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The organization responsible for assigning domain names made a decision this week to shake up the familiar names used to navigate the Web. For years, people have been used to typing endings such as “.com” or “.gov” to visit websites. Soon it will be possible for companies and individuals to create their own top-level domain names. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced:

New gTLDs will change the way people find information on the Internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence. Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways.

“Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” said Peter Dengate Thrush, Chairman of ICANN’s Board of Directors. “We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration.”

Companies and organizations will be under pressure to lay claim to valuable domain names before rivals can get to them. However, the cost and difficulty of obtaining one of the new domain names could deter “cybersquatters,” who buy potentially valuable names and wait to make money by selling them to interested parties. Martinne Geller of Reuters writes:

Aside from the application fee, Bourne said owners have to pay about $25,000 a year to maintain each registry and $50,000 to $75,000 a year for technical functions often outsourced to a registry operator. Over the course of a 10-year period, he said that could amount to as much as $2 million per domain name.

For the largest consumer products companies, which have dozens of brands, that could run to many millions of dollars.

“But the next question is, what do they actually do with it?” Bourne said. “What can you do with .coke that you can’t do with”

Well, custom domain names could be useful if companies can come up with clever uses for them. For example, large companies could use them for an interesting “theme park” effect. Disney, for example, might be able to direct visitors who arrive at its main website,, to a series of pages hosted at .disney. I could envision these reflecting the company’s popular brands and the relationships between them. It would take time and money to design this well and to give the sense of scope that would justify using .disney as opposed to having a bunch of Disney-themed web pages hosted at .com.

However, having a special top-level domain isn’t likely to boost your search ranking, according to Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan:

Go do a search for “travel” now or any popular travel-related term on Google. Count the number of times you see sites coming up with .travel in their domain name. You won’t need more than one hand. You probably won’t need more than one finger. You probably won’t need any fingers at all.

Search engines like Google and Bing give no particular credit or boost to generic top level domain names in general. They don’t say, “Hmm, .com — that’s more important than .net, give it a boost.” They don’t say “Hmm, .travel, boost any site with that over other travel sites.”

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Tagged: Web, policy, marketing, domain name system, ICANN

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