It seems that every time new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) go live these days, lawyers are standing by to snatch them up on behalf of a trademark holder. They aren’t doing it because of the opportunity presented by new domain extensions, but due to the fear of losing control of their businesses’ names online. Now that we’re a few years into the new gTLD program, we understand such fears are often overblown, but the practice of protective domain buying continues for many large brands. Unfortunately, once registered, many defensive domains simply sit there. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a tool for businesses to go on the offensive. They just need to be put in the right hands.
Left hand, right hand
By the end of the .COM gold rush, most companies had settled into what they believed would be the only domain they’d ever need or have. But as ICANN released hundreds of domain extensions into the wild, the threat of someone holding a brand hostage—or simply slandering it—was renewed.
Lawyers and legal consultants rightly protect their clients by registering new domain names whenever they become available, whether or not the TLD has any specific relevance to what the business does. Many of these lawyers consider defensive domains to be ends in themselves, and don’t think to put them to use for any other purpose. This often leads to the domain either getting parked, redirected to homepages, or simply ignored.
Over time, protective domains have managed to digitally wall off big brands from intruders, but in doing so, also prevent some good ideas from getting out. Thanks to a lack of communication, the marketing departments for these same brands are often completely unaware that any of this is happening. Now while marketers in general certainly need greater familiarity with new gTLDs, even those that have a handle on them may not realize that their own lawyers already have them under control.
So the company’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. If more marketers had known about these protective domains, the opportunities to put them to use would be endless:
Campaign Season — The most straightforward opportunity for protective domains would be in temporary marketing campaigns. Rather than saddle a campaign with a long-string URL or a domain name that muddies the brand, marketers can stick with a clean (trademark).SALE, (product name).COUPON, (company name).GIVES, or any appropriate domain extension from the 850+ available today. The best part is, these domains can point to temporary microsites for specific campaigns, then be reused for a different site when the marketing team is ready to launch another. McDonald’s employed this tactic when they launched the temporary BigMac.ROCKS awareness campaign to inject some personality into an already well-known brand.
Controlling the conversation — When it comes to crafting the consumer’s experience, review sites have become make or break for many businesses. Many companies today don’t have the luxury of enticing a customer to try a product or service first; that customer will already have made up their mind after seeing a review online. While some businesses would see this is an annoyance, Starwood Hotels saw an opportunity to own the reviewer culture by registering several domains (such as StarwoodHotels.REVIEWS) which redirected to customer feedback of their individual resorts chains. Sources of reviews themselves can also use the extension, as Amazon did when they posted their funniest customer critiques at Amazon.REVIEWS. Several other domain extensions, such as .GUIDE or .HELP, also facilitate customer interactions with brands.
Getting to the point — Actual engagement with customers takes constant effort on the part of marketers, and it’s made no easier by clunky online interfaces. The static nature of most homepages means that to get up-to-date information, users often have to wade through several menus and links to get where they really want to go. Complementary domains cut to the chase, and give users memorable, direct means of navigation. NitroCircus.LIVE, for instance, takes users directly to upcoming tour dates and locations. Every drop-off point that can be eliminated from the user experience keeps eyeballs on the content marketers are putting out.
What this means for the domain industry
Protective domain registrations can create some sales in the short-term, but eventually, they tend to simply sit idle. New TLDs exist to do far more than just redirect, and it’s time to start pushing the narrative towards a more holistic view of the marketing opportunities they create.
Usage of (and traffic to) domains are as important to the health of the industry as total registrations, maybe even more so. But a protective domain doesn’t push usage on its own. It requires someone—marketers, yes, but also any “idea people” within the business—who has the inclination to run with it.
As more protective domains are converted into useful microsites, campaigns, and content sources, customers will be more aware of new TLDs and more willing to register them. For registrars and resellers, this can be as easy as suggesting that their legal customers share protective domains with their marketing departments. It’s a simple way to add value to domain products, and can encourage future business.
Ultimately, the good news for brands is that many defensive domains are already owned by the brands. They’re useful, relevant, and have enormous potential. All that’s left is for someone to take the field and go on the offensive.