Domain names

WHAT IS A DOMAIN NAME?

A domain name is simply a user friendly alpha-numeric website address; the online equivalent of a telephone number.  It acts as a mnemonic device which makes addresses easier to remember.  The Domain Names System (DNS) translates the domain name into the corresponding Internet Protocol address (IP),  connecting the user to the desired website.

Every device connected to the Internet is assigned a unique number known as an IP address, a 32-bit number expressed as four octets which are separated by periods or dots. Each of the four groups of numbers or octects within an IP address can have a value ranging between 0 and 255.

The domain name system makes it possible to map a user friendly name like google to a numeric address, which has the corresponding string of numbers: 74.125.53.100. If you typed the numbers into the browser’s address bar you would arrive at Google’s website. These numbers are commonly allocated to Internet Service Providers based on regions and are usually acquired in blocks. An IP address can often yield insights into the region or country from which a computer is connecting to the internet. There are also a range of queries which you can conduct to try to discern further information about an IP address.

In summary, an IP address is simply the numerical address assigned to an information technology device, be it a computer, printer, email address or modem for the purpose of enabling the devices to communicate with one another using an internet protocol. Computers on the Internet use IP addresses to route traffic and establish connections among themselves. The rationale for having alpha-numeric domain names is that they are far easier remember than a string of numbers. Instead of typing 74.125.53.100, users can simply type www.google.com in their URL address bar.

CAN I FIND OUT WHAT MY ADDRESS IS?

If you do not know what your IP address you can go to whatismyipaddress which will tell identify your IP address. There are a host of tools here which will assist you in understanding more about IP addresses.

DYNAMIC VERSUS STATIC IP ADDRESSES

A dynamic IP address is one which can change at any time and is issued from a pool of addresses allocated by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server. Your computer is automatically assigned this address when you log onto the network. Dynamic addresses are used by a large number of users who don’t require the a ‘static’ (the same) address for various reasons. A static IP address is one that is fixed and doesn’t change. Someone who wants to run their own email server or web server may want a static IP address.

IPv4 versus IPv6

Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is the fourth revision in the development of the Internet Protocol (IP). IPv4 uses 32-bit (4 byte) IP addresses, which limits the address space to over 4 million possible unique addresses. Ipv4 is used by most network devices, but as more and more computers are using the internet IPv4 IPs are being exhausted and another pool of addresses will have to be created.


HOW ARE DOMAIN NAMES ALLOCATED?

Domain names are allocated on a first come first served basis. Invariably, many domain names registered will correspond to existing common law or registered trade marks.

Often this occurs without any bad faith intent or knowledge of this on the part of the domain name registrant. This may lead to a Domain Name Dispute. On other occasions there are professionals who register domain names for a living in the hope the trade mark owner will pay them an amount of money to buy the domain name from them. This phenomenon has become known as cybersquatting.

WHAT IS A gTLD?

The term General Top-Level Domain (gTLD) refers to the suffixes which appear at the end of website addresses, following the dot. There are various kinds of gTLDs such as .com, .mobi, .info, .net, which may assist in identifying the nature of the entity, associations or activities the website is engaged in. The .com and .info domain are intended for general purpose use, whilst others are intended to be used by specific groups and may be restricted in the usage to which they can be put. eg .aero reserved for members of the air transport industry and .name which is restricted to individuals Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) such as .au, .fr, and cn are also examples of gTLDs.

Both gTLD and ccTLDs are managed by a Registry Operator which maintains the registry database and nameserver information in respect of names registered in respect of that TLD. The management of TLDs assigned to nations is typically delegated to national registries, although in some instances their control has been delegated to individuals with no association with the country in question. The top level .com domain is an International Top Level Domain (iTLD) which is regarded as the premium commercial domain space. Domain names are becoming a  scarce resource in the .com space, with few or no one word names left.

Generic Domain extensions like .com and .net are the most common and popular extensions, however many companies will pursue a strategy or registering their domain names not only on a generic extension such as .com and .net, but also on alternative extensions, non-restricted specialty domains as well as corresponding international domains.  This strategy allows for future development of localized websites targeted at specific international markets, whilst also enabling companies to to protect their domain names, brands and trademarks from cybersquatters.

WHAT ARE SECOND-LEVEL AND THIRD-LEVEL DOMAIN NAMES?

The second level domain name is the component of the domain name preceding the top-level domain, with the third-level domain name referring to the third part of a domain name that appears before the second level domain, separated by a dot. Third-level domain names are also referred to as sub-domains, and are frequently used to categorise special sections of a website.

WHAT IS AN INTERNATIONAL DOMAIN NAME?

