What’s in a Name? Understanding the New gTLD Domain Names

A web domain name is incredibly important when you promote your web site. If the company name or brand is integrated into the web address, it’s easy to remember and easily found by web users. The right-most label of a domain name is called the generic top-level domain or gTLD, such as .com, .net, .ca. edu, etc., and it says something about the nature of the organization that owns the domain. Now there are new categories of gTLDs entering the scene, hundreds of them, and they are going to have a real impact on website branding and web search in the future.

gTLDs are managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a global Internet non-profit group based in Los Angeles. The TLD is at the top of the Internet domain hierarchy and was originally organized to designate a domain class, such as .com (commercial), .net (originally designated for Internet service providers, but now in wider use), .org (for non-profit organizations), .gov (U.S. government agencies), .mil (for the military), and .edu (for educational institutions). There are also country code TLDs (ccTLDs) used to designate countries where the domain resides, such as .ca for Canada, .fr for France, .ru for Russia, .de for Germany, and so on.

In November of 2000, ICANN expand its list of domain designations for the first time with approval of seven new gTLDs. The new gTLDs include .biz gTLD which is restricted to business; .info which is open to anyone; .name for personal registrations; .pro for professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants; .aero for anything related to air transportation; .museum for museums; and .coop for cooperative businesses such as credit unions. These new gTLDs are “sponsored,” which means they are managed to maintain the integrity of their use, and they are strictly controlled to determine who qualifies to use them.

ICANN has just announced that it is expanding the list of gTLDs again from 22 to 1,400 new names or strings. The first four of these new gTLDs are already available to designate “web,” “online,” “site” and “games” in Cyrillic, Arabic, and Chinese. ICANN is adamant that those registering for these new domain strings will have to pass a rigorous evaluation process to qualify.

How does this affect you if you register a new domain name?

Those in favor of the new gTLDs say that gTLDs give you more flexibility. For example, if you try to register a new domain name for your company such as MyCompany.ca or MyCompany.com and find the names are taken, you can use an alternate designation that more closely represents your business, such as .insurance or .dental. You also can register new domains by geography, such as .nyc or .vegas, or to identify the website, such as .blog. More gTLDs means more domain space for all, and it also can facilitate search and help users differentiate search findings.

Those opposed say more gTLDs only lead to confusion and pose an increased risk of trademark infringement and cyber piracy. There have been complaints from large companies that the new gTRDs will create havoc with brand owners, who will now have to buy more domain names with more extensions to protect their trademarks and their reputation. Ralph Lauren, for example, was unsuccessful in its bid to register the .polo domain for its Polo brand products when the U.S. Polo Association objected. Opponents claim that there will be more opportunity for brand confusion and cybersquatting. There also is a risk of Name Collision, where search engines resolve identical search terms with different purposes, e.g.  lead the metal versus lead as in to go first, and the search results may prove misleading or confusing.

Whether you think more domain name extensions will clarify or confuse search, they are certainly going to expand the possibilities for online branding. Being able to use top-level domain names to identify the purpose of a web site can only make it easier for web surfers to find what they are looking for. It will make it easier for you to create a unique presence with your web site.

You can pre-register your new gTLD at http://www.sibername.com/NewTLDs/

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