The domain industry media was abuzz last week with speculation that tech giant Apple may be gearing up to launch its .apple brand TLD.
Rumours began when it was discovered that Apple registered 29 .com domain names that to the untrained eye, appear to be strangely worded. These include the likes of imovieapple.com, macbookproapple.com and ipadapple.com, providing hope to many industry pundits that they could potentially be defensive registrations designed to protect Apple from losing traffic when it begins to utilise its .apple TLD.
How? Each of the .com domains registered this week would match a domain name with a .apple extension (ie. imovieapple.com becomes imovie.apple). Therefore, if someone habitually types a .com into their browser after seeing imovie.apple in an advertising campaign, they'll still be directed to imovie.apple — and Apple hasn't lost a visitor in the process.
Defensive registrations such as these are a solid strategy for traffic management when using your .brand extension. In our role as advisors to many of these organisations, we'd certainly suggest to some of our clients that this is a smart way to keep people engaged in your website depending on the strategy for your .brand, even if they missed the mark on the exact domain name.
But for an investment as significant as a .brand TLD, the question needs to be asked — is this enough to ensure the strength of your .brand? Is this working towards the ultimate goal of nurturing and educating your audience about how they'll be interacting with you in the future?
For some .brands who are taking the 'promotional' approach to rolling out their TLD for example, this may not be of great concern. If you're running a sales promotion on christmasbargains.brand and a customer arrives there via a redirect from christmasbargainsbrand.com, in the long run there's no difference. A website hit is a website hit and a sale is a sale — and even though you may be rewarding (or not penalising) the customer's mistype, it's not the end of the world.
If your ultimate goal however, is to build an ecosystem on your .brand, this won't cut it. We're extremely strong in our advice to our customers here which is simply: teach and reward the behaviour you ultimately want your customers to have.
A .brand TLD can be your own slice of the Internet, where you can interact with customers in a tailored environment that you control and which uses a new and innovative form of navigation. Our advice is that if this is your end goal, simply shunting your visitors to the correct site by way of a redirect can't be the ultimate strategy. That's not to say that losing traffic is ok — rather, think about how you can politely educate them along your new journey.
Consider this: a major retailer is in the process of rolling out its new .brand TLD, beginning with a series of widespread advertisements encouraging customers to now reach them at womensclothing.brand and homewares.brand. A customer sees the ad but, not understanding the concept of new TLDs, types in 'homewaresbrand.com' into their browser. The site redirects to the new TLD and they continue shopping. They may or may not notice the domain name changing over. Either way, the retailer has kept their customer's attention and saved a potentially lost sale.
Now consider an alternative example experience, where the customer typed in 'homewaresbrand.com' and was met with a landing page bearing a small animated graphic that took the domain name homewaresbrand.com, 'bumped off' the '.com' and moved the dot to the left of 'retailer', simply as a visual cue. A few seconds of the customer's attention and instead of simply making the change for them, they are entertained and educated about how to navigate to the site in future.
Which of these customers is more likely to remember the .brand TLD and use it in future, whilst feeling empowered that they gave something a chance and weren't made to feel silly in doing so?
This approach to nurturing can extend to 're-affirming' customers undertaking the desired behaviour as well. For example, imagine a customer correctly types in 'homewares.brand' and lands on the appropriate page of the company's website. The most basic principles of operant conditioning tell us that rewarding a behaviour we see as positive encourages its repetition. So this customer is met with a small pop-up on the home page that says 'Thanks for visiting our new .brand website! If you'd like to know more about how our new .brand domain name works and how you can use it, click here'. They may even receive a coupon or other incentive/reward for their effort or an option to share their success via social media.
The choice is left to the visitor but the positive customer experience is likely to increase their chances of returning to the site and using the .brand domain again in future. There are countless other ways that these examples could be executed, but the theory remains the same.
User experience (UX) is a growing field, particularly in relation to website design. The same concepts however, apply to the use of a .brand domain name. The more positive a customer's experience is with using a .brand TLD and navigating via the new domain, the more likely they are to think positively of the process and use it again in future.
Registering easily confused or 'typo' domain names for your .brand domains is a smart, defensive strategy to avoid losing traffic or causing a negative customer experience. However I'm reminded of the words of Benjamin Franklin; "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."
If your .brand is to succeed in the long term, simply telling or teaching your users won't stack up. A nurturing, educating approach has the ability to build customer awareness and prime them for regular use of your .brand in the future.
By Tony Kirsch, Head of Professional Services at Neustar
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.eco launches globally at 16:00 UTC on April 25, 2017, when domains will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. .eco is for businesses, non-profits and people committed to positive change for the planet. See list of registrars offering .eco more»