Fully internationalized domain names will go live before the end of this year. Are brands ready?
The more than five years wait since ICANN, the governing body for the Internet's domain name system, approved policy enabling "New gTLD" domain name registries (non-ASCII top-level domains) is approaching its end.
On July 2, the long-awaited ICANN Registrar Agreement text was approved and the last major hurdle for global TLDs was cleared. The new gTLDs are expected to go live before the end of this year.
"New gTLDs" are the radical new top-level domains - the part of the domain name to the right of the last dot - which will herald fully internationalized website and Internet service URLs. For instance, websites servicing Chinese users will no longer require any ASCII at all in their URLs.
With the new gTLDs, a business such as Reuters in Chinese is able to resolve its Chinese website from a URL such as 路透.中文网 (Reuters' Chinese website) rather than cn.reuters.com.
Fully internationalized domain names (IDNs) will soon go live in character sets as diverse as Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Arabic, Hindi, Thai, Russian, and many others.
For brands, businesses, and the agencies that serve them, this represents excellent new marketing and communications opportunities.
Establishing IDNs as a URL to your (or your clients') non-English site shows commitment to your local audience. Consumers, partners, media, and government regulators will appreciate the gesture.
Fully internationalized URLs also eliminate the cognitive dissonance between your localized brand and your URL, leading to much more memorable web addresses. For example, it's far less dissonant for Microsoft's Chinese customers if the company's site is reachable as 微软.在线 rather than its current Chinese URL, www.microsoft.com/zh-cn/ (the former uses Microsoft's Chinese name, 微软, a dot, and the gTLD "Online").
IP protections are enhanced, as a greater claim is demonstrated if localized URLs perfectly match localized brand names. A knock-on effect of localized brand/localized URL matching is that your SEO results will be better once your URLs perfectly match your brand names.
Additionally, consumer protections are enhanced because local web browsers will be better able to identify phishing scams, once they expect to see the genuine URL in their own script.
New web users, including cashed up silver surfers and rural users, will particularly appreciate fully localized URLs, as these consumers are the least likely to have English abilities. IDNs really do allow brands and businesses to serve all equally, in their own languages.
And entering localized URLs on smartphones, tablets, and Windows 8 devices will be much easier using local script handwriting recognition rather than confusing ASCII keyboards.
Once a local script can be used for 100 percent of the web address, the kinds of puns we've become accustomed to seeing in English URLs will start to appear in culturally relevant local languages. New promotional opportunities, as yet unimagined by marketers, will be created.
I believe that in "compact" languages like Chinese, meaningful sentences will be written into concise URLs. And naturally, there are traditional promotional and experiential marketing opportunities and news generated for brands and businesses that embrace IDNs.
The web as we know it - ASCII bound, regardless of the local language and script(s) of our international markets - will soon change forever.
This is a guest post by Arto Isokoski, co-founder and CEO of TLD Registry, a pan-European Internet domain name registry.
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