By Antonia Seymour, Chief Commercial Officer, Nominet,

According to recent research, the majority (52%) of British consumers think that online presence will become a business’s most important asset within the next five years. With this in mind, business leaders and entrepreneurs alike need to keep up with changes in the web domain industry. As well as the introduction of short .uk domains – now available alongside co.uk for the first time in the almost 30-year history of the UK domain namespace – these changes include the introduction of over a thousand new top level domains like .bbc, .cymru and .wales.

What’s happening, and what do these changes mean for businesses? Here are some key questions answered:

What’s changing in the. uk namespace?
Earlier this month, Nominet – the company responsible for running the .uk internet infrastructure -launched shorter .uk web domains (without the ‘co’), meaning you can now register ‘yourname.uk’, alongside existing options such as ‘yourname.co.uk’. Separately, ICANN, the global body that oversees internet domain names, is progressing applications for new generic top level domains (gTLDs) – a new set of internet address endings such as .shop, .berlin, or .bbc – some of which have already launched.

What different domain options are available to businesses?
New domains generally fall into five categories – generic, geographic, brand, IDN and community. Generic domains include .shop or .bank; geographic domains represent cities or areas such as .wales or .london, while branded domains are exactly as they sound – the likes of .nike or .google. IDN stands for Internationalised Domain Names, including non-latin scripts, and community domains include .islam and .kids. Some are on the market, some are open for pre-registration, and hundreds more will launch over the next year.

What domain is right for my business?
This will depend on the signals you want to send, and the customers you want to target. If the majority of your customer base is in the UK, it’s worth bearing in mind that recent Nominet research found that 59% of Brits say they prefer buying goods or services from a British supplier if possible, and three-quarters believe that .uk is the most appropriate domain ending for a British business. With an established namespace such as .com or .uk, there are benefits in terms of consumer trust and recognition, while domains such as .guru may appeal to a particular type of customer. There are also practical indicators – a .uk domain suggests a website in English that’s likely to have prices in British Pounds, while a .photography domain makes it clear you’re catering to a certain niche.

Do I need to get them all?
No – history has shown that there is usually one predominant domain. 45% of all domains are .com with 41% being taken up by country-code TLDs (excluding .tk). In the .uk namespace, .co.uk accounts for about 93% of all .uk domains. Few domains launched in the past have taken off in the same way – for example .biz has had far lower uptake than expected. If a new gTLD registry should fail, ICANN does have backup plans in place, having selected a few experienced registries (such as Nominet) to step in as Emergency Back-end Registry Operators.

How do I get the one/s I want?
You can buy relevant domains as they launch through your preferred domain retailer (‘registrar’). If you’re a trademark holder, ICANN has set up a Trademark Clearinghouse for brands to submit their trademark data into a central database. Brands can then register their trademarks in the new domains’ ‘sunrise’ periods before anyone else, or be notified if a domain name matching their trademark has been applied for. Dot brands (e.g. .nike) only allow the brand owner to use the domain. For new .uk domains, over 10 million existing .uk holders have the exclusive right to the shorter version of their current domain. The others are available to register on a first-come, first-served basis through domain registrars.

Will pre-registering guarantee the domain?
Pre-registration generally brings no guarantees, so review your domain strategy rather than rushing to buy the same domain in every new gTLD. With .uk, existing .co.uk customers should check their rights to the shorter .uk address and note that they have five years (until 10th June 2019) to decide whether or not to register.

What do I do if someone else registers my brand?
Different registries have different processes for dealing with this. For domains ending in .uk, Nominet has a well-respected dispute resolution service, which usually can provide a quicker and cheaper resolution than going through the courts. Other gTLDs may have similar mechanisms, although some may require costly court action.

How will they affect SEO?
Search providers are unlikely to treat new gTLDs any differently to what’s already on offer –returning results depending on content relevance. It’s likely that search providers will wait and see how people are using the new domains and react accordingly. For .uk domains, Nominet is working closely with Google and other search providers, to ensure that ‘example.uk’ websites will be indexed as quickly and effectively as possible. If you’re planning to switch to a new domain, make sure you follow best practice to retain search rankings, such as implementing “301 redirects” and telling Google that your site has moved.