Expert roundup: What’s next for the new TLDs in 2016?

new tlds 2016 expert roundupHappy new year!

Looking back at 2015 it was an exciting year for the new top level domains (TLDs) such as .club, .link and .london. We reached 11M domain registrations, hundreds of new TLDs were released, celebrities and businesses adopted these new web addresses and the aftermarket sales increased.

It can be discussed whether the new domain extensions had their break-through year. Personally I think there was immense progress on 2014, when it comes to awareness and usage, but I’m sure that there is a lot more to come.

So what will happen with the new TLDs in 2016?

16 industry experts discuss the new TLDs in 2016

This post will try to answer the question. We asked 16 leading industry experts to share their predictions for what’s to come. We delve into various topics from the boom in the Chinese domain market to the development (or lack of) of the dot brands.

We got some great answers from a wide area of expertise ranging from representatives from the new TLD registries (Donuts, Neustar, Rightside,  DotClub, DotBuzz, Dot Ski, Dot Tickets, nic.br), domain registrars (101Domain, Blacknight Solutions), domain investors (Konstantinos Zournas) and consultants in the fields of domain names, branding and SEO (Bill Hartzer, Joseph Peterson, Jean Guillon, Kathy Nielsen, Christa Taylor).

The new TLD story
From 1985 to 2013 when you wanted to register a domain name you had the following domain extensions’ choices:

1) A generic extension for your domain name such as .com or .net, or
2) a country code extension such as .fr and co.uk.

Since 2013 hundreds of new TLDs have appeared. You can now get real word extensions on the right side of the dot such as .marketing, .club, .guru, .golf, .london etc. Marketers have never had a better way to communicate with a web address. The only limit is your own creativity.  To get an overview of all domain endings go here.

THE EXPERTS’ SEVEN NEW TLD TOPICS FOR 2016

Seven big topics were identified during the conversations. You can check some of the best quotes in the following infographic.

Expert roundup infographic new TLDs 2016

 

In the following I have extracted some of the many quotes to give you an easy overview. For an in-depth analysis of all the topics read the full interviews after this section.

New TLDs in 2016 - acquisitions1. Acquisitions in the domain industry

In 2015 we started to see the industry consolidate with a couple of huge acquisitions: Afilias bought 101Domain, Neustar acquired AusRegistry and CentralNic took over Instra. The experts agree: “Expect more deals in 2016”.

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“In 2016 I suspect we’ll see one or two new TLD registries fail and be acquired by either one of the portfolio applicants or a big backend operator such as Afilias or Neustar” (Michele Neylon).

“Verisign will start buying new gTLD registries” (Rob Rozicki).

“Most new TLDs have unsupportable business models and economics, and we will see the first wave of consolidation as registries start going bust and getting snapped up by the stronger players” (Gary Fisher).

“I anticipate additional consolidation in the domain name industry” (Mason Cole).

“In 2016, industry consolidation occurs through numerous registry acquisitions” (Bill Doshier).

New TLDs in 20162. New TLD launches


We’re still waiting for some of the most anticipated TLDs: .shop, .blog, .app, .web…. They will appear in 2016 according to the experts. Especially .web has been followed with interest, since this is Rick “The Domain King”  Schwarz’ favourite in the new TLD space.

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“Highly contended new TLDs should enter general availability during 2016” (Michele Neylon).

“I believe remaining gTLDs in contention will sell for record amounts” (Mason Cole).

“I’m on record as saying that .web will be a great new gTLD, so I suppose I should stick with that as my prediction for top release in 2016” (Joe Alagna).

“.Web is a good extension but the future of New gTLDs does not depend on .web and .web is not going to be a game changer…The New gTLD program is about more options and better left.right combinations. I would prefer credit.cards over creditcards.web any day of the year” (Konstantinos Zournas).

Dot brand new tlds 20163. The future of Dot Brands

Barclays Bank went all-in and skipped their .com for Dot Brand in 2015. They can now be found at Home.Barclays. There were small bleeps from other dot brand owners, but nothing as significant. Will 2016 be the year of Dot Brand?  Answers were very disperse, but many believed that something big will happen.
______________________

“Many of the big brands finally unveil more public uses of their extensions and it’ll be fun to see what they come up with” (Michele Neylon).

“No brand has yet truly stepped up and embraced their .Brand web address as a highly visible call to action in major ad campaign. That’s the move that has the potential to be a real “twerking moment” for our industry, and I’ll stick my neck out and predict that in 2016 we’ll finally see that happen” (Jeffrey Sass).

