend a wait-and-see approach to determine the value this latest crop of gTLD strings produces.