Event co-founder Jothan Frakes welcomed everyone to NamesCon 2016 at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas on this sunny Monday morning. "We keep setting records as far as people coming," he said, and wasted no time in introducing the first main-stage panel of the conference: Top Brands and their TLD Strategies.
Jennifer Wolfe, CEO of Dot Brand 360, took the stage and kicked off the session with some good news: people on the street actually knew what a gTLD was. That's only the beginning though, since moving from .com to something like .pizza requires more than just keystrokes: "Even smaller businesses, thinking about moving to these smaller spaces, it's a lot of work." Wolfe's own company made the move to the .agency gTLD, and took it as an opportunity to redefine themselves and solidify their brand. Wolfe then introduced the panelists: women from two of the biggest media presences in the world.
Cecilia Smith, Director of Domain Names for Fox, spoke to the eternal dilemma of domain-name industry professionals: when people ask about what you do, you have to back up and explain what a domain name is, before drilling down into new gTLDs.
Stacey King, Senior Manager of Amazon Registry Services, said, "The idea that there will be success or failure within a year or two years or three years is not realistic," noting that we should be thinking a decade out. King said, though, that "things are starting to pick up."
Some companies have such specific names and positions that a TLD reflecting their name may not be highly sought-after. On the other hand, some companies––such as Fox––face similarly named entities in the business world as well as in the woods. Smith said that the idea of someone else taking .fox "kinda scared us", and she made sure that the media giant snagged the domain name "for defensive purposes." King said that "Most of the terms [Amazon applies for] are generic terms," and the new TLDs presented an opportunity for technical innovation behind the scenes: "Again, I think it's a long-term [thing], we really don't know what these innovative uses are [yet]."
Wolfe then showed off Fox's new NIC page, which Smith said served as a "teaser page", enticing visitors and internal marketers alike. Indeed, nic.fox is more closely related to a movie trailer than to a landing page. (If you're newer to the domain game, a NIC page is the Network Information Center, the very heart of a domain. It holds all of the administrative data of a TLD, and which generates the file containing the addresses of the nameservers for each domain. Once created, no other domains can be registered on the new TLD for 90 days... so whatever you create should ideally be awesome. That's both a huge challenge and a tremendous opportunity.)
This deeper pool of top-level domains, and the branding and user-experience implications that come along with it, is the new normal, said Wolfe; noting that we all only had a few television channels growing up (except for you millennials). Now we have... well, just try to figure out your remote. The same is true with TLDs: beyond merely serving as addresses, these names can be effective branding tools as well.
King said, "The reason you put these TLDs out there is so people can use them," noting that they're powerful community-building tools as well. In other words, newer gTLDs are not meant to be hoarded, but to be used out in the real world.
Wolfe asked aloud what you all were thinking: "Am I gonna take an SEO hit?" Google said that dot-brand TLDs won't be treated any differently, she said. Smith's big question was, will the move make sense to the consumer? King said that the two concerns dovetail: the more customers look for a branded TLD, the more important it is for the search engine to deliver what those customers are looking for.
"I would love to see more usage of top-level domains," said Smith. King agreed, saying, "It's not just a volume play; I'd like to see some more meaningful use."