What’s in a (domain) name?

You may have heard in the press recently about the avalanche of new domain names becoming available and you might also be wondering whether your business website will be affected by them. Do you need to be concerned about it? Do you need any more domain names? In this article, we’ll summarise how domain names work and what changes are coming into effect, so that you can make informed decisions for your business.

So what is a domain name?

We all hear the phrase ‘domain names’ but what are they and why do we need them?

When you have a website, it is hosted on a public server which makes it available to view around the world. Your website has a unique location on the hosting server, which is represented by a series of numbers (otherwise known as the IP address). You can sometimes view websites by typing the number string into your address bar, so for example if you type you’ll see the Business Matters Website, which you can also see on bmmagazine.co.uk of course.

Random strings of numbers are hard to remember for most people, and easy to mis-type, so the Domain Name System (DNS) was developed to enable people to use names, which can be set up to refer to the numerical address and become the recognised label for a website.

What’s yours called?

There are two parts to a domain name, firstly the name you choose, so if we take Business Matters as our example again, the first part of the domain name is ‘bmmagazine’. Typically, businesses will want to use their company name, or a phrase which describes what they do, or a combination of both.

The second part (often referred to as a gTLD) is also a matter of choice. Until a few years ago, the selection was quite straightforward for most UK business, with the general rule of thumb being that if you were a UK based business selling products or services in the UK, you would probably choose a .co.uk domain. International businesses based in the UK or elsewhere, would typically choose a .com. Or you could have both – a good way to stop someone from trying to compete with you by using a similar name.

Controls over domain names

The internet’s global domain name system is managed by a non-profit organisation called ICANN and there is a UK registry called Nominet which manages all .co.uk and other UK based domains. Generally speaking, you can buy any domain name you choose unless it has Trademark protection and of course you can’t buy a name which has already been registered to someone else, unless of course they want to sell it.

Have you heard about the new .uk domains?

The .co.uk domain extensions have always been unusual, with two parts to them, ‘co’ and ‘uk’, making them more complex than most others, but we Brits do like to be different don’t we?

Some time ago, Nominet put forward a proposal to add a new ‘second level’ domain name for the UK, simply ‘.uk’. Why? Well partly it’s to bring the UK in line with other countries, like France (.fr) and Germany (.de) for example and to signal a UK presence in as simple a way as possible.

The cynical amongst us might think that this is just a way of selling more domain names, but despite some opposition during the course of the consultation process, .uk domains are now definitely going ahead and will become available on 10th June 2014.

So do you need a .uk domain?

No, you don’t, as your .co.uk domain will continue to work. You might be concerned that a competitor will buy the .uk version of your .co.uk domain, but Nominet have now announced that .co.uk domain owners will have the right to purchase the .uk version up until 2019, so the .uk domain will be protected until them.

So you don’t need to, but should you? In our view, you probably should, particularly if you operate in a competitive marketplace. Although currently .co.uk is the default for UK businesses, over time we expect .uk to become the standard. Rather than risk it, you might be as well to secure the .uk version of your domain sooner rather than later. By pointing the new .uk domain to your website you can have the benefit of both domains and you won’t need to change any paperwork or marketing materials until you feel ready to do so.

What about all of the other new domains?

You may also be aware of the HUGE range of new domain extensions which started being released last October and are being launched in batches. As we manage domain names for clients we get emails almost every day from our registrars advising us of new extensions, for example ‘.cab’ (ideal for a taxi company perhaps) ‘.photos’ or ‘.shoes’. There are literally thousands of these and most of them are available to anyone. You can see a full list of them here http://data.iana.org/TLD/tlds-alpha-by-domain.txt

The decision to use one of these is perhaps more about branding, and creation of a simple but memorable name, perhaps by combining the prefix and suffix to make one striking name, like the.me for example, the website for Photography Daily Theme. Larger businesses might use different domain names to create sub-sites, for visitors looking for specific things like job opportunities (.jobs is one of the new options). Here are some other examples I’ve made up for illustration, booka.holiday, insurance.institute, and management.guru.

Then of course there are the new ‘.london’ domains which go on sale on 29th April 2014.  London based businesses will be given priority for these new names and there is expected to be a high level of competition for some of these, where businesses feel that the ‘London’ label is part of their identity or will add value to their brand, e.g. carnaby.london or mayor.london (I assume that one’s been reserved already!).

So do you need a new domain name? No – if you have one you’re happy with, you don’t. Do you want a new domain name? That’s a different question and the answer might be yes.