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10 things businesses need to know about the future of internet domains

Antonia Seymour, chief commercial officer of Nominet, addresses the key issues facing entrepreneurs ahead of the launch of new .uk domains.

On 10 June, Nominet will launch shorter .uk web domains (without the ‘co’). For the first time, people will be able to register "www.yourname.uk", alongside existing options such as "www.yourname.co.uk". This leaves fewer than 20 working days until the biggest modification of the .uk namespace since it began.

Separately, ICANN, the global body that oversees internet domain names, is progressing 1,300 applications for new generic top level domains (gTLDs) - a new set of internet address endings such as .shop, .berlin, or .bbc – some of which have already launched.

What do these changes mean for entrepreneurs, and how can we prepare? Here are 10 things you need to know:

1. The different domain options available: New domains generally fall into five categories: generic, geographic, brand, IDN and community. Generic domains include .shop or .bank; geographic domains represent cities or areas such as .wales or .london, while branded domains are exactly as they sound - the likes of .nike or .google. IDN stands for Internationalised Domain Names, including non-Latin scripts, and community domains include .islam and .kids. Some are on the market, some are open for pre-registration, and hundreds more will launch over the next year.

2. New .uk domains are coming: All countries are assigned an official country-code top level domain (ccTLD). Some, such as France (.fr), allow registration directly before the two-letter country code, while others, such as Britain (.co.uk) or Australia (.com.au) do not. In Britain, this will change from 10 June as short .uk domains become available.

3. Which domain to choose: Choosing a domain depends on what's best for you and your brand: the signals you want to send and the customers you want to target. With an established namespace such as .com or .uk, there are benefits in terms of consumer trust and recognition, while domains such as .guru may appeal to a particular type of customer. There are also practical indicators - a .uk domain suggests a website in English that's likely to have prices in British pounds, while a .photography domain makes it clear you're catering to a certain niche.

4. Not all will succeed: Historically, there is usually one predominant domain. Forty-five per cent of all domains are .com with 41 per cent being taken up by country-code TLDs (excluding .tk). In the .uk namespace, .co.uk accounts for about 93 per cent of all .uk domains. Few domains launched in the past have taken off in the same way. For example, .biz has had far lower uptake than expected. If a new gTLD registry should fail, ICANN does have backup plans in place, having selected a few experienced registries (such as Nominet) to step in as Emergency Back-end Registry Operators.

5. How to get them: You can buy relevant domains as they launch through your preferred domain retailer (‘registrar’). If you're a trademark holder, ICANN has set up a Trademark Clearinghouse for brands to submit their trademark data into a central database. Brands can then register their trademarks in the new domains' "sunrise" periods before anyone else, or be notified if a domain name matching their trademark has been applied for. Dot brands (eg .nike) only allow the brand owner to use the domain. For new .uk domains, over 10 million existing .uk holders will have the exclusive right to the shorter version of their current domain. The others will be available to register on a first-come, first-served basis from 10 June through most registrars.

6. Resist pressure selling: Some may try to pressure you to register new gTLDs ahead of launch. Pre-registration generally brings no guarantees, so review your domain strategy rather than rushing to buy the same domain in every new gTLD. Existing .uk customers should check their rights to the shorter .uk address and note that they have five years (until 10 June 2019) to decide whether or not to register.

7. What to do if someone else registers your brand: With so many new domains, some brands or trademarks could be exploited. Different registries have different processes for dealing with this. For .uk domains, Nominet has a well-respected dispute resolution service (DRS), which usually can provide a quicker and cheaper resolution than going through the courts. Other gTLDs may have similar mechanisms, although some may require costly court action. You'll need to figure out the processes for each gTLD on a case-by-case basis depending on how important it is to you.

8. Pay attention to SEO: Search providers are unlikely to treat new gTLDs any differently to what's already on offer - returning results depending on content relevance. There's a bit of ambiguity around how after-the-dot keywords will be treated, but updates over the past few years have made keywords in domain names less vital to search performance. It's likely that search providers will wait and see how people are using the new domains and react accordingly. For .uk domains, Nominet is working closely with Google and other search providers to ensure that "example.uk" websites will be indexed as quickly and effectively as possible. As ever, the most important consideration for SEO should be well-signposted, high-quality content. If you're planning to switch to a new domain, make sure you follow best practice to retain search rankings, such as implementing 301 redirects and telling Google that your site has moved.

9. How to prepare: Identify the domains you're interested in and find out which ones customers think are memorable and trustworthy. Pay attention to trends in uptake and keep a close eye on what search providers are doing so you can react accordingly.

10. Pay attention: With consumers and algorithms determining which domain spaces will be trusted and successful in the future, business leaders need to be mindful of innovation in the domain space. The savvy entrepreneur will keep a close eye on what customer's value in their business's digital identity.

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