International Domain Names (IDNs) are domain names which incorporate characters used in the local representation of languages that aren’t represented by the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet “a-z”. An IDN will typically consists of local language non-latin scripts (eg Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Japanese) or latin characters with diacritical marks or accents in respect of some European languages.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAAN),  the global authority on Internet domain names,  had approved and enabled top level domain names using non-Latin script in November 2009.  It is presently implementing international domain names gradually at the top level for the first time in internet history.   Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the first countries to have country codes written in Arabic scripts. Recently Russian domain name country codes became available for registration and have proven to be extremely popular.

The launch of full internationalised domain names represents a milestone in internet history and the commencement of  a truly multilingual Internet. These IDN top-level domain names will offer new opportunities for Internet users around the world by allowing them to establish and use top-level domains in their native languages and scripts.  As stated above, the  Domain Name System is able to transfer user-friendly names into network addresses to locate websites, however it is restricted to the use of ASCII characters (American Standard Code for Information Interchange).

Being restricted to the use of ASCII characters poses a  technical limitation for introducing internationalised domain names, as the ASCII character encoding scheme is based on the ordering of the english alphabet.  ICANN commenced testing full length IDNs back  in 2006. It has introduced a system to convert these foreign character names into their ASCII equivalent.  Eleven languages have been tested including Arabic, Persian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Russian, Hindi, Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Japanese and Tamil.  Some countries, such as China and Thailand, had already introduced workarounds enabling internet users to enter web addresses in their own language.  However, these were not internationally approved and don’t necessarily work on all computers.

Partial IDNs have  been around for a few  years, however these websites still had to have addresses with suffixes in  latin characters.  Whilst they could use some non-latin letters, the country codes had to be  written in latin script.  This meant businesses were forced to use latin characters in their marketing materials even though they were targeting populations that may not have been conversant with the english language.  Non-Latin characters were sometimes permitted for the portions of the Internet address before the suffix, however Arabic characters are written from right to left, which conflicts with the use of latin suffixes.

The first IDN country-code top-level domains were delegated into the DNS root zone in early May 2010.  IDNs ccTLDs are are now publicly available for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.  Arabic is among the most prevalently used languages on the Internet today. The potential for the growth of  IDNs in the Middle East becomes immediately apparent considering the Middle East has an average internet penetration of just over 20%.

Even as  new IDNs may become available for use, there are still some obstacles to overcome before they will be fully functional on all computers, as only browsers that support the new scripts will be able to work with the IDNs.   The IDNs  may not display properly unless users have international domain name support.  After keying in an IDN users may see a meaningless string of letters and numbers containing percentage signs and other peculiar characters display in their URL address bar or nothing at all when the IDN resolves.   This situation will change when operating systems and browsers implement full support for IDNs.  Whilst firefox and chrome currently manage and display IDNs  differently, Mac users with Apple Safari version 4.0.5 may be able to see the new IDNs accurately.  A simple solution for users is to update their software using language pack downloads.

International domain names, both full and partial, can be a highly  effective marketing strategy.  These new local domains could prove valuable for international SEO purposes.  If your website addresses markets with more than one native language you will  have the option to select more addresses in the different languages, which will make it much easier for users to access your site.

You may find that many common one word domain names are still available,  representing an enormous opportunity to invest in IDNs.  This situation is akin to the domain name  gold rush of the 1990s.  The .com version of your website may soon be available in Russian, Chinese and Arabic in a transliterated form.

Brand owners and businesses should evaluate whether they should buy different domain names for different countries and then eventually redirect them to the page created for their businesses. This will depend on whether a business wants to market a foreign version of their website.  Those interested in international domain equivalents should compile a word list in different languages and use a international domain research tool to quickly find available valuable IDNs.

Following release of the IDNs, the respective country registries will be responsible for determining their requirements under the new IDNs, including prices, and whether existing domain name holders of  latin-character domain names should have priority  over a corresponding IDN.  It is probable that there will be a sunrise period in order to allow brand owners to register their brands with IDN ccTLDs first.

IDNs AND TRADEMARKS

With the introduction of  non-latin domain names means we will witness domain names in  Chinese, Arabic, and Greek characters in addition to websites incorporating special characters used in European languages which couldn’t formerly be reflected in domain names.  As stated above, there is a difference between fully IDNs and partial IDNs,  and it is likely that registrants may mix latin and non-latin characters when registering a domain name. For example, a domain name registrant may decide to retain the english TLD suffix but elect to use non-latin characters for the rest of the domain name.

