2014 is going to be a landmark year for the Internet as the oldest and most basic form of user online navigation gets a major overhaul. The domain names that marketers and end users have relied on since the Internet's inception—extensions like .com, .net, and .org—will no longer be the only game in town. New generic top-level domains (gTLDs), including extensions such as .app, .sports, .club, .healthcare and many more, have already started to launch.
However, bringing those new extensions to market is more complicated than slapping on a price tag and hanging a for sale sign. It's been a multiyear process already; and, despite some hiccups, the organization that governs the Internet and is managing the rollout, ICANN, has tried to make it fair for everyone involved. Accordingly, introducing domains under a new extension is a multistep process that's designed to include protections for trademark holders and give average users a fair shake at getting the names they want.
Every marketer should understand the two important phases under this process: the Sunrise and the Landrush periods. ICANN mandates that a Sunrise period lasting at least 30 days must take place for every new domain extension that launches. During that timeframe, trademark holders are given an opportunity to claim domains that are associated with their marks before anyone else is able to register them. If multiple parties are seeking the same domain, disputes will be arbitrated or will go to auction at the end of the Sunrise period.
The Landrush period is optional, but almost always used by new registries. During this timeframe, premium domains are offered at a premium price. They might include generic terms or category-defining terms that could give instant credibility to an online brand—a tactic used by sites such as Hotels.com or Cars.com.
The Sunrise and Landrush periods are the only times you'll ever be able to purchase a domain directly from registries, the organizations that manage domains and make sure they direct users to the correct websites when typed or clicked in a browser. After Sunrise and Landrush comes general availability—the time when anyone can buy a domain from a registrar, companies such as GoDaddy or 1&1.
You'll want to be engaged long before general availability or risk having the perfect new domain slip through your fingers. Months or years down the road, it'll likely cost much more to purchase that same name on the secondhand market, so it's important to pay attention now so you know your options and can make fully informed decisions to either purchase now or watch from the sidelines.
As you navigate the tidal wave of new domains, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Start early
Although there could be up to 1,000 new domain extensions released onto the Internet within the next year, not all of them will be relevant to you. Start looking now at the domain extensions that have been applied for and approved so you can keep track of the ones you may want to use.
To help you keep track, this calendar has a list of all the new domain extensions being introduced, along with estimation on when their Sunrise and Landrush periods will take place: http://key-systems.net/english/news/new-gtlds/new-gtld-launch-dates.html.
2. Use both sides of the dot
The rules have changed for selecting domains and building a comprehensive portfolio that includes company and product names, trademarks, defensive registrations, and other considerations.
Before, you mostly had to think about names and keywords to the left of the dot, and then match them with the right country-specific or generic domain extension. Now, you have to think in terms of categories and keywords to the right of the dot as well, because you can register names such as Running.Shoes, MainStreet.Coffee, and Medical.Careers.
The combination of what's to the left and right of the dot is much more important.
3. Save energy with the trademark clearinghouse
Many companies are concerned about the time commitment and cost of defensively registering domains within hundreds of new registries. They should use the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), an ICANN-mandated service that's being managed by IBM and Deloitte.
Registering in the TMCH is a mandatory step for participating in a Sunrise period, and the service will also provide you with notification if anyone tries to buy a domain under any of the new extensions that contains a mark you've registered.
4. Understand 'pre-registration'
A lot of registrars are offering pre-registration of new domains, which is an excellent way to jump on the names you want before they're actually released. However, it's important to understand that pre-registration doesn't necessarily guarantee that you'll get the domain.
With pre-registration, you're essentially asking the registrar to attempt to purchase a domain for you as soon as it's available, but someone else may have also "pre-registered" for the same domain though a different registrar.
Still, it's a good idea to pre-register so you're one of the first in line and can be actively informed about important release dates or auctions related to your desired domain, and will have someone working on your behalf to secure the domain for you.
5. Have your checkbook ready
New TLDs will not be as expensive as dot-coms, but generic terms could still command top dollar if multiple parties are interested. If you become involved in Sunrise or Landrush auctions, the domain you're interested in could be bid up in price if multiple parties are involved.
In those situations, domains will fetch their market value, which could be as high as six or seven figures, so at the beginning of the process it's good to think a little bit about what a name would be worth to you so you're not blindsided later.