Addition of Hundreds of Top Level Domains a Challenge for SA Businesses and Consumers

The impending expansion of the global web address regime by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers may initially cause confusion among South African consumers.

June 26, 2012

The impending expansion of the global web address regime by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) may initially cause confusion among South African consumers, but can also be seen as a significant brand-building opportunity for many local businesses.

The impact of the addition of hundreds of new top-level domains (TLDs), the concluding part of an internet address that follows the dot and informs you what sort of site you are visiting – like .co.za, .com or .org. – needs to be carefully considered by businesses before the scheduled roll-out begins in 18 – 24 months.

This is according to John Ginsberg, Marketing Director of Ensight, a leading international multi-channel marketing company, who says that where previously tens of TLDs existed, now there will be literally thousands. “For example, consumers may now get confused between brand.com and brand.app, or brand.retail. There will also be a lot of learning curves as local consumers already struggle to differentiate between country-specific domains (i.e. brand.co.za, brand.co.uk) and their dot-com counterparts (i.e. brand.com, brand.net).”

Ginsberg says that South African consumers will turn to search engines and social media to help them work out which is the most reputable source. “Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are going to score the most from this change, as anything that makes Internet addresses more baffling will drive people to type information into a search box.”

According to reports, companies such as Google have been the busiest, applying for over 100 generic top-level domains (gTLDs), among others, .google, .youtube, .baby, .love, .android and .buy. The search giant has also requested .music, which has been claimed by seven other organisations including the online retailer Amazon.

“To help them decide, local consumers will use cues from one channel to determine the relevance of another. If you’re familiar with a brand via its website, you will expect the same visual identity on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. This will also likely work in reverse and consumers will learn to trust brands with a multi-channel presence more than those with just a website.”

From a business perspective, Ginsberg says the expansion of the global web address regime will be a benefit to certain local brands who want to own a TLD rather than be stuck with a country-specific option. “Now every business and brand can be represented at a global level, based on their type of business or product offered.”

However, he says that a very interesting and perhaps telling statistic is that, to date, only 17 applications for TLDs have came from the whole of the African continent, compared with thousands applied for by other countries. “For South African brands, the question arises – would they consider securing a .africa domain, and would it be a defensive play only or part of an active strategy?”

Ginsberg adds that local marketers may also be faced with decisions around how they manage an extensive domain portfolio. “For instance, do you build a whole website if you buy a .app domain, or just redirect it to your main site? Could a domain like brand.tv be used to identify channel-specific traffic from marketing campaigns and use it to better attribute marketing spend?

He adds that in the Internet age, all businesses should have a global business mindset and local marketers should not ignore the impending introduction of TLDs. “From a brand-building perspective, there are clearly opportunities to be realised, but local business decision-makers need to firstly ascertain the impact of TLDs on their clients and then develop a suitable strategy to limit any potential market confusion,,” concludes Ginsberg.