Five Reasons Not to Go Crazy with Domain Names

At first glance, the new Internet domain name system announced by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Monday sounds like an exciting opportunity for businesses.

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After all, what company wouldn't jump at the chance to have its own name or hallmark product as the suffix on its website's URL?

But there's a catch--several of them, actually--and it's becoming increasingly clear that this change may not be such an obvious boon for businesses after all. Here are a few reasons not to get too excited about ICANN's new generic top-level domains (gTLDs).

1. The Price

First off, of course, is the fact that applying for ownership of one of these custom new domains will involve a fee of $185,000. Not only that, but said fee will be kept by ICANN whether the application is approved or not. That's a heck of a lot of cash to fork over without even a guarantee that you'll have something to show for it afterward. There's also the cost of preparing the lengthy application, and--if it's approved--the little matter of the $25,000 annual fee. Bottom line: huge advantage for the big brands with deep pockets.

Of course, for suffixes that aren't brand-specific, it will likely be possible to buy particular URLs for less from the companies that purchase the rights to sell them -- "yourstorename.shop" or "yourbank.bank," for example. Fundamentally, however, control is still going to be in the hands of the big players.

2. The Rush

ICANN plans to accept applications for these new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) only from Jan. 12 to April 12 of next year, putting intense pressure on companies to jump at the chance rather than potentially regret it later.

There's also going to be extreme competition for some gTLDs, such as those based on a product category or generic term, and the decisions made by ICANN on such questions could have a major impact on the competitive landscape thereafter. Which company, for instance, should win the .tablet (maybe .tab?) suffix? Who will -- or won't -- get to use the suffix after that? Even worse, what if a company with nefarious intentions wins ownership of one of them?

All in all, it's going to be a frantic land-grab--to the tune of an awful lot of money that might be better spent elsewhere, as Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility (PFIR), recently pointed out.

"Could all or part of that money just perhaps be used in better ways than for the creation and maintenance of an artificial 'must buy whether you want it or not' form of 'domain names' product -- that does absolutely nothing to advance or solve the many crucial technical, policy, blocking, neutrality, censorship, and free speech issues that are at the forefront of the Internet today -- a 'product' that may actually exacerbate blocking and censorship?" Weinstein wrote in a blog post earlier this week.

"Massively increased cybersquatting, spammers, and phishing" are also among the effects Weinstein expects.

3. A Blow for Search

Most companies have already done a lot of work trying to optimize their Web pages for maximal rankings on the big search engines. Changing to a new suffix could erase all that effort--or at least make them start all over again with a new set of URLs.

Google and other search engines are clearly going to need to tweak their ranking algorithms to accommodate these new URLs. Companies, meanwhile, will need to be asking themselves if the rewards are really likely to be worth the additional effort.

4. Unclear Benefits

Speaking of that, what exactly will a custom suffix get you, as a brand? Sure, it seems catchier and cooler to have one of these in your URL, but what will it do for you, really, that you can't already do? I'd worry, in fact, that it could make it harder for customers to find you, since they can no longer make any assumptions along the lines of, "yourcompanyname.com." It will be even worse if you have several variations using different suffixes.

5. A Lackluster Precedent

Finally, there are already a few alternate domain suffixes out there, such as .jobs and even .museum, and they haven't exactly taken the Internet by storm. Who's to say these new ones will be any different?

It's going to be a wild ride when these new changes take effect. But before the application period begins, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) would do well to think carefully before they make a move.

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