The fast approaching rollout of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), like .uk and .london, has the potential be either a dream scenario or waking nightmare for organisations of all shapes and sizes.
This is because, on the one hand the move could let organisations tailor their online offering to a much more specific set of clients. For example, Groupon may like to take advantage of the .london domain to mount specific, targeted advertising campaigns or market more detailed region specific deals.
However to countermand this, there are also several potential pitfalls and logistical issues that could hamper businesses' ability to take advantage of the new domain options. This hasn't been helped by the fact many companies are still fairly confused about how exactly they can secure one or more of the new gTLDs, or move their existing sites across to one of the new domains.
How to register for a .uk domain
While the new .london domain will be available from 29 April, the .uk suffix will roll out a bit later on 10 June. The process of getting hold of a .uk or .london domain name is actually very simple. The process is identical to that seen registering any other .com or .co.uk domain, and simply requires a company to register their site with a web registrar. The new .uk domains will cost the same as their .co.uk equivalents, with Nominet charging £3.50 for a single year and £2.50 for multi-year registrations. Pricing for the .london addresses are yet to be confirmed.
Should you upgrade?
While .london and other new non-country gTLDs pose a whole different crop of questions - which V3 will be answering in an upcoming article later in March - the real question facing businesses regarding the .uk suffix is what are the benefits of upgrading their sites to the shorter country domain suffix as opposed to sticking with their current .co.uk or .com suffix. Nominet, the registry running the new .uk domains, claims the transition will offer serious benefits, reporting: "81 percent of people prefer .uk domains when searching or buying online."
While this may be true, some companies remain unconvinced and have expressed security concerns about the .uk rollout. One concern is that the wealth of new domains - Nominet alone offers .org.uk, .me.uk as well as .uk and .co.uk - could be used as a launch point for nefarious cyber attacks.
On paper there certainly is some evidence for this. Hackers often create schemes that aim to infect users' machines with malware when they visit specific websites. The campaigns often attempt to increase their victim base by hosting the malware on sites that sound similar to popular legitimate ones.
Additionally, as noted by F-Secure security researcher, Sean Sullivan the rollout also increases the chance businesses could fall victim to Domain Name System (DNS) hijackings. "The .uk transition period could possibly provide an opportunity for clever social engineers (such as the Syrian Electronic Army) - but registrars should already be on the lookout for this," he told V3.
DNS hijacking is a common tactic used by several hacker groups. It is designed to let hackers take control of a site and can be used for a variety of dangerous purposes.
Another key concern is that an abrupt move from .co.uk or .com to .uk or any of the other alternative domains could in theory lead to a traffic loss, which for sites reliant on vistor digital footfall or online advertising revenue, could be disastrous. An early transition to .uk could also be an issue for any business that uses its web URL for marketing purposes - like for example Comparethemarket.com or Lastminute.com - which have already spent vast sums increasing awareness of their existing brand.
These issues has been noticed by Nominet chief operating officer, Eleanor Bradley, who told V3: "Users will have to be really savvy going forward about what domain name they use. There are going to be so many available and it will be really important that people recognise it won't just be about .co.uk and .com, it's going to be about lots of other top level domains.
"The problem is, because there's lots of choice, there is a danger of confusion. This means when making a website, businesses need to think about what they're doing and where they're going in the future more than before."
Beware the squatters
In the past these risks would have been countermanded by the much more pressing threat posed by web domain squatters. Domain squatters are beasts similar to patent trolls that can cause businesses very serious headaches. They operate by buying domains which sound similar or could be confused with those of legitimate businesses, and then hold them ransom and demand vast sums of cash from any company interested in the rights to them.
Luckily, many registrars have taken steps to ensure this situation does not occur when the new gTLDs are rolled out. Bradley explained to V3: "If you have .co.uk you will have option to register the shorter domain name. You'll have five years. We settled on five years as we didn't want businesses to have to worry about being forced to move to the new domain. We wanted to let them tie it into a branding event or larger strategy."
This is great as it means businesses have five years to get their ducks in order before pushing ahead with a move to .uk. As explained by Taylor Wessing partner, Jason Rawkins, during an interview with V3: "The main thing is to get people aware of the change which a lot currently aren't. The five-year period is pretty sensible and means even if people miss it, they should be fine and won't have to worry about cyber squatters."
The only possible remaining issue is that there is potential for legal conflict when a well-known .co.uk domain or brand and a lesser known .org.uk site use the same name, for example flower.co.uk and flower.org.uk. However, as noted by Rawkins, this is fairly unlikely to occur.
"It won't crop up because if you're a brand with a .co.uk address you'll already have rights to .uk," he told V3. "From a practical point of view legal conflict is possible, but it would be very unusual. It could happen with generic or descriptive things, like flower, but it would be unlikely to occur with a trademark, like say Volkswagen."
As a result, with all factors and concerns answered it seems businesses do not need to rush their move to .uk and should heed Bradley's advice to take their time and really think about which domain is best for their business now and into the future.
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