Through the course of 2015, domain options will grow exponentially. More than 1,300 new domains are being phased in. Big brands, tech titans, venture capitalists, major cities and entire industry verticals are all playing a part in this attempt to usher in a new era of the internet with the next few billion users in mind, according to a new eMarketer report, “The Domain Name Explosion: Hundreds of New Choices Beyond .com Mean New Marketing Considerations.”
The initiative isn’t without controversy. What some view as a “blank canvas for innovation” to spur more creativity, diversity and trust on the internet, others see as costly, exploitative and bound to cause consumer confusion. Nonetheless, it continues to move forward, requiring all internet users to adapt.
The rollout is still in its early stages, so it’s no surprise that overall internet user awareness of the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) is low. A global report by the Domain Name Association (DNA)—a group of registries, registrars and other domain name industry stakeholders—found that just one-quarter of internet users worldwide polled in November 2014 were aware of efforts to expand the number of domain names.
In the US, search is a fairly ubiquitous activity among internet users, with 84.6% conducting at least one search per month, eMarketer estimates.
Such high search penetration, combined with surging time spent on social platforms and mobile devices globally, might suggest declining use and utility of domain names as direct entry points to websites by visitors. Thus, it’s reasonable to question the value or relevance of dedicating resources to utilizing new gTLDs.
Search is indeed a dominant activity, especially in developed markets like Australia, Germany, the UK and the US. But typing a domain name into a browser’s address bar remains a common internet behavior. In countries like Brazil, India and Mexico, search was not as prominent as directly entering a URL in a browser, according to findings from the DNA report. Furthermore, more than half of all respondents indicated they always paid attention to domain names in their search results.
It’s hard to predict exactly what impact new domains will have on digital behaviors, but in general, “internet users are very adaptable and can assimilate to changes quite well,” said Nao Matsukata, CEO of FairWinds Partners, a firm that advises companies on domain name strategy. “I think with proper promotion and education, we could see widespread adoption in time.”
Promotion of new generic terms will be an important element to wider awareness and adoption, but it may be brands with their own “dot-brand” domains that make or break the success of the program. “Brands are going to be the ones that ultimately turn the users into believers,” Matsukata said. “The generics are always going to be there, and they’ll have their own place, but in terms of full adoption and real usage of the new top-level domains, the brands hold a very critical piece of it.”