2015 was a challenging yet exciting year for brand owners. While new gTLDs continue to consume much of the news in the domain industry, there were other notable highlights. Global domain registrations reached nearly 300 million; ICANN had several initiatives in motion that were of particular concern to brand owners; and companies continued to face threats to their brand reputation, revenue and customer trust. Here’s my top 5 domain highlights from 2015:
1. Strong Growth in Domain Market
Verisign reported in the December Domain Name Industry Brief that global domain registrations across all top level domains grew by 5.2 percent, year-over-year, reaching a total of approximately 299 Million domains by the end of Q3 2015. This growth was not only due to new gTLDs, which represents 2.5% of total domain registrations. ccTLDs experienced a 4.3 percent increase year-over-year and .com and .net registrations grew by 3.4 percent. Registration numbers for .com totaled 120.1 million domain names, or 40% of all registrations, in Q3 2015. So .com is still king.
2. Domain Security Remains a Top Priority
Not only did registry breaches increase in 2015, but we saw waves of phishing schemes targeting domain owners, especially in the second half of the year. Many of these scams consist of fraudulent emails sent to domain owners that at first glance appeared to come from the domain registrar. They prompted the domain owner to click on a link which resulted in the download of a virus. Having preemptive security measures in place, such as Registry Locking, Two-Factor Authentication, and IP Access Restrictions will help protect critical domain assets should anyone in your organization fall victim to one of these scams or your login credentials are compromised.
3. Progress in ICANN Initiatives
There were a wide range of initiatives set in motion at ICANN last year. Progress was made with the IANA stewardship transition (and the accompanying Accountability initiative). This included the completion of the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) proposal to transition stewardship to the global multistakeholder community. This means the community will assume responsibility for the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS functions. The Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing Accountability continued their work to prepare the ICANN organization for the transition. There was much talk about the new gTLD program, including program status, reviews (including rights protection) and preparation for subsequent rounds. Whois took center stage with a complete overhaul on the horizon and the completion of the Privacy/Proxy Accreditation initiative. Finally there was much discussion around how Registrars should address and respond to abuse complaints, with standard practice suggestions on the agenda for 2016.
4. Portfolio Optimization Becomes a Focus for Brand Owners
Many brand owners in 2015 focused on optimizing their domain portfolios. This involves aligning domain registrations with trademark coverage; identifying low-risk domains that are no longer needed and could either be retired or sold on the secondary market; and closely monitoring where domains are pointing and redirecting them to recapture lost traffic and potential lost revenue. Rationalization and optimizing domain portfolios yearly, at minimum, allows companies to understand the value of their portfolio, effectively promote and protect brands, and reduce and contain costs.
5. New gTLD Complexities Continue to Challenge Brand Owners
My Top 5 wouldn’t be complete without mentioning new gTLDs. 2015 closed with a total of 11.2 million new gTLD registrations with .xyz, .top, .wang, .win and .club rounding out the top 5 in terms of total registrations. Domain squatting was still problematic with abuse rates ranging from 14% to 42% across the Top 5 TLDs. We saw an increase in special launch phases and “brand protection” pricing tiers where companies were essentially required to pay premium prices to protect their brand. There were controversies surrounding problematic registry models, such as .sucks, that included inflated Sunrise registrations fees for brand owners and an increase of brand names on registry reserved and premium lists.
So what can we expect in 2016? I anticipate that new gTLDs will continue to dominate discussions throughout the year and I believe we’ll start to see more of these gTLDs actually put to use. Brand owners will continue to face challenges in the new gTLD space and should continue to make smart registrations decisions. Companies should continue to focus on maximizing the value of their domain portfolios through domain utilization and portfolio rightsizing. They should ensure that domain registration and renewal strategies are aligned with their policing and enforcement programs. It’s advisable to continue to secure and protect critical assets by locking domains at the registry level whenever possible and implementing preemptive security measures, such as Two-Factor authentication and IP Access restrictions.