“I predict we’ll see a greater volume of brands moving to use their TLDs as they recognise the value of owning their own digital ecosystem” (Tony Kirsch).

“I think that you’ll see many more sites go live with .brands as their marketing departments catch up to the value of short, catchy domains for landing pages and campaigns” (Rob Rozicky).

“I suspect that we’ll see at least two dozen launch their Dot Brand TLDs during 2016” (Bill Doshier).

“Luxury trademarks who invested so much money in their .BRAND will “wake up” and start to demonstrate their capacity to innovate using their new domain names” (Jean Guillon).

“In 2016, Google will move from google.com to search.google. From gmail.com to mail.google. calendar.google.com to calendar.google” (Sean Ottey).

“I’m sure we’ll see many of the dot brand applicants forwarding to their primary sites this year but I have a feeling that true adoption is going to take much more time” (Joe Alagna).

“In the brand arena, financial organisations will keep being the early adopters, but in 2016 we will probably see media groups (BBC, NHK etc.) start moving as well” (Rubens Kuhl).

“.Brands will begin to launch at a faster pace and be more public with their use of new domains” (Kathy Nielsen).

Chinese domain market new tlds 20164. The Chinese domain market

The Chinese domain boom was under the radar until Michael Berkens on the 27th Oct. published the post I Spend Over 2 Hours a Day Answering Offers From China. From that day on the Chinese domain market went crazy, especially when it comes to .com domains. However we also saw a surge in new TLD registrations. What impact will the Chinese market have on new TLDs in 2016?
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“I’ll predict that in 2016 China remains a very strong and important market for .CLUB and other new domain extensions” (Jeffrey Sass).

“Aftermarket prices for domains in China will reach a plateau or even correct downward at some point during 2016, preceded by a deceleration in the pace of speculative registrations. In a downturn, new TLDs will be hit much harder than established extensions” (Joseph Peterson).

“In 2016, I could see the Chinese domain investors continuing to invest in more domains, especially in certain new gTLD domains” (Bill Hartzer).

“I have no doubt that the Chinese domain awakening will continue throughout the coming year” (Joe Alagna).

“2016 will feature some instances of the China unknown where all of sudden Chinese investors get all interested in a TLD, and not because of specific business development targeted at China” (Rubens Kuhl).

“A few TLDs seem to be surfing this Chinese wave – notably .TOP, .WIN, .WANG, .XYZ, and .CLUB. Crucially, those are now the top 5 nTLDs by volume. That said, those counts are swollen with near-free giveaways, which at full price may not be renewed” (Joseph Peterson).

Marketing new TLDs in 20165. New TLD marketing and awareness

It’s acknowledged that there still is a huge awareness gap in the market, when it comes to the new TLDs. Will 2016 be the year when everyone goes all-in on marketing the new extensions?
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“Some of the industry shifting to a more commercial focus from the previously held policy and technical concerns” (Tony Kirsch).

“I expect to see more new domains in print, online and in broadcast media” (Mason Cole).

“Strong TLDs that are easily understood by registrants or have been sufficiently promoted so registrants recognize the TLD will continue to grow and receive the greatest, and most deserved, benefits from industry growth…New gTLDs that bundle additional services such as an ‘easy setup’ website will boost traction while cultivating further growth.” (Christa Taylor).

“In 2016, I strongly believe we will start to see ads using new domain names in the street of Europe”  (Jean Guillon).

“New models will emerge and gain traction, more specific and targeted to the industries and niches they represent” (Kathy Nielsen).

“Registries will increasingly seek out promising online projects and offer to back them. That will mean branding them with premium nTLDs for the sake of co-promotion – possibly even support beyond a free domain” (Joseph Peterson).

Round 2 for new tld applicants in 20166. What about the next round of nTLD applications?

When will ICANN open up the window for the next round of applications?
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“We still won’t know when round 2 will begin” (Rob Rozicki).

“ICANN announces top level domain registry application round two is postponed spurring a malady referred to as RHAA” (Bill Doshier).

numbers of new tlds in 20167. The numbers game

2.5M registrations at the end of 2014. 11M at the end of 2015. How many new TLD registrations at the end of 2016?
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“I could easily see us reaching the 25M registrations in 2016” (Bill Hartzer).

“I suspect that we’ll see double digit growth in the new gTLD space in 2016” (Joe Alagna).

“I predict that by the end of the 2016 the 80/20 rule will apply with the top 20% of new gTLDs receiving 80% of both revenues and registration volumes” (Christa Taylor).

“New top level domain registrations soar toward 100 million as mass brand adoption, development and education efforts gain traction” (Bill Doshier).

