More top-level domain names? Could we have ‘.squat’ please?!

21/06/2011

By: Danny Meadows-Klue

Another announcement looms from domain name regulators at ICANN, and the cybersquatters are salivating. Let’s hope this time there’s some sense behind the approach and stronger self-regulation for what will follow. The prospect of potentially thousands more top-level domain names is far from something to celebrate given the way the process is managed.

For most brands, policing their web presence is hard enough, but every time a new group of top level domain names get announced, it unleashes a frenzy of land grabbing that seems only to benefit cyber-squatters, lawyers and the domain name sellers (the latter being a group whose interests are not exactly under-represented within ICANN). How many permutations of your brand name can you defend, and in how many markets? Trade mark protection or not, every brand eventually has to draw the line.

So here we are again? Probably. Maybe ICANN will see sense and realise that the solution to the Pandora’s box of domain name squatting is not to release more domain names. Maybe the excitement of auctioning new top level domain names to the highest bidders will be balanced by some level-headedness for the consequences. The challenge isn’t the lack of available names, as much as the rather feeble protection or justification for their ownership. Many brands waste significant budgets in simply fire-fighting; consumers are spoofed into using websites that were not what they expected (and will probably get even more confused with hundreds of new types of names), and the web industry gets tarred with the collective brush of poor practice. Agencies and brands should be taking a view on this, and lobbying hard.

And then there’s Google’s response. With many brands living and dying by their search ranking, any fundamental change in the Google algorithm will have some devastating consequences. Faced with an explosive choice of top-level domain names, Google will have to change its ranking formula for many logical reasons. For example, today the use of keyphrases in the domain name and subdomain carry a heavy weight in the ranking choice. Their scarcity helps Google identify what a website or its pages are most focussed on. Remove that scarcity and the ranking process has to change. Similarly the role of title tags and the treatment of link farms will have to shift to avoid spammers hijacking search and trying to rig the index. The results are bound to be brutal because millions of innocent sites will be caught up in the fallout.

This is one decision that will influence everyone’s digital strategy, so maybe take a moment to consider how it would affect your brand. And if Pandora’s Box is opened a little more, then I'm wondering who would be putting ‘.squat’ on their Christmas wishlist.


Danny has been coaching firms in digital marketing for over 15 years. More than 45,000 people have attended his talks and courses in over 30 countries. He set up and ran the UK and European IAB trade associations for almost 10 years, was the pioneering publisher of Telegraph.co.uk, held the Vice Presidency of NBC’s European internet business, and has been a government policy advisor in the UK. He is chairman of the Digital Training Academy that coaches marketing teams to improve their ROI and founder of the Digital Strategy Consulting practice that creates internet marketing strategies for brands. He is a Commissioner at the digital marketing regulator in the UK, and the publisher of Netimperative and Digital Intelligence. He now coaches management teams, helping them accelerate their businesses and transform their organizations. Contact him on Danny@DigitalStrategyConsulting.com or http://uk.linkedin.com/in/dannymeadowsklue

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