The new domain extensions landscape and how it impacts your university

Does your institution have a clear domain strategy? With the availability of modern alternatives like .university, .college, .degree and .education what does this mean for .ac and .edu domains? And is it worth buying the new domains to prevent others from registering them?

The go-to domain extension for universities in the US remains .edu and in the UK Institutions in many other regions use the country domain extension.

But what do the relatively new extension alternatives such as .university, .college, .degree, .mba and .education mean for your domain strategy?

Should you snap them up and point them at relevant landing pages on your main website? Or can you simply take a risk and leave them on the open market for others to potentially register them?

New domain extensions - an opportunity and a threat

The new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) have no restrictions on who can register them, and their availability is still abundant. And many education-related domain names can be purchased for less than $20 a year, though prices vary widely.

The lack of restrictions on these gTLDs means that they are inherently less legitimate and trustworthy than their .edu equivalents, so why should you care about them?

The problem is that to the general public they might appear quite legitimate, and this could become more problematic as the usage of these new domains becomes more commonplace.

They could be used to host defamatory or inappropriate content, potentially damaging the public image of an institution, or worse still, be used for phishing and targeted hacking campaigns.

Or they could be used by third party education organizations to attract interest in their products. Add to this, the fact that sites with plenty of activity happening on these domains will begin to rank organically and attract traffic.

In combination, these factors seem to present a very real risk for universities and could jeopardize your institution's reputation.

The historical context of domains

Way back in 1985 there were just 6 top-level domains:

.COM (commercial)
.ORG (organization)
.NET (network)
.EDU (education)
.GOV (government)
.MIL (military)

ICANN ( the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has been in control of domain namespace since 1998. Realizing the Internet needed to expand to respond to what was happening in terms of the volume of sites, ICANN launched the New gTLD Program in 2011 to expand the Internet namespace.

This enabled organizations and companies to apply to operate their own top-level domain. These new TLDs benefitted the global Internet community by providing people with more meaningful and memorable domain names to access Internet resources, but meanwhile the original 6 top-level domains and country extensions have retained their authority.

And then more recently there has been an explosion in the options for domain extensions. As we enter 2020, there are over 1,500 top-level domain extensions available to register!

Institutions are adopting a domain protection strategy

Some institutions are buying up the new domains as part of their brand management activity and to block other parties from using them. In the majority of cases, the institutions aren't actively using them but instead purchase them to prevent other external parties from registering them.

While .education, .school, and .university are three obvious domains relevant to educational institutions, there may be others such as .mba mentioned earlier, that your university may want to acquire.

Which domains institutions should buy or not is a tricky question and dependent on the circumstances and strategy for each institution, but taking some preventative measures to protect your institution's reputation seems a sensible path.

And with new gTLDs being released each year, institutions should have in place a regular review point to understand the domain situation for the university.

On this point, relevant domains could be categorized as owned, available, new to the market, and owned by third parties (with details of any issues or potential brand impacts).

For any domains purchased defensively, these can be pointed at the main institution homepage or relevant landing pages.

The future of gTLDs

Looking to the future, two things are certain.

The number and variety of gTLDs will continue to increase. And secondly, their usage will become more accepted and commonplace.

Institutions should undoubtedly retain their primary domains, but for the reasons stated above, it remains important for universities to be vigilant in monitoring and securing other relevant domains in order to protect their institutional identity and to maintain the security of faculty, staff, and students.

Has your institution registered ownership of gTLDs such as .education, .mba, .degree, .school and .university?

We'd like to hear your feedback and views on whether they can be ignored or whether they should be bought up and renewed by universities and how to stay aware of newly released domains that could impact institutions