Google Defines Search Space Not ICANN

icann_logoICANN has just delayed the launch of their new Top Level Domain (TLD) extension program, which lets businesses apply for custom extensions such as .shoes, .flowers and .texas. They have cited technical, economic, legal, and policy issues that still need to be resolved. There’s one issue ICANN are unlikely to consider though; how these domains will work in the search engines.

For example, ICANN has already launched regional extensions, such as .eu and .asia. Unfortunately these domains have not been supported by Google. There is no Google.eu or Google.asia portal. That has left these domains with little advantage over other available TLDs such as .com, .net or .org.

At the moment Google ties domains, subdomains or site sections to one particular country. This is done with key indicators such as extension, hosting location, link profile, webmaster portal settings or language. eu-blurbWhile you can search in Google.it for Italian language pages you can not determine if those sites are geographically based within Europe. The SERPs include Italian language pages from businesses around the world or those from within Italy. This reality for .eu seems to run contrary to the branding on the EuroID site, as seen here on the right. An .eu domain does not give access to all European countries anymore than a .com would.

As a European address is required for .eu registration the searcher could find regional businesses by adding the site:*.eu parameter to their query, but this is unlikely to enter mainstream use. But again, without the search space being supported by the search engines there will be less movement towards the .eu in the first place. Orders now are largely due to cheap .eu prices compared to local country extensions or defensive registrations against cyber-squatting.

There are good reasons for searchers to shop by region, rather than ordering internationally. Europeans don’t have to pay import tax on their items and would benefit from the European Union’s consumer protections laws. There are environmental benefits in reducing transit times. In fact, launching creating a virtual search engine based limited by .eu domains may have been a better brand idea for the Europeans than their dubious Quaero project.

You can see the conflict between Google and ICANN again on the matter of .us domains. ICANN envisioned General Top Level Domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .org and .net to be a shared space for all countries. However Americans have adopted .com as their own extension. This no doubt has an effect on the sales of the lesser branded .us domain. Google has certainly had their hand in this development by refusing to support the .us extension with its own portal (Google.us).

The question is, will Google support any of the new TLDs that ICANN is planning to launch on the market? Will we see Google.hotel or Google.shoes in the future? Without a search space, these extensions have less chance of becoming viable businesses. On the bright side, these new TLDs create exciting opportunities for virtual search. Hopefully ICANN and the companies backing these new domains will start taking these points into consideration.

12 Essential Domain Name Registration Tips

It’s easy to avoid disasters with hindsight and hopefully 10yrs as a domain registrar, web producer and marketer has given me some. In my opinion, here are 12 defensive steps which you should take right now.defenses1

1. Ensure Your Domains Have Accurate WHOIS records

Sounds simple but you wouldn’t believe how many domain registrations have been made using the wrong details. Too often the domain vendor would slip their own details into the owner or administrative details. The person who dealt with the “internet” would register company domains with their personal email then move onto a new job a few months later.

Incorrect records can cause a nightmare when you come to update or transfer the domain in the future. The owner/admin email holder can transfer the domain away.

Ensure that your details and email are on the administrative and owner contact fields of the domain. Running a WHOIS check will help but the contact email addresses can only be seen through the private panels of your domain provider.

2. Make Sure You Own Your Domains Legally

It may come as a surprise but WHOIS records are not proof of domain name ownership. Make sure you have access to the account with the domain registrar and have printed off invoice receipts for your registration.

3. Setup Your Own Domain Expiry Reminders

Don’t put all your trust in your domain provider. They may drop the ball or fail to contact you for the renewal. Registries have little sympathy once you have lost your domain, nor does the domain speculator who snapped it up.

Setup expiry reminders on your chosen calender application, use a birthday reminder service like HipCal or a dedicated domain tool like URLPad. Make sure you have reminders on 2 different email accounts, in case one fails.

