Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Great Domain Race and the Future of Marketing

Ready, Set, Go...
Every young consultant or marketer understands that the internet drives information seeking behavior, and that owning the appropriate and relevant domain name is crucial to attracting the lion's share of eyeballs. In the past, domain names were rather limited, and getting the best name for a company website was a zero-sum game. But now ICANN, the organization in charge of approving and instituting domain names, has begun to announce domain extensions beyond the typical .com's, .org's and .gov's that diminish domain name competition and allow for much more direct online marketing. As a graduate student in Northwestern's Medill IMC marketing program, I have extensive experience with online marketing and digital technologies, and am supremely interested in discovering how the new frontiers of domain expansion will affect the marketing universe.

Source: Chi Birmingham, BloombergBusinessweek

The Land of Milk and Honey
According to business technology journalist Rebecca Greenfield of the Atlantic Wire, this summer ICANN released a list of almost 2000 applications for additions to domain suffixes, some of which are quite specific and creative. Google and Amazon were the leading bidders, with Google suggesting extensions such as .plus, .youtube, and .app. These companies have a vested interest in securing the addition of domain names that contain suffixes that correspond to proprietary products or technology platforms. But as some of these new domain names are just now becoming available for purchase, a surprising new player has emerged. According to business technology journalist Hugo Miller of Businessweek, Donuts, a rapidly growing domain licensing site, plans to aggressively bid on an enormous amount of new and customized domain names in hopes of expanding its ownership library. The main concern is that Donuts may sell customized domains to cybersquatters, who will hold onto the names in hope that the logical owner of the domain will pay an exorbitant fee for the right to advertise its business across the full range of available extensions.

You Must Act Now

1. Consult a Buying Expert

The timeline for purchasing domain names is very unclear, and it is unknown how many suffix extensions ICANN will allow. But knowing when customized domain names become available allows marketers to snatch up domain names that are extremely relevant to consumers and allows consultants to advise their clients on the most coherent buying/bidding strategy.

2. Think About Minimizing Risk

Most of us have heard about Walmart hate sites that make use of the Walmart name within the domain itself. Now imagine a nearly infinite permutation of suffix extensions that allows dissidents to skewer your brand with broader application and greater search-enabled viewership. Examining potential legal recourse and strategically bidding across the most popular extensions represents the best strategy to minimize risk.

3. Time to Redefine Search

As the extension in potential domain names allows for more customization and suffixes that are intricately tied to an understanding of a company, service, or technology platform, keying in a URL will begin to mimic search behavior. Companies need to optimize their outbound communications to ensure that customers are made aware of customized domain names and know exactly what to type into their browser to get the correct content.

How Organizations Stand to Gain

This change in domain name availability is coming fast, and companies need to think strategically to avoid losing out. By being proactive, paying attention to risk, and thinking about domain purchases in the same light as keyword auctions, marketers and consultants can find opportunity during this chaotic time. Ultimately, the drive toward customization should be a blessing, as the domain suffix can reflect the type of content or the location of a piece of media. With more specific domain options, we will likely see a decrease in competition as well as an increase in the effectiveness of targeted marketing. Domain extension purchases can work for everyone, as long as the adaptation process is swift, refined, and strategically-oriented.

Dan Jennis is an Integrated Marketing Communications student living in Chicago.  He is interested in the way that information technology developments transform our understanding of business strategy and customer behavior.  You can reach him with questions or comments on Twitter @DanielEJennis.


  1. That's interesting- curious to see what domain names will be available in a couple of years.

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