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Challenges of “.brand” domain names

The structure of domain names and ICANN rules hamper .brand domains.

Image with the words www.brand

Earlier this week ICANN posted a notice from Honeywell that it wants to terminate its .honeywell domain name. These domains–with a trademark after the dot–are commonly referred to as .brand top level domain names.

They were shoehorned into the existing framework for top level domains, making them hard to use in innovative ways. A couple of the comments on my post about Honeywell’s withdrawal point these out.

One commenter, who goes by the name Snoopy, questioned what should go left of the dot in a .brand domain for the company’s main website. He said www.brand is a possibility.

John Berryhill responded and pointed out some of the challenges of .brand domains:

Right, but they’d all have to adopt the same protocol in order to have a hope of “guessability”. But you are spot on with the words being in the wrong order, as I have also heard from the brand manager for a major automobile manufacturer. Many more .brand TLDs are going to be dropped since they were obtained on the basis of there being a limited time window to apply for them, so quite a few of the applications were simply exercises in avoiding a lost opportunity to obtain something they could figure out later if they wanted to use. (and, yes, urged on by the ICANN consultant corps)

In order to advertise the “home” destination in a .brand TLD, the brand owner, with potentially billions of value in the goodwill associated with their brand, has to pick some other word and give it ‘top billing’ on their marquee, ahead of their brand. I’s particularly tough if you are, say, Yamaha, and make everything from concert pianos to motorcycles. It would be one thing if DNS wild-carding were allowed, but it’s not since ICANN’s revenue model is based on registration volume of 2LDs. That also rules out any “TLD as database” applications, such as being able to use (product-serial-number).brand in service, support or warranty applications.

Having control of one’s own DNS data to the top-level may be of some marginal utility, but there is precious little practical value .brand TLDs. Now, of course, someone with something to sell may pop up here and argue otherwise, but one can’t deny the fact that you have better odds of seeing a snow leopard than a .brand TLD with any substantial use. It is going to become more difficult to foist these on brand owners against the growing wasteland of discarded .brand TLDs, so I can certainly understand the urgency.

One of the better pitches for these things was by Joe Alagna, then of Centralnic, who would explain that early email addresses, such as through Compuserve, would look like “(numeric)@compuserve.net”, which made no brand impression. Later, one could get “(brand)@earthlink.net” which included the brand, but still advertised Earthlink. Then, it became easier to get addresses like help@brand.com, which eliminated the ad for the provider, but still implicitly ‘advertises’ Verisign as the .com registry. Joe could get you to buy sand in the desert if you listen long enough.

The thing is, generic TLDs like .com are just that – generic. Nobody associates any particular brand with .com or other gTLDs (unless they are in the domain business), so they are blank canvases which do not detract from the commercial impression of a URL or email address.

This will be a challenge unless or until ICANN changes how these domains can be used. Even then, it will be an uphill battle.

For the pro-.brand view, listen to this podcast.

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What domains can teach about brand engagement in foreign markets

Since the early 2000s, domain names can be registered and written in any language – for example Chinese characters are allowed in the .com namespace, 例子.com is a valid domain name. This wonderful innovation makes internet users less reliant on the English alphabet to navigate the internet – including when engaging with brands online.

As with any new technology, early adopters are often not the larger corporations but smaller ventures, one man operations and the likes. When it comes to foreign language domains incorporating brand names, this means that, unfortunately, some of them are registered to affiliate marketers and speculators unrelated to the brand owner.

From an academic perspective, this has the advantage of being a fantastic proxy to assess the viability of using brand names in different languages to engage with local audiences. The assumption here is that if a brand related domain has been registered and renewed to an affiliate marketer or any third party primarily motivated by monetization, whatever he/she is doing with the domain must be working.

The following are some of my observations on the topic :

 

A) Brand translations work.

It may not be practical for a brand manager to come up with translations of their brand in an effort to better engage with internet users. However, the translations may already be out there, used by native speakers on and off the internet. When a translation makes it to a domain registration, it’s a sign that its usage might be widespread.

PlayStation in Hebrew

PlayStation can be written in Hebrew like this : פלייסטיישן

Google data shows that the proportion of Israeli search volume for the keyword “PlayStation” to the Israeli search volume for “פלייסטיישן” is 10:3.

Surely, the domain name פלייסטיישן.com is registered, but not to Sony. It has been so since 2010 and it currently redirects to a one page Weebly website full of Adsense ads.

 

Iceberg showing the Skype brand in Russian along with some typos
Typo traffic is just the tip of the iceberg

B)Typos are a thing too.

Skype in Russian

скаип.com is a typo of скайп.com which is Russian for Skype. Despite the whois privacy, both domains seem registered to the same entity and currently redirect to an adult webcam affiliate page (NSFW). The domains were respectively registered in 2012 and 2007.

In other instances, typo domains look to mimic the visual appearance of the brand.

Viagra and Netflix

vìágrã.com

This domain resembles the viagra brand. It is registered since 2007 and currently resolves to a parked page (displaying PPC ads).

ñetflix.com

The Netflix brand name with the Spanish eñe instead of the regular “n”. This domain was registered in 2013 and currently redirects to a survey affiliate program.

The most clever cases of typo domains involve what I call “keyboard layout typos” whereby the string of characters resulting from typing an english word on a foreign language keyboad is registered as a domain name. This type of typo exists because most non english keyboard hardware come with two or more characters printed on each key, i.e. one english letter following the QWERTY layout and one character in the native language. The keyboard software is often programmed by default to allow the use of either layouts. Switching from one to another is usually a matter of one key press.

Godaddy almost in Thai

Thai keyboard layout showing a typo of the Godaddy Brand

เนกฟกกั.com.

This domain is the result of the keystroke sequence G-O-D-A-D-D-Y typed on a Thai keyboard with the Thai layout active instead of the English QWERTY layout. The domain per se means nothing in the Thai language. It currently redirects to Godaddy.com through an affiliate link.

If anything, the existence of this domain shows that there are Thai keyboard users who could make use of a proper Thai domain to access the registrar.

 

B) Brand + Keyword domains are also used

The use of foreign language domains to engage with brand customers is not limited to exact match brand names. Brand + Keyword domains are prevalent as well, especially in markets with a history of online advertising and online marketing.

Forex Sale in Japanese

ロレックス買取.net

This domain name means “Rolex Sale” or “Rolex Purchase” in Japanese. The webpage it resolves to has a prominent a8.net affiliate link below the fold.

 

In conclusion, when it comes to engaging with “foreign” audiences, using a domain name in the proper language is an avenue to consider. Affiliate marketers and speculators have been doing it for years, and it seems to be successful, at least as per their standards.

 

About the author

JS Lascary is passionate about Internationalized Domain Names. He is a member of the Quebec Bar Association and the founder of idndata.com, a brand monitoring business.

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