4. Backup Your Sites – Regularly!

Again many rely 100% on their hosts for this. For WordPress sites you can backup the whole blog or just the database on regular periods and send it to a newly created Gmail account. Cpanel, Plesk and other control panel systems usually provide backup facilities for your whole site – use them. Software like SyncBackSE (Windows) or Filezilla (Windows, Mac and Linux) will help you maintain a synchronized copy of your files on your local computer.

Make sure you keep a few copies of your backup. An external Icy Box and a few old hard disks is an effective & low cost solution.

5. Invest In Decent DNS

Too many low grade hosts have their name servers placed on the same box as their hosted sites. If the server goes down, so do the name servers which can result in many hours of downtime, even after the server itself has come back online. That downtime is expensive for your business.

For a small fee you can buy a high quality DNS service or you may find the DNS at your registrar is sufficient. These name servers should update very fast across the internet, be backed up and have a fallover system.

This move will give your sites some security against long periods of downtime. In situations where your host has failed completely you can also switch the traffic to another provider.

6. Own Your RSS Feeds

Service at Feedburner has been rocky in recent months. Alternative services such as FeedBlitz and PostRank are waiting in the wings. Other services may come in the future. The lesson here is to make sure your RSS feed is delivered on a URL you control. That will let you change providers without loosing valuable subscribers.

Make sure you use a service which lets you create a CNAME record to point their branded URL towards your domain. Both FeedBurner and FeedBlitz allow you to use your own domain name.

7. Buy Your Vanity and Brand Domains

It makes sense to grab the COM/ORG/INFO/NET versions of your company domain name and any key brands you have developed. If you have plans internationally then also grab these extensions in your target countries. Domain registration fees are nothing compared to the legal fees you run up reclaiming these.

On a personal level, register your name domain (firstname+surname.com). Keyword domains have a natural advantage in ranking for these terms – ensure they are under your control.

8. Start Filling Your Vanity or Brand Results

Defend against online reputation attacks by filling these SERPs with your own entries. These results will defend you against low level ORM attacks and targeted link building can make them even more powerful.

Finding good sites for this is not hard, look for authority sites where you can place your profile. Here’s a couple of good site lists to start your efforts.

9. Control Your Short URLs

The recent death of the Zi.ma service was a wake up call for everyone using a shortening URLs service. If the service fails, then all those links fail, leaving you with no way to redirect that lost traffic. If you using short links in link building efforts or for affiliate marketing then you need to roll your own solution.

These are many URL shortening scripts on the market, for a small fee GentleSource ($29), PlusPHP Short URL Script ($59) or for free, e.g. Shorty

10. Use Your Own Domains For Email

Defensible email means using your own domain rather than a branded service. If you use Gmail then use your own domain name with them or sign up to Google Apps. Yahoo Mail and Microsoft Live Mail also offer services using your own domain.

Like your RSS feeds, this approach would allow you to switch providers without loosing your email address.

11. Keep Your Content On Your Own Domains

Always build content on your own domains, otherwise you’re at the mercy of the service provider. They may offer to export your data but that often means loosing links, traffic and historical trust that you’ve built up over the years.

So roll your own blog installation rather than using a hosted blog solution like WordPress.com or Blogger. Also keep it in mind when using third party sites like Squidoo, Google Knol or Twitter. These sites are useful but never forget that this material is most strongly defended on your own domains.

12. Set Up Malware Alerts

If Google, Firefox or IE flags your site as containing malware they will stop their users viewing your site. This can be as devastating as a hosting failure. The sooner you know about this the better.

Make sure you get early alerts on Google’s blacklist from Google Webmaster Center or SerpGuard.com. You can also set up Google Alerts for known malware keywords, as detailed here by Patrick Altoft.

** Hurricane Ike Prep by Cayobo one of the artists who make their work under a Creative Commons license at Flickr – thank you!

More Google-GoDaddy Merger Rumours

Domain legend Frank Schilling links to two more articles speculating on the “Google-GoDaddy merger” rumours.

