Key-Systems: .info is the tenth largest top-level domain, and your largest, with around 5.4 million registrations according to Verisign’s Domain Name Industry Brief. How has not just .info fared with the increased competition from new gTLDs, but also .mobi and .pro?
Afilias: dotINFO is a “true generic” in that it is a great place to put information about your organisation, product, service, cause, interest, etc. It is also friendlier than more directly commercial TLDs. The idea is that visitors are more likely to stop by if you are sharing information instead of pitching them and trying to extract $ from their pockets.
.pro and .mobi are different, in that they imply specific categories of things. .pro is for and about professionals; .mobi is about content for mobile devices.
The new TLDs have put pressure on the growth of these TLDs mostly because of greater competition for channel resources. Established TLDs are less likely to be put up front by registrars who have been diverted by cash-rich new entrants. This compression is beginning to subside now, and registrars are getting back to “selling what sells” now that the effective margins on new TLDs have shrunk back to more realistic levels.
KS: Where do you see the future of .info [you can also discuss .mobi and .pro here] and what opportunities do you see for the TLD(s) in the future?
A: We see a bright future for .info. The world’s economies are growing, and .info will continue to grow as new organisations are formed, more people come online, and the Internet becomes ever more important in our lives. .info has long been one of the most popular TLDs, and we see its universal appeal as a strength.
Growing economies create opportunity for all TLDs, and we think specialised TLDs like .pro will be particularly affected—everyone is a pro at something, and people want to deal with professionals!
KS: Afilias also has over 20 new gTLDs that have been delegated. What were Afilias’ expectations when you applied for these new gTLDs half a decade ago? And have they matched expectations?
A: Afilias has had new TLD success like that of others. Overall, volumes in new TLDs are disappointing. That said, most of our new TLDs have sufficient volume to cover their costs, and we are fortunate to have the resources to be patient as they develop organically.
KS: Did you have any determinants of success that you could share, both for individual TLDs and collectively?
A: There is no substitute for a “good string;” that is, a string with meaning that is clear and popular. .info is a good example, as is .me. Of course, the key to success is having names that are used for valuable purposes, which generally means that the names have sites with original content that support activities with good long-term potential. Names with this characteristic are highly likely to renew and keep on renewing.
When a TLD has a big spike in sales, it generally means that renewals will be poor the next year. Any TLD operator can create a big spike in sales: offer a really low price, and domain investors and/or spammers, etc will come in and buy inventory. Investors are unlikely to renew the following year, unless their names are delivering traffic or other revenue that make them self-funding. Spammers and other criminals won’t keep the names after the scams have run their course.
KS: How has Afilias determined what is successful?
A: Afilias continues to grow in many ways including via acquisitions, new business opportunities and current business renewals. Highlights include the opening an office in Beijing and launching 5 of our TLDs within the Chinese marketplace. Our work with Public Interest Registry continues with our contract renewal to manage the important TLDs .org, .ngo, .ong and their .IDNs. Our new contract with auDA means we now also manage .au. The transition of this TLD to Afilias was recognised as a technical achievement with a Guinness Award for the Largest Migration of an Internet Top-Level Domain in a Single Transition following the historic transition of more than 3.1 million domain names in the .au internet top-level domain. Additionally, we established a new office in Melbourne, AU.
KS: Looking outside of Afilias, are there any new gTLDs you wished you’d applied for and won?
A: One particularly attractive new TLD is .web, which Afilias applied for and which is still in limbo. We continue to press ICANN to award this to us. Beyond that, we continue to acquire companies and TLDs along the way. Companies in the market to sell should have the discussion with us as we are always interested in taking a look.
KS: What have been the biggest challenges, past, present and what do you see as the challenges going forward?
A: Security is and for the foreseeable future will be one of the more focused challenges as privacy will be as well. Well-meaning legislation such as GDPR provides additional challenges that we are making sure are addressed in full.
