As we speak Nominet is currently in a consultation period regarding the implementation of a new shorter .uk domain naming convention.
Anticipating the approval of the proposal and full implementation of the new domain protocol, the question is how this will impact on an already highly competitive UK search landscape?
The Current Landscape
Within the UK these are the current options relating to all .uk domains:
.co.uk The most popular choice of domain for business and enterprise in the UK. 4 in 5 people searching online in the UK prefer .co.uk websites.
.me.uk Your personal space on the internet, the choice of domain for individuals wanting to do anything from setting up a blog, collecting all social feeds in one place and professionalising a personal email address to show off their portfolio or proudly present their collectors items.
.org.uk The non-commercial domain choice for charities, community groups, public service, professional institutions, not for profit and third sector organisations.
.sch.uk The domain for UK schools
.ltd.uk The domain for Private Limited Companies
.plc.uk The domain for Public Limited Companies
.net.uk The domain for Internet Service Providers
This new .uk structure will take up a second tier structure under the .co.uk, .me.uk and org.uk ccTLD’s pushing the other existing domains down into a third tier structure.
With the current structure in place, Nominet the registered gate keepers of .uk domain names, passed the milestone of taking registration of the 10 millionth co.uk domain in March 2012. At the top of this pile is the .co.uk ccTLD, a domain that receives consistent 70% renewal rates and as such has helped rank it as the second most popular ccTLD in the world behind Germany (.de). Country code top level domains (ccTLD) are definitely a more attractive proposition for local/national businesses as they are specific to a country whilst top level domains like .com, .org, .net and .edu tend to have no actual association with a geographical location, although it could be argued that .com is the spiritual domain of the USA.
Market penetration of ccTLD's globally
So what exactly is the new .uk domain proposal?
Nominet's Director of Operations Eleanor Bradley is in the best position to explain more about the proposal. This is an extract taken from a video explaining more on the proposal and consultation process.
What is this about?
We've launched a consultation about a new domain space under .uk, and there are two key features of these new domain names. The first is that they will be shorter. So we already have the really successful .co.uk domain names. These registrations will be directly under .uk. So you would have something like internetname.uk instead of internetname.co.uk.
The second difference is that we want to provide a really safe and secure place for British business to work online and for UK consumers to really enjoy the Internet. So these domain names will come with a series of features that we think will add to that safety and security.
What are the security features being proposed?
There are a number of features that we're looking at. So the first would be registrant verification. The registrant of a .uk domain would need to be UK based. The next thing is malware scanning, which will help to avoid websites under .uk unintentionally distributing malware or viruses. The next would be DNS SIG, which is a protocol that provides a digital signature on a domain name that helps ensure that as a user you're reaching the site that you think you're going to.
All of these things will be brought together in a trust mark, which would really provide assurance to users of these domain names that it is a safe and secure space.
Will I have to switch my .co.uk domain name?
This is about offering greater choice. So if you're currently using a .co.uk domain name, then there would be no requirement to change, and actually it's a very different product that we're talking about. But if you wanted to, then it's something you could look to do either immediately or over time. A new domain space like this also provides an opportunity for all the new businesses that are coming online to have a suitable domain name that accurately reflects their business.
What is happening now?
We've published a consultation which sets out the proposals in detail, and we'd be really keen to hear feedback on what people think about the proposal in general and the detail of the features that we're talking about. We'd also be going out and speaking to stakeholders and engaging with those people who would be impacted by this change and really wanting to ensure that overall the proposals that we're putting forward have a net positive impact on internet users.
Shorter .uk TLD domain names will only be available to UK registered registrants. Registering the domains will involve secure verification processes that will be reflected with on-site trust marks to provide assurances to users.
The Search Impact
So with the introduction of this new domain protocol how would this affect your existing online business? Online businesses are fundamentally underpinned by being found in the first instance.
Senior decisions makers take this view;
“When it comes to choosing a domain name suffix, more than two thirds of those surveyed (67%) say that knowing that people will be able to easily find them in a search engine will be important. Making their business easy to recognise and distinguishing it from competitors is important to over half (54%), while communicating status or location to the audience is important for 46%.” *
It would seem the single biggest factor in choosing a domain name is ensuring it puts you in a favourable place with search engines and in turn search results.
So how will this additional domain name impact on search and what should be your SEO strategy around it?
Straight off, it is preferred to secure the rights on your business name with a .co.uk domain if you are based in the UK. This is the single biggest geotargeting signal sent out to search engines regarding the origin of your business. It is also a domain that adds tangible conversion value, 4 in 5 people searching online within the UK prefer a .co.uk domain.
What is interesting about this new domain proposal is the additional security measures that are being initiated by Nominet in verifying the domain. In this instance you will have a .uk domain that has been scrutinised by the UK domain governing body and once verified will be endorsed with on- site trust marks. Google historically have made it known they look to other reputable sources for recommendations in endorsing particular websites and establishing trust within the web ecosystem. The other interesting aspect of search at the moment is how the landscape is changing in relation to brand-related search terms. Search engines seem to be paying particular attention to brand protection and in doing so, they are giving preference to recognised brand-related pages over so-called affiliate brand pages.
So you could have the situation where your new .uk domain name, once verified by Nominet, following a secure verification process, is recognised as being the official UK holder of the brand. I would say this is going to be a pretty big signal and endorsement of trust around a particular brand/domain name. So much so that the search engines will have to take notice and give some authority to this domain.
Online marketing is relentless and encompasses multiple channels, inevitably all leading to your homepage.co.uk. Marketers, webmasters, SEO’s and content creators always have had the need to build out specific marketing campaigns and this is sometimes done with the implementation of a sub-domain. Initially sub-domains have no SEO value in relation to your homepage domain. They are a new web identity in their own right and again something you have to build up over time. There are definite logistical and financial advantages in running a sub-domain under your existing infrastructure, but if all things were equal from this perspective I would most likely go for the new .uk domain.
Think of the .uk domain as an additional channel within your brand arsenal. This new domain pre-loaded with strong brand/SEO signals offers better options than a sub-domain, so you are best advised to exploit this with a premium brand message to further enhance the landscape. This message, whilst on a yet another channel, will contribute towards pushing brand recognition and SEO signals back to your homepage.co.uk and ensuring online success.