Is it important to protect your brand from domain trolls?
Registering a snappy domain is becoming more difficult with every passing year. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has authorised the release of more than 600 new top-level domains – the extensions that lie after the final dot in a name, also known as TLDs – in an effort to satisfy demand, but this could be a curse or a blessing, depending on your point of view.
If you already have your own domain, the arrival of these new extensions may leave you asking whether you need to repeat your purchase within each namespace. If you failed to secure your brand with a .com, .net or .co.uk first time around, though, it offers a second chance.
“The traditional top-level domains are still as important as they used to be, [but] many of the best domain names in .co.uk and .com are already taken,” said Mickael Delcroix of OVH. “To find a good domain name you need to keep different priorities in mind: you need something easy to understand, short – since long domain names are usually less successful – and something that has keywords in it, at which point a .info or .eu can be as good as .uk or .com.”
Daniel Foster, managing director of host and registrar 34SP, agreed: “A national identity is irrelevant for some services. In our case, we provide a service that works anywhere in the world, but if you’re a UK-based business then you’ll be focused on offering your services to someone in this country – rather than Australia or America – so there’s a stronger case for registering a .uk domain.”
It isn’t always so clear-cut, though, as Thomas Keller, head of domain services at 1&1, explained: “Local TLDs are very well-established brands and recognised as part of a domain where something like .shoe might not be. However, you need to keep in mind that once you select a domain name it works as a brand, and it should be a brand you want to be recognised by. So if your company is about discount flights, I’d rather take discount.aero than something like discountflightsukonline.co.uk, which is long, complicated and not very sticky.” But what of the future? “If you can get the local TLD for your brand then you should buy that first,” Delcroix said. “But you should also look to the future and register domain names you’ll need at that point [when you grow into new territories, say].”
Registering your brand within multiple domain spaces – even non-geographical ones – can protect your future interests, even if you don’t use them at first, claims 1&1’s Keller. Few of us can predict with any certainty the direction in which our business will turn, and neither can we be sure that leaving an option on the shelf won’t work against us.
“There’s nothing to stop someone registering your domain under a different TLD and putting something bad there,” said Foster at 34SP. “It could be a redirect to a competitor, or some harsh words about your company or you as a person. The easiest way to combat such risks is to get in there first and register the domain. Famously, when the .xxx domains were released for adult content, Taylor Swift’s management registered taylorswift.xxx to ensure nobody used it.”
But I own the trademark…
It’s a misconception that if you own a trademark then you have an automatic right to the associated domain; this isn’t always true.d
Delcroix pointed out that “every new domain space has a sunrise period of 30 days during which, if you have a registered trademark, you can register the domain name with a priority,” but beyond that you may have to resort to mediation.
“It’s not as clear-cut as ‘if you have a trademark then you can have the domain; but if not, get lost’,” said Foster. “But if you have an established brand, whether or not it’s a trademark, you’d hopefully be able to use the UDRP [ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy] to regain control of that domain.”
“Everyone should be aware that there’s a chance that someone might squat on your trademark,” Keller said. “That’s why you should build up a portfolio… It would be foolish to take the .com of your name and not the
.co.uk if it’s still available. You should make up your mind whether you need to do the same with the other TLDs [and] take things that you believe people would take if you didn’t.”
It makes sense to register and host your domain through the same organisation if possible, to minimise the chance of communication issues or misconfiguration, and to register for as long as you can – which is ten years for .uk – so there’s less chance of it lapsing without you noticing.
This is you, fighting off those who want to take your brand’s URL.
Throughout the registration period, you need to remain vigilant, and guard against approaches from third parties that want your domain.
“The fact that you’ve registered a name means your information is out there and freely available to anyone, so competitors can make contact to sell you extra services or try to convince you to transfer the domain name to them,” Foster said. “If anyone is in any doubt [after receiving an approach], they should contact the person with whom they registered the domain, who should be able to set the record straight.”
It would also be wise to find out whether they’re able to anonymise your registration by holding the domain on your behalf, thus hiding your details. Some charge for this, but 1&1 offers it as a free add-on to every domain you register.
Keller explains the anonymisation arrangement as “a triangular contract between the registry, the trustee (the hosting company) and you – the owner of the domain – saying that you hand over your rights for the remainder of the registration period; but that you can take the rights back without any notice at any moment”.
In your hands
Ultimately, the chances of losing hold of your domain through anything other than your own actions are slim. You’re the registered owner and – in theory – you’re the only one who can authorise any changes, however urgent or threatening these third-party communications might seem.
“You’d have to take some action to lose a domain.”
“You’d have to take some action to lose a domain. It’s set up for you and will have your details on it, and your provider should accept authentication only from you to take any action on that domain,” said Foster.
The advice isn’t to ignore the new top-level domains. If you delay, it could be out of reach for years or even decades. Keep in mind that domains are valuable commodities, and it isn’t unusual to find yourself targeted by hosts and registrars after your business.
Guard your online property with the same degree of vigilance as you would your physical premises. It’s likely to become a more important part of your business every year.