PREDICTIONS FROM THE DOMAIN INDUSTRY INSIDERS

michele Neylon, BlacknightMichele Neylon, CEO and founder at Blacknight Solutions. Follow Michele on Twitter.

In 2016 I suspect we’ll see one or two new TLD registries fail and be acquired by either one of the portfolio applicants or a big backend operator such as Afilias or Neustar. That’s assuming of course that the registry(s) in question is viable under a revamped marketing plan and focus. To date some of the new TLD operators have made some very strange assumptions about how their TLDs would be adopted and what price point the market would bear. We’ve also seen that many of TLD operators haven’t been investing in marketing their extensions with the exception of .club and one or two others. The end result of these false assumptions and lack of investment has been lacklustre adoption by the public.

Some of the more highly contended new TLDs should enter general availability during 2016. Domain extensions like .blog and .app are more likely to garner attention from mainstream media and the general public than many of the existing domain choices on the market. Being able to offer a .blog domain name to a business or individual is an easy sell, as the domain extensions speaks to its purpose.

A lot of big brands have acquired their own TLDs. Up until now most of them have done very little with them, with the exception of Sony and one or two others. 2016 could be the year that many of the big brands finally unveil more public uses of their extensions and it’ll be fun to see what they come up with. I don’t, however, think that big brands are going to switch all of their online presence over to new TLDs. What we should see is a greater usage of new TLDs for specific campaigns and scenarios. Whether this will have an impact on the wider usage and adoption of new TLDs is hard to say, though it definitely won’t have a negative impact.

konstantinos zournas, OnlineDomain.com
Konstantinos Zournas, domain investor at OnlineDomain.com. Follow Konstantinos on Twitter.

It seems that the latest domain name buying spree from Chinese buyers has taken over the whole domain name industry. The whole .com vs New gTLDs debate has been put a bit to the side with domain investors focusing on “liquid” domains, shorts and numerics, wholesale prices and portfolio sales. But the Chinese phenomenon has taken over New gTLDs as well with a lot of .club numeric domain names being registered and many registry and secondary market sales happening in the past 2 months. The Sold.Domains website is reporting all these public New gTLD domain sales.

Rick Schwarz has been vocal lately mostly praising .web and not paying attention to most of the other New gTLDs except those with high numbers. Although he makes some valid points I don’t fully agree with him. .Web is a good extension but the future of New gTLDs does not depend on .web and .web is not going to be a game changer. .Web is contested and it is more than certain that the high auction price paid for the extension will lead to more reserved domain names and more expensive renewals.

The New gTLD program is about more options and better left.right combinations. I would prefer credit.cards over creditcards.web any day of the year. Even if .cards has 5,000 domain name registrations and .web has 500,000 or 1 million after its first year.

The number of New gTLD domain name registrations does not determine the future of the New gTLD program. But it might determine the future of a few small registries. .Brands will help with a boost in awareness and credibility that the New gTLDs are lacking at the moment.

The whole New gTLD program is not about finding the next .NET or the top 5 most registered extensions. It is about finding good domains that work no matter what the extension is.

Even in New gTLDs most of the good or average domain names are either gone in seconds after launch or reserved by the registry. The domain name industry should focus on building a New gTLD secondary market that is easy to understand by end users, is centralized and has enough good options for people to choose from.

kathy nielsen DigitalStrategies.MarketingKathy Nielsen, founder of DigitalStrategies.Marketing. Follow Kathy on Twitter

I’ve been very fortunate over the past several years to have participated in the planning and introduction of several new TLDs from a variety of angles and with greatly varying business objectives and goals. 2016 is going to be an easy year for predictions, the only difficult part is to narrow it to just three. I’ll give it a shot, here are my picks.

1) .Brands will begin to launch at a faster pace and be more public with their use of new domains. Brands that missed out on the first round will certainly take notice and start to investigate their own participation in round 2.

2) Overall, registrations of new gTLDs will continue to grow exponentially, registries will continue to focus on promotions that encourage development and usage of domains and that will lead to more new gTLD sites going live and being used publically. Increased use results in increased public awareness.

3) New models will emerge and gain traction, more specific and targeted to the industries and niches they represent. These are not always very visible to us in the domain name industry as these registries are not marketing via the traditional domain name marketing channels. They are highly focused within their industries, reaching out, educating and showing the value they can provide directly to the end user. They are not focused on getting on the front page of the biggest registrars and marketing to a mass, generic audience. Theses industry focused TLDs very specifically and methodically define their audience and methods to reach them directly.

