|The threats and fortunes of gTLDs
Gary McIlraith joined NetNames as Chief Executive in January 2012. Prior to this he was Managing Director of Digital Channels, International and Group Strategy for Ladbrokes plc.
Previously he was a Managing Director with AlixPartners, responsible for the firm’s European TMT practice; Customer Operations Director and an executive board member of BSkyB; a Partner with KMPG where he led the firm’s UK Hi-Tech practice; and an Associate Partner with Accenture where he led major projects in the TMT sector.
One of the biggest opportunities to arise from the new generic top-level domain (gTLD) programme is the ability for brand owners to manage and control their own space on the internet. A “.BRAND” new gTLD presents a unique opportunity for a company to create a new and more effective online identity by integrating product and brand in a single domain
As major global brands become more proactive in protecting their revenue and reputation in the digital space, brand abusers are now seeking new markets and soft targets to attack. At present, businesses with a lack of awareness about how to protect their brand protection are at risk and offer an irresistible opportunity for brand abusers.
Brand abusers are generally in it for the money, and seek to maximise revenue opportunities from the easiest targets without being detected. Addressing this issue is important for businesses, and in order to combat abusers damaging your brand reputation, understanding the new developments in domain name strategy is essential.
In the past year, the launch of the new generic top-level domain (gTLD) programme has created a disruptive and innovative opportunity for businesses to establish a secure brand online. The new gTLD programme now enables parties to register their brands in domain name spaces closely aligned to their industry, for example ford.cars, Google online or Apple computer. With a crowded .com domain name space, this has opened up much greater opportunity for brand owners to develop new online properties and brands. Since its inception last year, four million new domain names have been registered.
A more secure domain
One of the biggest opportunities to arise from the new gTLD programme is the ability for brand owners to manage and control their own space on the internet. A “.BRAND” new gTLD presents a unique opportunity for a company to create a new and more effective online identity by integrating product and brand in a single domain. Domains using .BRAND will therefore be a natural starting point for direct-type browser-based navigation. In support of this, NetNames’ Internet 2020 research found that 80% of internet users said that the new domain names would make them more likely to enter a company’s web address directly into their internet browser, rather than use a search engine. Further to this, over half (59%) said they thought new domain names will make it easier for them to find things online.
As such, using .BRAND domains will not only allow companies to control their own space on the internet, but also provide an opportunity for brands to review their current online security measures and investments, unlocking new strategies and potential cost savings. In our opinion, resulting cyber criminals may instead turn their attention to brands without their own name space, demonstrating that the changes offer an upgraded level of security for those that engage with it.
The business benefits of taking a .BRAND approach are therefore clear, starting with greater security. Much like the businesses that adopted online security measures early on, companies using their own gTLDs will be seen as “safe harbours” by internet users — and will be able to increase consumer trust and brand loyalty dramatically. The ring-fencing of their online entity will ensure that their reputation, customers, trademarks and ultimately, revenues are protected.
A new wave of risks
Although the development of the internet and the introduction of new domain names have created many opportunities for businesses, the risks have also grown. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission stated that: “the proliferation of existing scams, such as phishing, is likely to become a serious challenge given the infinite opportunities that scam artists will now have at their fingertips.”
Cybersquatters have been quick to take up the opportunity to threaten brand reputation in the gTLD space and serve as an example of such risks. NetNames’ research identified that 92% of the businesses surveyed said they recognise that there are potential risks associated with the introduction of new web address endings, with 87% saying they would be worried to some degree about keeping their brand and trademarks protected.
Unsurprisingly, the threat of cybersquatters and domain name hijackers were among the top concerns for businesses, with over a third (36%) of businesses stating this. These concerns are not unfounded — with the launch of new domain names, cyber criminals will effectively be offered new opportunities for domain name hijacking, traffic diversion, counterfeiting and other forms of brand abuse.
The research also revealed that companies face serious consequences if they do not protect their online identity and their customers, in this new web environment. Almost eight in ten (78%) internet users would shun a brand if they found themselves on a bogus website pertaining to be that brand.
This finding brings to light the full risks that businesses face if they fail to protect their customers from falling into the hands of online fraudsters. Before the internet evolves further, brands must look to develop an effective online strategy that protects both their intellectual property and online customers.
Where to next?
Over the past year there has been much debate among both businesses and consumers as to the significance of the new gTLDs, with some suggesting that they represent the biggest change to the internet since its inception. However, cautionary members of the business community have voiced concerns over the changes posed by gTLDs. Clearly the threat of cybersquatters is a real concern for those seeking to protect their brand online and illustrates the importance of having a proactive domain name strategy.
The new domain names will undeniably have a significant effect on the way the internet is accessed and run. In fact, the Internet 2020 report found that 92% of large companies have already or are planning to invest in the new domain names. So with many looking to revise their domain name strategy, internet users and brands need to be aware of the opportunities available but also the risks, such as cybersquatting, associated with new domain names. The internet is a “democratic” and liberalised ecosystem, where any party can register a website or a domain name. It is a truly global community, open to all, where users — consumers and businesses — ultimately determine failure or success.