November 18, 2016

What the New Internet Land Rush Means for Organizations

Something fundamental is changing about the way the web works. Hundreds of new top-level Internet address domains are popping up, bringing with them fresh opportunities for communicators.

You’ve probably already spotted new top-level domains (TLDs) in the wild. You may have even typed them into browsers. .Berlin, .club, or .fail may not have made much of an impression on you, but new top-level domains have implications for online marketing, campaigning, and organizing.

Since the dawn of the World Wide Web, top-level domains have been limited to .com, .org., .net, .int, .edu, .gov, .mil, and country codes. But that changed when ICANN, the body responsible for the Internet’s naming system, approved a radical expansion of TLDs. To date, 1,200 new ones have been approved and more than 25 million domains have been registered with new suffixes like .guru, .london, and .coffee.

This shift in how the Web parcels out real estate has created a new frontier complete with a land rush and ambitions to draw borders and claim virtual territories.

New branded domains like .google, .homedepot, and .canon are walled gardens that promise to give brands new prominence on the Internet. Others are verified domains, like .bank and .ngo, that are only granted to applicants who pass established eligibility standards. For instance, you can’t register a .bank domain unless you’re a registered financial institution. The majority of new TLDs, of course, are generic words being auctioned off to the highest bidder, like .nyc, which just sold RealEstate.nyc for $21,300.

Why Marketers and Campaigners Should Care about New TLDs

Aside from nerding out about the evolution of the Internet, new TLDs are fertile ground for marketing innovation. For starters, you’ve got a shot at campaign URLs you’ve always dreamt of but whose .org and .com versions were taken long ago. Securing short, pronounceable and meaningful keyword URLs can also deliver SEO and brand value.

As a strategic communications tool, TLDs help brand websites by conveying more about an organization than .com ever could. A .ngo, .shop, or .pizza domain primes web visitors and lends credibility before they reach your site. It affirms they’re headed in the right direction.

Hosting sites on verified TLDs—domains restricted to those who pass eligibility criteria—will, in theory, help brand your content as trusted and legitimate. In the lead up to the presidential election, the verified .vote domain promised to be the TLD “where honest and effective voter engagement begins.” Successes like RockThe.Vote and voter registration website Alabama.vote are early indicators that .vote is delivering on that promise.

There are indications that search engines may attribute greater authority to verified TLDs with good track records because they are nearly guaranteed to offer highly relevant content, a key component for search ranking.

TLDs as Organizing Tool

The ultimate potential for TLDs may be as an organizing tool. TLDs are essentially registries, and in contemporary culture, owning and operating a registry has real power.

In the real world, the US Green Building Council defined what green buildings look like by creating the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. By becoming a certifying body and registry, it became the tastemaker and arbiter for environmentally-responsible building. The same thing can happen on the web.

That’s the thinking behind .eco, a new TLD I’m working on. When .eco launches in early 2017, it will set the standard for who can identify themselves as environmentally responsible on the Internet.

When over 50 environmental orgs, including Greenpeace, WWF and NRDC, came together to support .eco, they set eligibility standards that will make .eco a powerful online authority on who gets to identify as an environmental actor. The first expression of the .eco community’s power is our domain granting program. We’re giving away hundreds of high-value domains to environmental orgs.

Imagine if the Carbon Disclosure Project and similar orgs went after the .CO2 domain? They could become the definitive registry of corporate emissions reporting and mandate best practices for CO2 disclosure and reporting. Stakeholders could be confident that when they visited Nike.CO2 or SanFrancisco.CO2, they would find trusted information.

While you’re rushing to nab your .eco, .ngo and .organic domains for upcoming campaigns, it’s worth considering how creating new TLDs could be part of your change-making strategy, too.

 

Photo credit: Dileepan Ramanan

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Julie Szabo
Julie is a digital strategist with a deep understanding of technology and web culture, and experience deploying complex, innovative digital projects that connect and inspire people to improve the world. Julie is a principle at Capulet and co-author of "The Noble Arsonist: Stoking fires and igniting movements for NGOs (and companies that care)."