KS: Going forward, where do you see Afilias in 5 years, even 10 years. Do you have any plans you could share with us?
A: As previously stated, Afilias continues to grow in many ways. Even if we just look at the last 5 to 10 Afilias has seen tremendous growth with new offices in Beijing, India and Melbourne. As for the future, there is a great deal planned and we have already transitioned our corporate office to the US. Beyond that we will make announcements when appropriate.
KS: Also looking forward, where do you see the TLD market will be in the next 5 to 10 years?
A: As dotcom continues to crowd, the need for additional TLDs will remain.
KS: Is Afilias planning for there to be future application rounds, and if so, are you looking to apply for future gTLDs? Or focussing on providing backend registry services? Or both?
A: Afilias is looking forward to future application rounds while also building up our systems for backend services. We have also been acquiring companies, more TLDs and building out new data centre’s and offices and will continue to do so.
KS: What does Afilias see as challenges ahead? Threats or even ideas (OK, you might not want to share ideas!) for the next new gTLD round.
A: The industry is paying close attention to security and privacy issues. Staying compliant with GDPR and whatever else comes along the way – to best serve customers, domain owners and help authorities with trademark, hacking or other security issues is a careful balance.
KS: Looking at new gTLDs in general now. What do you see as the benefits new gTLDs have brought?
A: The real benefit is the new choices now available to those looking to start a business. When there are only a few TLDs you simply run out of names. URLs start to require the whole side of a bus or billboard because shorter names are no longer available. Misspellings or too clever to be usable URLs were created simply to keep a name short enough for dotcom – with new TLDs your new domain is user friendly – more brand friendly and we have and have acquired new TLDs that we think have potential.
KS: Where do you see the biggest opportunities that new domains present to businesses?
A: Businesses can build their brand fresh with new TLDs. Creativity is opened for shorter more to the point branding for the business and its offerings. While some TLDs like dotcom and generic and can be for everything – you are able to target what you do more when you look at TLDs like Organic, Green, Pro, Pet, Poker and more. Stand out and step away from the crowd and use a new TLD to help your customer find you.
KS: What do you find are some of the top concerns of businesses when choosing their domain name?
A: Who are they targeting, will their domain be easy to remember and type (no matter what keyboard size) What are the possible typo issues. How will it work for social media and keyword optimisation?
Another issue is universal acceptance. While most ISPs and established sites are flexible enough to accommodate email addresses in new TLDs, we still occasionally run into a problem. The Universal Acceptance Steering Group (uasg.tech) has a great process for reporting and fixing these lingering issues.
KS: How do you market your TLDs to create awareness?
A: We work with our Registrars to promote our TLDs initially at launch and afterwards with various incentives and promotions as needed. We push these brands on social media and events throughout the year and present to industry professionals globally.
KS: What can businesses keep in mind when choosing their domain name?
A: Businesses need to think first about their brand, and THEN go and get a domain name. With all the new TLDs available, their actual names will be available in an appropriate space. Thinking beyond dotcom can help them find something that has easier and more memorable branding opportunities with a new TLD than the crowded space of older TLDs. Some URLS are so long that remembering them requires a search engine but companies like Clever.pet were very happy to with their new TLD brand. Domain Best Practices apply – short as possible, no hyphens and avoiding someone else’s trademark. How will it work with social media? Do you need multiple domains to cover typos or someone trying to leverage your efforts by squatting?
KS: What are the various marketing applications of domain names which businesses may not be aware of?
A: Most businesses think they need one main domain name, and additional domains only provide for IP protection. With the new domains, businesses now have flexibility to create multiple “doorways” into their businesses. For example, a bed and breakfast in Helsinki might already have a .com or .fi (Finland) name. But they should also think about a .helsinki name, because that may attract more clients. They may also want an .lgbt name, because that will indicate that the B&B (Bed and Breakfast) is LGBT friendly. 5 years ago, these options were not even available; today they are.