ICANN, But Will You? (or: Brother, Can You Spare $185,000?)

money-tag-rankings-potatoWhat’s the top-level domain (TLD) of your website? If you’re a big brand, more likely than not it’s .com; if you’re a nonprofit, it’s probably .org; if it’s a more generic domain name, perhaps you’ve got the .net version.

Right now, there are 22 generic top-level domains (gTLDs), many of which are specialized (i.e. .aero for the air-travel industry, .gov for U.S. government sites, .edu for educational institutions), and many more country specific TLDs that are governed by ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

On Jan 12, 2012, the application process will open up for 3 months, and anyone will be able to bid for a new gTLD of their own specification – within reason. GTLDs that contravene trademarks won’t be allowed (no .burgerking for you, unless you’re Burger King), nor will gTLDs that are confusingly similar to existing gTLDs (so if you were thinking of getting .cmo to catch all of the typo traffic it’s not going to happen).

Also, for the first time, non-alphanumeric gTLDs will be allowed, meaning that other language gTLDs may soon exist, so, for example, Russian sites could soon have a Cyrillic gTLD rather than .ru.

Will this cause there to be a new gold rush in domaining, as people rush out to get vanity gTLDs, or keyword rich gTLDs? Possibly, but the barrier to entry is pretty steep.

You have to be, as ICANN states in the application process guidebook, an “Established corporation, organization, or institution in good standing”, and the application fee is $185,000. That’s not the total extent of the costs, just the application fee. Should the application progress and have objections filed, then the costs increase, potentially doubling, and there’s also an annual maintenance fee of $25,000.

That said, ICANN expects “200-300 TLDs will be delegated annually… with no more than 1,000 new gTLDs… added to the root zone in a year”, although the whole process from application to going live is expected to take anywhere from 9 to 15 months, depending on both the number of applications, and any objections filed throughout the process for each gTLD.

What will this mean to the wonderful world of SEO? Will we start seeing .foo or .banana sites suddenly ranking for highly competitive terms in early 2013? Probably not, after all, when was the last time that you saw a .biz, or a .us site ranking highly for a competitive term?

As the market floods from 22 gTLDs (of which most people could name perhaps a handful) to 222 or 322, will the reliance in the U.S. on .com begin to fade, or will it continue to remain the defacto gTLD as consumers perceptions may be hard to change?

What will this mean for reputation management? Should you go buy your name across every gTLD to prevent squatters or trolls from jumping on yourname.splot (It has been announced that the .xxx domains will have a blacklist of 15,000 celebrity names, but not brand names). and potentially ranking for your brand?

Unless you have the spare budget for it, no.

Given that registration fees could range from $10 per URL to over $100 per URL that would be prohibitively expensive, even if you’ve just got the one domain that you care about.

While I’m sure the companies purchasing the gTLDs and selling the secondary domains on them would recommend that you do purchase them, how do you know that it’s really going to be worth it? If they’re not going to rank, do you even care?

It’s going to be interesting to see how trademarks are protected through this process.

For those entities purchasing the gTLDs, and the rights to sell secondary domains on those gTLDs, they’re hoping that they’ll bring in big money. There were almost 900,000 expressions of interest in purchasing a domain on the .xxx gTLD which went up for pre-sale earlier this month (September 7, with a go live date in December), according to the Washington Times. At about $100 per domain per year, even if only only a tenth of those are purchased, that’s a pretty decent chunk of change.

But will that be the story when 200-300 new TLDs suddenly become available Domain name registrations continue to grow quarter over quarter, with an increase of 5.2 million domain names from Q1 to Q2 2011 up to a heady baseline of 215 million domain names registered across all TLDs, according to the latest Verisign Domain Name Industry Brief. So there’s already growth happening.

The new gTLDs will most likely help to spike that growth when they go live as people register different vanity URLs, but whether it’s going to just lead to a saturation of the market, confusion or just apathy in the long run is going to be along the lines of ‘wait and see’.

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