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Why .anything is a bad idea
June 30, 2008, 2:49 am
Filed under: Brand protection, Domain names, ICANN, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

The news last week from Paris that ICANN is about to blow open the entire domain name industry got me thinking, mainly along the lines of why on earth this would be a good idea, given that history is littered with examples that suggest it is not.

So why would opening-up the domain name market even more be a good idea? ICANN started going through a similar motion back in 2001, when it feared that the .com ‘real estate’ was quickly going to run out. After the launch of .info (which has been reasonably successful) ICANN decided it was a good idea to launch industry-specific domain suffixes. In principal you might think this makes sense, but in practice, suffixes like .museum and .travel proved to be massive flops with both consumers and brands.

When it comes to surfing the web, there is a huge disconnect between what ICANN wants and what the public’s collective consciousness is willing and able to accept. For consumers, the standard expectation remains .com, and no matter how liberalised the market becomes, brands will never stick two fingers up to .com domain and only secure their .brandname address instead. We’re too far gone for that to ever work out.

Industry-specific domains have struggled for that reason.

Country code domains such as .uk, .de, .fr etc have enjoyed success simply because they assure the person looking for a website that the information they will find will be relevant to their local market and in a language they can understand. They provide a genuinely useful filter. A .anything policy would provide a completely useless filter.

As for the threat the new plans will pose to brands -and a lot has been made of it in the press this past week – but in fact at $100,000 to set up your own domain, the price tag will remain largely prohibitive for any large-scale cybersquatting, domaining or speculator activity. Besides, and perhaps more worryingly for ICANN, brands have already shown some resistance to the never ending process of defensive registrations in response to yet-another-new-suffix-launch. You just need to see how much lower take-up of .asia was compared to .eu just a few years before, that it seems domain suffix fatigue may be setting in.

Complicating the system even further under the guise of liberalisation suggests whatever ICANN is trying to achieve, it is not going about it in the right way.



What was Google thinking .com?

I stumbled across a great post on TechCrunch yesterday – an expose on Google’s astounding domain name portfolio that contains the obvious, the shrewd, the clever, and the downright baffling terms.

The analysis conducted by uptime monitoring service Pingdom exposed some very strange registrations for Google. Now before we go any further, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not unusual for a major corporation to have in excess of 1,500 domain names on its books at any one time – sure only 20 per cent of them are being used to market and the rest are a combination of defensive registrations and protection for future or past products and services.

But, in my opinion, if you’re so bad with a keyboard that you type geggle.com, glougle.com or glogoo.com when you’re trying to get to Google – you don’t deserve to find the right site. But somebody advising Google told them it was a good idea. Probably as good an idea as it was to make sure nobody else got their hands on goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooogle.com.

There were some worrying things in there too – Google is the overwhelming favourite search engine but googlereligion.com? Beyond the obvious product and service domains you’d expect Google to register, you have to wonder what googleporn.com, googlesex.com and google-yahoo-porn.com are intended for. I know that the adult industry was one of very few that continued to flurish during after the dot-com bubble burst, but surely that will never be a revenue stream for Google, even in today’s economic climate?! 

Looking through the full list from Pingdom one thing is clear – a lot of Google’s domain name strategy belongs on googlejokes.com. The whole thing reminds me a bit of the time Microsoft tried to sue a 17-year-old schoolkid called Mike Rowe for having registered MikeRoweSoft.com… I suggest Google puts in a call to a real domain expert like Jonathan Robinson at NetNames to make sure they’re protected without going domain crazy. 



Google trademark policy echoes domain name industry woes

Google’s surprise decision to change its trademark policy will effectively remove protection brands have from rivals, or impersonators bidding on their trademarked paid search terms. It’s also expected to have an impact natural search, but that will, naturally, take longer to be felt and may not be quite as obvious as you first think.

Google has justified the move as simply reflecting users’ behaviour, and that it will give the person searching access to far more choice, thereby improving the overall quality of results. However it will present a new brand protection nightmare for companies already facing more, evolving online brand threats than they can shake a stick at.

Having worked with a number of companies, specialising in various aspects of the online brand protection picture I can see a major similarity in what Google is allowing to what has existed in the ICANN governed domain names industry since year dot. There are currently over 150million registered domain names around the world and estimates I’ve heard suggest that around 25 per cent of all those registrations are speculative or opportunistic (by cybersquatters, domain name warehousers and those engaged in kiting). If that’s the scale of the threat, you can only imagine the scale of defensive registrations being made by brand owners where easily more than two-thirds of your portfolio of names could be purely to stop a rival or speculator acquiring it and doing your brand damage.

The domain names industry is that way for a reason – and that’s the relatively loose ‘first come first served’ principle of registrations (for search read: ‘highest bid, first listed’) but until now, with one very major difference – in domain names there is very little practical or enforceable protection for brand owners beyond being first up, whereas in search there was always Google’s common sense.

While Google’s move may help address the slow in growth of clicks on paid Google ads, perpetrated by the search engine’s bid to ensure more relevant, better quality results, it could all too quickly degenerate into the free-for-all model of the domain name industry.

Marketers are already struggling to keep rising paid search costs in check and if this plays out the way many fear it might then likely two things will happen:

1. The current increased interest in natural search will swell dramatically and impact investment in paid search – after all an increasing number of voices are joining the chorus that natural search delivers better quality leads at a fraction of the CPA

2. Major brands will need to agree a code of conduct between themselves to avoid needlessly burning budgets trying to outbid the other’s trademarks and instead focus on dealing with the far more serious threat posed to their brand value by counterfeiters, cybersquatters and impersonators who won’t think twice about taking advantage of the new system.