gTLDs can boost APAC biz online standing

Regional companies ought to look into using generic top-level domains to boost online presence and better position their brands with customers, say industry insiders. One watcher predicts initial uptake will be slow, however.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Generic top-level domains (gTLDs) present a good online branding opportunity for Asia's businesses, but regional companies may not understand its value and, in turn, be slow to apply for them, industry insiders noted.

DotAsia Organisation CEO Edmon Chung, for one, said the introduction of new gTLDs beyond the existing 22, which include .com, .org and .net, would offer companies choice as to how and where they want to establish their business identities online.

For Asian businesses, specifically, this is a chance to get the best domain names and be on equal footing with U.S. companies who dominate the .com space, he added in an e-mail. The Hong Kong-based group is the non-profit registry operator for the .asia domain.

Eddie Chau, CEO of Brandtology, an online brand monitoring firm, concurred. He told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the new gTLDs will allow Asian organizations to "stand out a lot more" in terms of exclusiveness and their brand image and value, particularly if they are competing against global foreign brands.

Elaborating, the executive said for a brand new company, having its unique gTLD can help establish its URLs. For a company with existing .com domains, it can still deploy new gTLDs instead of acquiring a separate domain to launch new brands or sub-brands, he added.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which regulates the Internet domain name system, had in June this year approved the expansion of the number of gTLDs. By opening up the "right of the dot", organizations can now register customized domain names in any language script, according to a ZDNet Asia report.

Recognizing value of gTLDs
With registration for generic domain names only opening on Jan. 12, 2012, Chung called on companies mulling over the value and returns on investment (ROI) of having a customized gTLD to understand the value of domain names.

Domain names are representative of a brand name, an Internet address and a core search engine optimization (SEO) tool today, he said. For instance, a URL (uniform resource locator) ending with .asia enhances a company's search ranking when users are based in Asia geographically or input keywords such as "shopping in Asia". Simply put, if one has a domain name that more accurately matches the search term entered by a user that Web site automatically ranks higher, the DotAsia CEO explained.

Therefore, whichever way a business wants to strategize with its domain names, whether through .asia or .brand, a new gTLD can help improve its "footprint on the Internet" as well as SEO and brand value, he added.

However, Chung said "low awareness and understanding of domain values" would mean adoption of gTLDs in Asia may be low initially and he cautions that all the best domains could be snapped up before they wake up to the opportunities gTLDs present.

Comparatively, companies in the United States and Europe have grasped the value of maintaining a portfolio of domains to catch more traffic going to their Web sites from across the Web, he noted, likening this online strategy to opening up chain stores in the real world.

Brandtology's Chau, meanwhile, stated that the non-refundable initial application fee of US$185,0000, together with the lack of "concrete literature" on the added value of new gTLDs will be a barrier for small and midsize businesses (SMBs).

Mixed reactions
In the meantime, the region's business community had received news of the liberalization of domain names with mixed reactions.

Japanese imaging and optical products manufacturing giant, Canon, is one company planning to acquire the .canon TLD, which it announced last year.

Richard Berger, global PR manager at Canon, said in his e-mail that the main reason behind the company's decision was to "secure the right to make use of the important brand asset '.canon' at the appropriate time and in accordance with our wishes".

Acquiring the .canon domain is a "worthy investment", and offers significant benefits for both Canon and its customers, he added.

For instance, customers currently have to search through multiple complicated URLs due to the many existing gTLDs and ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) Canon has registered for, Berger said. With the .canon domain, this means users need only remember this name and its sub-domains such as xxxxx.canon to connect with the company online.

Others, however, are taking a more cautious, wait-and-see approach.

Singapore-based Changi Airport Group, for instance, revealed it is now studying the implications of the new initiative from ICANN. "We will analyze the impact that it may have on the Changi brand and develop a strategy accordingly," said the spokesperson in an e-mail.

Another Singapore organization, DBS Bank, is also reviewing the opportunities and cost of implementing a new unique gTLD. It has yet to see a significant shift in customers or brands using non-traditional TLDs such as .biz or .net, a company spokeswoman noted.

"While there are benefits to having a unique TLD including tighter control over an organization's multiple domains, we have to take into account our customers' familiarity with our current dbs.com domain and the effort required to ensure consistency of the domain name across the different functions of the bank such as e-mail addresses," she said in an e-mail.

DotAsia's Chung nonetheless expressed his optimism over gTLD adoption in Asia. He said one characteristic about Asian businesses is their "ability to quickly catch on to a trend", so it is not impossible to see a "stampede" of gTLD interest and uptake as they familiarize themselves with the value of having gTLDs and internationalized domain names (IDNs).

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