This month, hundreds of new domain names went on sale for the first time - and quite a few famous people and businesses are going out of their way to make sure those websites won't tarnish their brands. For example, when .nyc debuted last year, lawyers for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg bought everything from BloombergBlows.nyc to MikeIsTooShort.nyc.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers "released" these new domains after hundreds of parties argued the online community needed more options and submitted their own requests over a period of several years.
In addition to jokes like .sucks and .ninja and practical entries like .technology, one new domain seems designed for the advertising industry: .agency. But should advertising shops invest in the new domain?
The most obvious benefits are search rankings, convenience and branding efforts. Andrew Delamarter, director of search and inbound marketing at Brooklyn-based digital agency Huge, says, "The biggest advantage to .agency may be that you have a better chance of getting a good, short and memorable domain.
"Another potential benefit may be that, due to the greater availability of domains, you are able to get a keyword-rich domain name that could help you in rankings. Having a keyword in your domain name can help in ranking for that keyword in search."
Protecting your brand
Basic self-defense also plays a role. David Mitnick, an intellectual property lawyer and founder of domain name and brand monitoring services company DomainSkate, described a former advertising client's dilemma. "Someone registered an online agency's name and started siphoning customers," he said. "These people thought they were doing business with the real agency, but they weren't. We see this on a daily basis."
The new domain names have already led to some sticky legal situations. The Internet Corporation recently bowed to pressure from politicians and intellectual property experts; it called on American and Canadian governments to consider whether the sale of .sucks to Vox Populi - a domain-name wholesaler to registrars like GoDaddy - could lead to high-tech extortion.
One thing is clear: People are snapping up .agency domains. There are already 20,178 registrations, said Mason Cole, vp of communications at the registry Donuts Inc., which owns and sells .agency. "It's open to all different sorts of agencies, be they talent, advertising or car rental," he added.
But not every major shop is on board. Delamarter said some agencies are short on time and tech talent. "If you are transitioning from a .com [to a .agency], you would need to put in place an SEO migration strategy to insure you don't lose the search equity associated with the old domain name," he said.
The wait-and-see approach
Mark Ervin, chief brand officer at Birmingham, Alabama's Big Communications, said the best approach may be to wait. "It's an attractive prospect for an agency with a common name, but I don't think people are ready for it yet," he said of the new name. "Anything outside of the original top-level domains still gets a blank stare from most."
He speaks from experience. Big has struggled to stand out online in the past because there's another agency with the same name located in Birmingham, England.
Mitnick thinks a few big consumer-facing brands need to step in before the trend catches on. "Once you see the brands come out (think .yahoo, .bmw, .citibank), it will raise awareness and create some legitimacy around the space," he added.
Ervin agreed, saying, "Until we see a lot more brands embrace this new set of TLDs [top-level domains], I wouldn't go all in on a .agency domain. That said, I also wouldn't let my business name hang out there and just hope it's still available if the whole thing catches on."
It's hard to hold back the Internet. As Mason Cole of Donuts puts it, "This is part of an expansion that is just going to keep going. You will have well over a thousand domain names before it's all over."
If that's the case, some agencies may get .burned in the process. Email your .lawyer.