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No Easy Solutions to TLD Branding and Labeling

The introduction of unlimited numbers of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) has increased customer and company confusion about the role of brand names and their product labels, as noted in an earlier post. This essay outlines the various possible scenarios for coupling TLD branding and labeling, and it explains why duplicating the benefits of branding under.com may be difficult.

Let’s look at the benefits of having default solutions for decision making. Harvard Law Professor Cass R. Sunstein makes the case in his recent article “Deciding by Default.” He provides the rationale for default rules, and explains why and when organizations should use blanket rules instead of making their own choices. He notes that default rules don’t impose mandates or banes, that instead they work by steering people in a particular direction.

We can extend the argument to domain names. For example, .com benefits searchers by providing better navigation to their desired sites (by direct navigation or by clicking on a .com link from keyword search results). It benefits companies by increasing their sites’ targeted visits and reducing accidental drop-ins. The significance of the .com default shows up in the percentage of direct-navigation visits, the number of registrations, and the registrations’ market prices. However, with the new gTLDs, a searcher has to guess the brand name and the desired product label, thus increasing the cost of search and navigation.

The various possible TLD branding and product labeling scenarios are:

ScenarioBanding TLDsProduct Labels
1.comNew gTLDs
2.comRanked new gTLDs
3.com + new competitorsNew gTLDs
4.com + new competitorsRanked new gTLDs
5.com + .brandNew gTLDs
6.com + .brandRanked new gTLDs
7.com + .brand + new competitorsNew gTLDs
8.com + .brand + new competitorsRanked new gTLDs

Alternatives 3 and 4 include possible new branding competitors to .com. Some factors to be considered by anybody who’s looking at a branding jump from using .com to .brand:

  1. In .com you already have an established branding vehicle-signaling legacy. It’s a default that acts as a cost-reducing mechanism for searchers and companies. .Brand may signal a newly established company.
  2. There is a rebranding cost to switching from .com.
  3. There are possible costs associated with modifying website navigation, as not all links are necessarily created relative to the index page.
  4. Indexed inside web pages may be lost. Studies to determine the benefits of new gTLDs in SEO tend to limit their comparisons to the main pages in keyword search results, ignoring inside pages indexed under .com. Even with this limitation, no clear new gTLD SEO advantage can be found.
  5. .Brand does not increase the number of possible brand names, and thus it does not solve the main .com constraint that motivated the introduction of new gTLDs.
  6. No technical, security, or data-control advantages to .brand have been convincingly demonstrated.

So far there is no evidence of users adopting any of the new gTLDs as substitutes for branding under .com. Rather customers seem to be using them as labels. That’s a bad idea because, unfortunately, confusion has sprung up because of registries’ marketing choices and the tendency of consulting firms to treat labels as branding tools.

Some of the gTLDs seem to be based on hunches and passion, on registries being in love with the idea implicit in the gTLD, and not on thoughtful review of data gathered to indicate economically viable labels and branding. There have been some long-bomb attempts at replacing .com with newcomers like .web or .global. Either the wrong words got picked or the marketing was inadequate, or maybe the problem was both those things plus the lack of any real need to go beyond .com. At any rate, the newcomers have mostly flopped with companies.

With .com based branding, companies should try innovative, unexpected words, whether real (Tesla, and Twitter, for example) or made-up (recent creations include the famous Snapchat and WhatsApp). Of course, only a finite number of permutations are actually desirable, which is a big reason we have new gTLDs.

To make the current overlapping mesh of gTLDs efficient and more user-friendly, there is a need to create searchable ranked sites per label that are ranked on multi-attributes such as product reputation, customer service, and site user-friendliness. Obviously, this is not an easy task, and no clear practical winning strategy presents itself. Option 4, above, looks like the best choice available, but it’s only a substitute for having a single .com branding TLD. We had better start thinking about answers now or the second round of new gTLDs will only mean a bigger mess.

By Alex Tajirian, CEO at DomainMart

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Perhaps the real innovation in new gTLDs is yet to come? Thomas Barrett  –  Mar 19, 2015 1:30 PM


thought-provoking as always.  The dot-brands, of course, already have the advantage of having already built a brand.  But what should the new gTLD registries using descriptive words do about branding their TLD?  Is there any hope here?

I heartily agree with your previous post that many new gTLD applicants fell in love with their strings and expected the rest of the world to fall in love with them too.  So they launched without any positioning or branding efforts.

Given this, perhaps the real innovation in new gTLDs is yet to come? 

As everyone knows, the strongest brands are coined or arbitrary.  I’m talking about innovative, coined and unexpected words not in dot-com second-level domains but in the TLD string itself!  The entry cost in the first round may have been too high for these new ventures but if costs drop in the second round (as they inevitably will), this could be the most interesting space to watch.

best regards,

Tom Barrett

Early Phase of Assimilating New TLD's Max Menius  –  Mar 21, 2015 8:36 PM

I agree, thought provoking comments. However, I believe it is important to understand that this fresh paradigm of new TLD’s will take time to form a truly clear picture. It is far too early to draw any conclusions about their adoption or success alongside legacy .com equivalents. There are several reasons for this ...

1. Never before has the internet had the ability to more completely define a domain name’s meaning & relevance. This is new territory. Complete words (as new tld’s) bring an unprecedented level of added clarity to the domain string. How this plays out will take years to determine.

2. While true that those with good legacy .com’s will not want to rebrand, that comprises a relatively small number of companies. There are many more existing (and new) companies that are not satisfied with a long tail .com when a more appropriate new TLD choice is available to them. And yes, they will either brand (or rebrand) using this more fitting domain name choice.

I was an initial critic of the release of so many new tld’s. Many will not gain traction because there is no added meaning contained in the top level domain. That being said, the tld’s that do in fact provide a level of clarity offer credibility and a quality internet address that will be easier for consumers to remember.

On domains as “brands”, they can function as a brand. Just look at Homes.com, Hotels.com, Apartments.com, Coffee.club, Methadone.us. Alternatively, they can simply function as a logical portal to a company’s website as in Miami.condos.

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