The changes are likely to give rise to an enormous increase in the number of domain names which in some manner incorporate trademarks.  It is critical for businesses to be vigilant during the phasing in of IDNs, and re-evaluate their  IP and domain name portfolios in the context of their broader strategic objectives. Particularly where a business has a global presence and engages in cross-border trade, it will need to react swiftly if to protect foreign translations and transliterations of english trademarks online.

It is important to do this in the  sunrise period, during which those asserting ownership of trade marks will be  given priority over other potential registrants  to acquire IDNs corresponding to their trademarks.   Once the IDNs become available for purchase it is essential that trademark owners acquire these rights in the countries in which they wish to preserve and protect their domain names. There may be difficulties encountered in demonstrating trademark rights in a corresponding trademarked IDN.   A trademark owner may have to register their  trademark  in the relevant country in order to acquire the corresponding trademarked IDN.

IDNs could attract domain name speculators and cybersquatters, forcing  trademark owners to take legal action to restrain the unauthorised use of a foreign language translation or transliteration of their trademark within a domain name.   Most country level domain name registrars  adopt ICANN’s Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP),  permitting trademark owners to retrieve  domain names  registered by cybersquatters providing they are able to satisfy the three requirements set out in the UDRP rules.

However it is questionable whether an english language trademark registration will afford sufficient rights to protect against the registration of a corresponding IDN.  The first limb of the UDRP policy requires that a domain name be identical or confusingly similar to the domain name in which the trademark owner claims rights.  There is no decisive answer as to the likelihood of a trademark owner being able to satisfy this threshold requirement of demonstrating that a foreign translation of their mark is confusingly similar to their trademark.

For example, two trademarks may bear the same meaning yet be markedly different both visually and phonetically.  It is also foreseeable that an  IDN equivalent of a trademark may not necessarily be  a translation of the meaning of the mark.  A registrant may decide instead to register a phonetic equivalent of the owner’s trademark,  which could  be radically different in it’s visual impact and connotation.  This may make it impossible  for trademark owners to establish that the foreign and english versions are sufficiently similar to be confusing.

Trademark owners intending on bringing traditional trademark infringement actions will confront a similar dilemna, particularly where a country’s local trademark law does not extend protection to trademark owners over foreign language translations of trademarks.  In the case of Arabic language domain names, whilst there is a draft trademark law intended to apply to six Gulf countries extending trademark protection to foreign language translations, the law has yet to be  implemented.

It will be up to domain name registrars to adapt their policies  to accommodate the rights of trademark owners seeking to protect their marks online. Registration requirements for IDNs are unlikely to be standardised so it is important to explore and monitor any potential IDN ccTLDs of significance an established business and brand.

THE NEW gTLD PROGRAM

The new gTLD program is an initiative that will facilitate the creation of new gTLDs into the domain name space. The application process for a new gTLD is a complex one. The proposed Final New gTLD Applicant Guidebook was released by ICAAN on 12 November 2010.

An applicant wanting to apply to create and operate a registry has to satisfy a number of evaluation criteria set down by ICAAN and demonstrate they have the requisite financial and technical capability to operate a registry.

The introduction of new gTLDs was due in part to the views of the internet community that there was a need for an increase in the number of top level domains in the root of the domain name system.  It was perceived that this increase would result in greater innovation and choice within the internet address system, which is presently comprised of  21 gTLDs and over 250 ccTLDs.

The initiative is expected to provide Internet users with new opportunities to forge digital identities by accommodating new ASCII gTLDs as well as IDN TLDs. Brand owners, organisations and individuals who wish to secure their names as a top level domains are advised to consider registering them in the early phase of the development of the relevant new gTLD program.

There are a limited number of .com domain names, and some businesses may choose to adopt new TLDs to satisfy their branding needs. There will also be opportunities to apply for community and geographic top-level domains, such as .blog, .brand, and .city.

TRADEMARKS AND NEW gTLDs

There will be an objection-based process permitting trademark rights holders to demonstrate that a proposed gTLD would infringe upon their legal rights.