When asked about a potential union, Godaddy CEO Bob Parsons told eWeek, “I have no comment on that, but I’d like to.”

Google became an ICANN Registrar in 2005, causing speculation that this move was intended to give them more access to information on domains. However as a Registrar they are limited to access on the domains they have directly registered. A merger with GoDaddy would up their game considerably though, giving them open access to over 14m records.

This would understandably cause some privacy concerns for domain holders there. GoDaddy’s own WHOIS privacy service would give little protection, as they hold records matching privacy settings to real account holders. Anyone trying to keep domain ownership details under the radar should take note, especially after recent reports from Aaron Wall.

If you’re looking for a “safe” Registrar then my vote would be for Tucows. Considering they are the account holders for domains such as microsoft.com, it’s unlikely their client base would favour a Google take-over.

Update: Fantomaster has a great write-up here on the issue, with practical steps you can take to hide your footprints.

Domain Auction Tool Update

For all you aspiring domainers out there, we’ve made some updates on our Domain Auction Tool. Email alerts can now be set up to search on keywords, contained in auctioned domains. You will see this section added to your daily email report, together with the No. of Yahoo links and Registered Date.

To start email subscriptions go here

Why is this cool? We are very keen on buying themed domains for our existing clients, not only do they make adding content easy for micro sites sites but they are more likely to have existing themed links. Now you can insert the list of keywords associated with your clients or personal projects and instantly see when potential domains come up for purchase. No more searching through the lists. As an example, alerts set up on ‘mobile‘ would bring you a report each day that listed domains like, easymobiles.com or mobilereview.com.

Other good news is that we now offer the first year of domain registration free with every auction. There are no additional fees to pay after you have won the domain.

You can visit our auction site here

Keeping Them Old With Domain Auctions

There’s been a fair amount of talk recently on ways to keep domain names looking old, Rand posted about the drop name service providers Snapnames, Enon and Pool. I wanted to explain about a recent development that’s rocking the industry: the domain auction.

Ok some background information. When you fail to renew your domain name you have 40 days after the expiry date where you can rescue the registration, at the end of this period the domain has traditionally dropped back into the public pool. In theory that means the domain is available for anyone to buy again.

Well in theory anyway. In practice the drop name companies had far more resources than everyone else. With multiple PCs and fast connections to the registries the chances were heavily stacked in their favour (for more info read Domain Catchers War Room). Domain Kiting (as Bob refers to it) is also a result of this general drop process. Bottom line – valuable domains are becoming impossible to grab when released into the public pool.

So everyone started thinking up a better system for re-selling domains. What followed has been a VHS-BETAMAX style battle to determine how the domain reselling industry is going to work. Verisign and Snapnames proposed the Waiting List Service (WLS) where users would be able to pay for second place rights to any domain. If the owner defaulted on the registration the second place holder got a chance to take the domain.

There are some obvious problems with this. The main one being that any company with any sense would register the option-holder place themselves as a security measure. WLS would effectively push everyone to register their domain name twice.

The alternative model put forward was to allow Registrars to auction off domains within their own portfolio within the 40 days redemption period. This model has been quickly adopted by the major players, such as Network Solutions, GoDaddy and now Tucows. Although it allows domain prices to escalate, the auction model does seem to level the playing field.

The problem with both these models though is that valuable domains are never going to drop into the public pool any more. Most major registrars have established an in-house auction system and you better get a handle on these if you’re interested in the old domain business.

Why should you be interested in old domains?

Well aside from the existing IBLs, they have often passed into the trusted zone. Jim Boykin has plenty to read on this subject and says it better than I can (1, 2, 3). The interesting thing about domain auctions is the initial registration date (CREATION DATE) remains untouched when the domain changes hands as technically the domain never drops.

OK so how do you get in on the action? Take some time to explore these auction systems. Each one is unique as it will only contain domains from that registrar’s portfolio (unless you have found a reseller). I’ve listed a couple of them below to get you started:

Godaddy Domain Auction
Network Solutions Expired Auction