Five things your CMO should know about generic top-level domains and dot brands

In the early days of the Internet, there were only four top-level domains: .GOV, .EDU, .ORG and of course .COM.

Unless you were a government, a school or a non-profit, the only top-level domain (TLD) that made any sense was .COM. Naturally, everyone from plumbers to politicians flocked to secure important .COM domain names.

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However during the last 10 years, social media, apps, mobile and the internet of things have changed the relevance of the domain name.

With the expansion of the internet from these four tried and tested TLDs to now more than 1,000, what should your chief marketing officer (CMO) know about the new generic top level domains (gTLDs) and dot brands?

Is it just a fad? Will it soon fade away like other top-level domain extensions that struggled to take off, such as .BIZ, .MOBI, .TV or .TRAVEL? Will domain names continue to matter?

Will the fact that half the world’s top brands – Google applied for 101 new top-level domains, Amazon applied for 76 – now own a dot brand change things? Will the ability to more specifically define your product, service, slogan, campaign or company into a category more closely aligned with your messaging win in favor of the oldie but goodie, .COM?

Here are a few things your CMO should know.

1) Search will change in the next few years

Many speculate that the top-level domain doesn’t matter. But it likely will in the future.

In the past, the top-level domain didn’t mean a lot because everyone was either in .COM or a CO.CountryCode. These big piles of domains didn’t distinguish one company or product from another, so naturally the top-level domain didn’t have a lot of weight.

In the past, algorithms have recognized when top-level domains started to have meaning or become signals. When .CO was introduced to mean company or commerce, as opposed to the country of Colombia, the algorithm eventually recognized that shift.

“There have been enough people using .CO around the world that we are not treating it as if it is specific to Colombia,” said Google’s Matt Cutts after .CO shifted its meaning. The same is likely to happen here. 

When most of the web sites in the domain name .PLUMBER or .DENTIST are in factplumbers or dentists, and when those plumbers and dentists optimize their websites using those names, it will become a signal. 

More importantly, when big brands start using their dot brands and introduce new products, campaigns, or secure logins, the algorithms will start to recognize the dot brand top-level domain.

The signal will be that this is the one true brand and everything to the left of the dot can be trusted. This will change search and have a trickle-down effect.

2) User experience

New domains and dot brands will allow marketers to create a user experience more tailored to the consumer. Whether it’s hyper-personalized down to the individual level or just personalized to a demographic or geographic area, the dot brands have the ability to create interesting user experiences.

For example, Calvin Klein could build out YourCloset.CALVINKLEIN, Miami.CALVINKLEIN, or FallJeans.CALVINKLEIN to drive people who are interested in a specific experience directly into a space.

Tiffany & Co. could also build out specific spaces, such as Mom.TIFFANY, HolidaysAt.TIFFANY or Anniversary.TIFFANY.

Major League Baseball can tailor domains to specific teams, cities, or events, or even just what’s happening right now with Now.MLB.

Organizations can focus on creating a user experience solely targeted to what the user is seeking, rather than hoping they find it from the homepage experience.

3) Data

The other big trend on the horizon is using the dot brand space to collect new forms of data.

Dot brands will have the ability to know if people are searching for a domain that does not exist in their domain spaces. This means that if HBO sees that everyone is searching for Sports.HBO or Shop.HBO it may want to create a dedicated space to use that new interest.

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It also creates the opportunity for dot brands to architect a natural language-based infrastructure to their online experiences tailored to driving traffic and behavior in a slightly different way than was previously available.

This ability to architect the dot brand could create new and instantaneous data points that enhance what is currently available.

4) Security

New dot brands will also have the ability to offer greater security.

Dot brands can run security scans at all levels and facets of their Internet neighborhoods, where they have complete control, and can add products and services to enhance scans and security settings.

For financial institutions, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals this will have great value if it’s executed properly. For everyone else, it offers something more to consumers in a security-conscious society.

5) Digital transformation

Many will argue that domain names are dead. While social media connects us and apps make life easy on the go, most people still access the internet through traditional browsers at some point during the day.

Even my 12-year-old son, who lives most of his life in new social media and texting, still turns to a laptop and browser when he needs to do his homework or wants to search YouTube.

These new ways of using the internet – when it’s connected to flat panels throughout your home, car and other places – will evolve how domain names are used.

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Domain names will still be relevant and with more natural language – WhatHappensIn.VEGAS or when flu season hits, Cold.SOLUTIONS – they will become more memorable and targeted.

The next generation will grow up with this wide variety of naming opportunities and they will someday wonder why everyone used a .COM back in the old days.

There are many facets to the digital transformation underway and the new tailored, custom domain name space is one piece of it.

So what does your CMO need to know?

These new domain extensions could transform what consumers come to expect when they search from a browser. The idea that domain names are more desirable and trusted than old-school domain names is a natural evolution of the domain name space.

What’s interesting to observe is that this happened 20 years ago. Remember the original .COM boom? Many companies failed to act and later suffered because they didn’t have important digital assets they needed. They didn’t think the .COM thing would last.

CMOs have largely learned not to make that mistake again and to focus on the future, but so much is happening so fast it’s hard to keep up.

CMOs need to understand how domain names fit into a larger part of digital transformation and consider what naming-convention strategy will lead your company into the future.

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