Applicants who wish to operate a Registry for gTLDs are required to describe in their applications the rights protection mechanism they propose for second-level registrations, which must be made public.  Furthermore, all new gTLDs must ensure that second-level registrations are subject to ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

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DOMAIN NAMES AND SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION (SEO) – CHOOSING THE RIGHT DOMAIN NAME

Domain names can play a critical role in enabling your business to acquire a competitive advantage in internet marketing.   If you acquire an Exact Match Domain (EMD) name for the keywords you wish to rank for, it will make it much easier for you to rank for the words which appear in your URL in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

AGED AND EXPIRED DOMAIN NAMES

When buying any domain name it is important to consider the search engine optimisation (SEO) attributes as part of your overall SEO strategy.  The SEO factors which you should be focusing on when choosing a domain name are backlinks, google PageRank, domain age, history, dmoz/yahoo listings and index. There are a number of services and tools which will allow you to conduct queries which return crucial information regarding the age, existing PageRank, number of links, traffic and other key metrics relating to a website. One of these tools is Market Samurai which has a number of modules including keyword research, competitor analysis, monetisation and content. It’s functionality is unrivalled. Domain Samurai is able to distinguish between fake and real PR4 and PR5 sites. When integrated with Domain Face which trawls for domain names, it is an exceptionally powerful tool. There are people who do very well acquiring PR4 domain names and setting up Adsense optimised blogs on each using these tools and earn income through flipping websites on flippa.com

Aged domain names or expired domains may have some distinct advantages for the purpose of internet marketing. An aged or expired domain name is one which a person or company has registered, used and merely allowed to expire for one of a variety of possible reasons. There are some SEO attributes which you may gain some advantage from.

One of the most important SEO factors is backlinks. Search engine see backlinks as a type of vote for the website. A backlink from an aged, authoritative and well respected website will be of more significance than backlinks from a newly established relatively unknown one page website. The relevancy of the linked from website to the  niche targeted needs to be factored in.  For instance if you were targeting the car hire niche and were linked to from two websites with an identical authority level,  a website about cars would obviously hold more weight than one about dolls.   Where a domain name has been actively used, as opposed to remaining dormant,  it may have a number of high quality contextual backlinks into the domain name.

Links from other websites are critical in determining how well a domain name ranks in Google for particular keywords. The greater the number of quality relevant backlinks a website has, the greater the SEO value.  When you register a new domain you will start with no backlinks so you will have to conduct a link campaign to assist in getting your site ranked. If you are able to find a quality aged domain with a decent number of  established backlinks then this will position you well. Building good quality backlinks takes skill, time and effort.

Another important SEO factor is Google PageRank (PR). Google has an algorithm able to detect the quality and quantity of backlinks to your website. Along with other factors it will award each page of your website with a PR.

This PR ranges from 1-10, with 10 being the highest. PR is calculated to the power of 10, so a PR 3 is ten times more powerful than a PR 2. Many aged domains will have existing PR, an indication by search engines of how important the domain name is in terms of links. As a general proposition search engines give more ranking to domains that have been continuously registered for a longer period of time than other domain names.

Another important factor is the history of the domain.  If the domain name contains content on it relevant to that of the niche you are targeting, then all other factors being equal, this also carries more SEO value than a domain name without relevant history.   Conversely a bad history can be a disadvantage, for example if the relevant domain name was involved in an industry not associated with the industry you are intended to operate in. In this case, a new keyword optimised domain may be a more attractive option.

The internet wayback machine, a catalogue of all webpages as they existed at various points in time, allows you to observe what kind of content appeared on that particular domain. If you are considering registering an aged domain name,  ensure that there wasn’t any content which resided on the domain which was inappropriate or that might unfavourably influence your future search engine rankings. Domains can often be blacklisted by search engines so this is something you will need to investigate.

Another important SEO factor are  DMOZ and yahoo listings, being high authority website directories.  Due to the process and difficulty of gaining entry, Google gives added weight to them. A new domain name will have to go through the process to get listed whereas ishortcircuiting this process by acquiring an aged domain with listings in dmoz and yahoo can save time and money.

Visitors or web traffic is another important factor when exploring buying a domain name. Aged domains will often already have established traffic due to previous promotions and campaigns. If someone is proposing to sell an established domain name they should be prepared to show you metrics relating to usage statistics, including average visitor volume, from which you can then analyse the actual search queries to ascertain what keywords the site is mainly being found on.

After assessing the visitor volume you can check all the keywords that the website is ranking for in Google Adsense to see how much global search volume there is for them, the cost per click (CPC) for the main keywords, and how highly targeted the keywords the site is optimised for are.

If the usage statistics reveal search queries that have a high global monthly search volume, and search engine optimised keywords with a good pay per click value, you can calculate the average value of traffic finding the site and return on investment (ROI).  Purchasing traffic coming through a site through organic listings using white hat SEO is highly desirable.

It is important to remember that the aged or expired domain name has it’s age preserved, however this is only where it has been re-registered prior to it’s deletion by the domain name Registrar. Whilst you will still be able to use any links, PR and traffic associated with that site, the domain may have been relegated to the sandbox, meaning that it will be treated as a new domain by the search engines.

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