Overall, the increased visibility will support a confidence with consumers – website visitors. With every public story of a new .brand in use or major company using a new TLD, the public perception and awareness should grow in a positive way. The alphabet.xyz story went a long way to support the new gTLDs in 2015 and almost everyone I asked, outside the industry, was aware of this naming story. There is still a long way to go and I believe we’re in the very early stages, but new domains are starting to make a dent and will only go up from here!

What will be the successful launch formula in 2016? Keep it simple. Your biggest ally in a launch is your reseller channel. Unless you have a built in audience of customers that will buy from you without question, and you can easily reach them, you will rely heavily on your reseller channel. It’s not a one stop play. Resellers are not the only piece that you need. You must define your TLDs value to the consumer, and let them know what that value means to them. Without the registry marketing, directly or indirectly through your registrar partners, your domains will likely sit on the shelf. Let me step back briefly to address a point. I’ve talked to many new registries over the years that think it is easy to reach their ideal customer and sell directly. I can tell you that it is not. It is extremely difficult. I’m sure there are registries that have innovative models and can pull this off, but I just want to say that this is one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen with new registry launches. If your TLD has open registration policies, you need to work with and support your registrar partners. They are your global reach. Create a simple plan, then focus on that plan 100%. If you do not plan well, or try to accomplish a million different things with a complex plan, you will waste a lot of time, be scattered and your message will likely come across the same. Plan smart, know your target audience and simply focus. Words from my extremely well respected former colleague.

jeff sass dot clubJeff Sass, CMO at .CLUB Domains LLC. Follow Jeff on Twitter.

When looking forward to 2016 (relative to the continued introduction of hundreds of new domain extensions), one thing remains clear. It is definitely a marathon and those who thought that new domains would sprint to success are having to re-think their approach to the race. 2015 was a great year and a lot of progress was made, but in some respects there were also not too many changes from 2014. In particular, the “dot Brands” continue to move very slowly and take baby steps, rather than dive headfirst into active, promoted use of their new domain extensions. Barclays Bank has been a leader.

assistmoneypenny.sony

Sony experimented with AssistMoneypenny.Sony and there are a few other examples here and there, but no brand has yet truly stepped up and embraced their .Brand web address as a highly visible call to action in major ad campaign. That’s the move that has the potential to be a real “twerking moment” for our industry, and I’ll stick my neck out and predict that in 2016 we’ll finally see that happen.

Ending the year with over 11 million registrations across the board is great progress, especially with the year-end burst of activity from China for a number of extensions, including .CLUB. The demand for .CLUB from China pushed us ahead of our 2015 goals both in registration numbers and premium name sales. We invested heavily to build relationships and a brand in China over the past two years, and when the market opened up this year for short names and numerics we were ready. We also benefit from the fact that the word “Club,” in English, is widely used and maintains its meaning in China (and globally). In 2016 we expect the demand in China to continue, but there will also potentially be a shift as registries begin to receive government approval for websites to be hosted in mainland China using their extensions. We expect .CLUB to be among the first Western registries to obtain such approval, and that will open up opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs to begin using new domain names and increase the value for domain investors while opening a broader marketplace. With that in mind, I’ll predict that in 2016 China remains a very strong and important market for .CLUB and other new domain extensions.

Lastly, there are still a number of potentially high profile new domain extensions that should come to market in 2016, and it will be interesting to see what happens when much anticipated names like .Shop, .App, and .web are put to use. They will be entering a market that, while certainly still in its infancy, has grown up a lot since the first waves of new extension releases. In particular, registrars are not as backlogged by weekly new releases. Merchandising methods are evolving, as are pricing models. Many different approaches to Sunrise and Landrush, and premium name sales have been tried, with varying results. If in 2014 we were newborns, and in 2015 we were infants, perhaps in 2016 we’ll become toddlers and truly start taking our first big steps forward.

joseph peterson, Branding Consultant and Domain Investor

Joseph Peterson, Branding Consultant and writes about expired domains at DomainNameWire.

2016 will be a year of reassessment, of taking stock and cutting losses, of drawing conclusions, of sifting the wheat from the chaff. By now we have a sense for how the market will use these new domain endings, how much it wants them, and how slowly it absorbs them.

New nTLDs may try the same tactics old nTLDs employed during their launches – but with diminishing returns. Been there, done that. Domain investors as well as mainstream consumers are more discerning than before, given 2 years of experience. Frankly, domainers are tired of the parade of new TLDs, bored by lack of progress. Disagree? Then ask them!

