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Consumer response to new domain name extensions

02-06-2015

Changes to the domain name system - in particular, the launch of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), such as the so-called dotBrands - have forced companies to re-evaluate their domain name registration and monitoring strategies. But, what has been the reaction among consumers?

Since the first new gTLD was launched in October 2013, more than 630 new gTLDs have been brought to market. This includes geographical domain extensions, such as .uk, and industry-targeted extensions, such as .fashion, as well as more controversial extensions, such as .sucks. While companies may feel under pressure to register domain names under these new extensions to protect their brand and trademark rights, it is yet to be seen how widely adopted the new gTLDs will be among consumers.

Earlier this year, ICANN, the body that coordinates the internet’s domain name system, commissioned a third-party survey to measure consumer response to the changing domain name landscape. The research sought to measure aspects of consumer awareness, perceived consumer choice, experience and trust related to the current gTLD landscape. It surveyed more than 6,000 consumers aged over 18, from 24 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America. The results were published at the end of last month (click here for a copy of the full report).

Are consumers aware of the new gTLDs?
To gauge perceptions of the new gTLDs, the survey focused on those new extensions with the greatest number of registrations at the time the questions were developed (in January 2015). This included .email, .photography, .link, .guru, .club, .xyz, as well as regionally relevant TLDs  and internationalised domain names (IDNs).

According to the research, 46% of consumers surveyed reported awareness of at least one new gTLD, with 65% of those who were aware reporting that they have also visited a new gTLD. Of the gTLDs included in the survey, .email and .link were the best known.

In comparison, the survey also examined consumer attitudes toward a subset of legacy TLDs, including .com, .net, .org, .info, .biz, .mobi, and .Asia. Here awareness was considerably higher; in particular, of .com, .net and .org, with nearly 80% of respondents reporting knowledge of these domains.

Do consumers trust the registries?
According to the research, 72% of respondents had a high levels of trust with entities that offer domain names. In the report, these high trust levels were linked to ‘a perception that the industry will take precautions, give consumers what they think they're getting, and screen companies or individuals who register for certain domain names’.

Of those surveyed, an average of 90% said they trusted the top three legacy TLDs (.com, .net, and .org). Consistent with the study’s other findings, trust among new gTLDs was lower than legacy TLDs (49%).

What does this mean in practice?
Whether you agree with the process or not, the domain name landscape is evolving - and will continue to do so in the coming months (click here for a schedule of upcoming extension launches). Not all these new gTLDs will succeed or be adopted widely by consumers; however, given that many of the world’s largest corporations, as well as private investors, have spent millions of dollars in obtaining them, it is safe to assume that the launch of many of these TLDs will be supported by extensive (and well-funded) marketing campaigns.

Few companies will have the budget or appetite to defensively register domains in all these extensions, so the emphasis should be on selecting those that could most benefit (or threaten) your business and its customers. If you haven’t already, now may be a good time to review your domain name registration, monitoring and enforcement strategy to factor in these new extensions. Click here for advice on developing a strategy for domain names.