By Ryan Baker
Like many, I’ve been watching the rollout of the first 150+ new Top-Level Domains (TLD) with interest.
The new Top-Level Domain (TLD) program was designed from the outset to enhance competition and foster innovation.
It was a great result for the wider industry to see approximately one-third of the applications received by ICANN submitted by some of the world’s largest companies seeking to own and operate their own .brand TLD.
Even with organisations such as Apple, Citibank and IBM applying for their respective TLDs, scepticism remained on the potential for .brands to succeed.
Where would the utility come from? How would customers embrace such a change? How would large organisations be able to incorporate this into their marketing mix?
Finally perhaps most ominous, what will it mean for search and will there be any advantages for .brand applicants?
While it’s still very early in the process, a few trailblazing true innovators have given us some preliminary answers and the news is extremely positive.
Evidence of real success
French insurance giant AXA recently launched their .axa TLD to the world and offer the best evidence to date that .brand TLDs have a definite future in the digital marketing landscape.
Less than two weeks after registering annualreport.axa and rapportannuel.axa in their .brand TLD, AXA now appear on the first page of Google search results. When searching for “axa annual report”, the .axa domain is the third result in English and “axa annuel rapport” appears in the fourth position for French searches.
Beyond just Google, Bing shows the result at number two and Yahoo at number eight.
This is a truly impressive result given the number of applicable web properties for this topic and the short amount of time the domain has existed. Yes, this has a lot to do with the relevance of the content – as it has been and will continue to be.
However, the domain is clearly reinforcing some level of credibility here and despite being new, hasn’t negatively impacted the rankings of the page.
The AXA annual report example also illustrates other key benefits of .brand TLD ownership. Using differing language versions of the same domain, they have been able to provide customised content for differing user bases.
With these included, the list of tangible benefits .brand TLD operators can realise immediately from their new asset are compelling:
Being completely in control of domain name allocation within their TLD. No more competition for domain names in the open market, as well as the ability to define intuitive parameters for users to find content (eg. annualreport.axa for English, rapportannuel.axa for French).
Globally applicable search benefits. While the sample size is admittedly small, the reality that Google, Bing and Yahoo are actively embracing .brand TLDs for their authenticity and showing strong search results has the potential to be a huge boon to brands and end users.
Guaranteed authenticity for messaging from the channel. Customers can rest easy knowing with 100% certainty that the content on annualreport.axa is sanctioned by AXA, since no one outside the corporation can register an .axa domain name. Keep in mind that it’s entirely possible for bad actors to register domains in competing TLDs with the aim of confusing end users, and a .brand is a new and extremely strong tool to combat this confusion.
While we’ve already seen three new .brand applicants sign registry agreements (.sharp and Google’s .gmail and .youtube) this month, the last several months have seen 256 total TLDs delegated, with only a handful (five total, or less that 2%) being .brands.
This is in addition to the world’s first .brand TLD, .monash for the Australian University and the recently signed .bmw and .samsung TLDs which are soon to join the digital landscape.
All in all, it’s really positive news for those innovators that took the plunge by applying in 2012.
So why wait?
There is no denying that ICANN has made the path through contracting and delegation complicated with various hoops to jump through.
The good news for .brand applicants is that there is help available should they require it. The upside is that the carrot is very real and very attainable.
Delegating and realising the benefits of a .brand TLD as soon as possible should be the goal of every brand marketer worth their salt, as .brand applicants push to delegate their TLDs and non-applicants clamour to apply to ICANN in the second round.
By Ryan Baker
Domain Name Industry Consultant
ARI Registry Services