Quality > Quantity. As that realization begins to sink in, the domain industry will set about marketing TLDs more judiciously – planting them where they’ll thrive instead of scattering them indiscriminately upon the wind. Registries have wasted as much as 2 years selling nTLDs to domain speculators for the sake of short-term growth. If they’re to succeed in the future, however, they’ll need to convince entrepreneurs not domainers and see to it that quality domains are placed with the best projects. That means a perpendicular change of direction.

Pessimistic as this sounds, I think nTLDs deserve to succeed more than they have done; and I expect to see them embraced during 2016 more than ever. Granted, my expectations are quite modest compared to registry claims. Nevertheless, I’ve made 6 optimistic predictions at the end of this write up.

Year of the Goat

Within the domain industry during the latter half of 2015, the nTLD program had its thunder stolen by an unprecedented surge in the Chinese domain market. Nobody saw it coming. Indeed, English keywords and European city names comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the new TLDs, indicating that the establishment had anticipated demand from the West but had neglected or misunderstood China.

Yes, multiple extensions released since the beginning of 2014 do target China – utilizing Chinese characters, in fact. But to the dismay of these registries especially, Chinese domain buyers have persisted in using the Latin alphabet. Worse still, the Chinese have been hungriest for legacy suffixes – .COM, of course, but also .NET and even .CC. As a result, Verisign reported 4.1 million new .COM / .NET domains midway through its 4th quarter.

A few TLDs seem to be surfing this Chinese wave – notably .TOP, .WIN, .WANG, .XYZ, and .CLUB. Crucially, those are now the top 5 nTLDs by volume. That said, those counts are swollen with near-free giveaways, which at full price may not be renewed. And even a rate of 11 million nTLD domains accumulated over the course of 2 years begins to look like a snail’s pace beside the giant stride taken by full-priced .COM / .NET in a single month.

It’s as if nTLD registries planned a party; but most of their invited guests went instead to another soiree, thrown by an unheard of host. Am I gloating? No, hardly. I would even characterize the recent situation in China as unsustainable and unstable. But let me emphasize: Something went right for the Chinese sector – something the nTLD program has been struggling to get right in the West … and has so far failed at. Buried in this story of China are some important lessons for registries aiming at Western markets.

2 Years of Backwards

Perceived reliable value is what matters. Sounds like a no brainer, doesn’t it? But registries in a hurry to rack up domain registrations have missed the point. Value comes in 2 flavours: market value (which is what domain investors seek) and recognizable brand value (which is what entrepreneurs care about). The two march in tandem. Whichever TLDs are visibly used by a large number of quality brands, those are the TLDs with appreciable market value. In the long run, those are also the TLDs with enduring domain populations.

Yet we’ve seen registries put the cart before the horse, tampering with registration volume directly through under-the-table schemes and $1 promotions that encourage domainer speculation but scarcely even aim at end-user adoption. They’ve been racing against one another to claim headlines in the domain blogosphere, attempting to secure a large number of renewal subscriptions regardless of customer quality.

In practice, this has meant targeting a domainer audience, while shirking the hard work of cultivating mainstream audiences. That’s understandable. Domainers are more accessible, fewer, require less convincing, and buy more domains per person than bona fide end users. For short-term profit, they’re the obvious target. Many registries are operated by domainers who feel most comfortable marketing to their own community. Therefore they’ve plucked the low-hanging fruit and sown few seeds for future growth.

Two years in, Frank Schilling still talks about an indefinitely far off future in which nTLD brands abound. Well, selling that dream of a future to domainers comes at the expense of putting nTLDs to use in the present. That’s just 1 prominent example of a CEO concentrating on the reseller audience he’s familiar with rather than cultivating end users. (They arrive unsolicited in order to buy premium domains, right?) Uniregistry is not alone in adopting this posture.

Registries ought to be catalysts, encouraging the best online projects to adopt their TLD and add to its brand value. That would in turn elevate the TLD’s market value, which incentivizes domain resellers to act as evangelists. Domainers would then find end users primed to adopt the TLD after seeing the success of earlier brands. In general, this hasn’t happened. Perhaps 2016 will see a change for the better.

Fatigue

When the Chinese domain market burst into flower during 2015, the seeds had been sown years earlier and taken root as prominent websites. In that sudden blossoming, domain investors worldwide felt a sense of excitement justified by a new opportunity for fast, large, easy sales. Bloggers finally had something to talk about other than first-day registration performance for the latest .HORSE trotting out of the gate.

Let’s face it, the industry was bored by the nTLD program after a year or 2 of repetitious rollouts and slower-than-expected end-user adoption. Domain investors, exhausted by the lack of sales, had begun to look elsewhere. Registries had tapped into their easiest customer base, domainers; and, after 2 years of experimenting in the red, domainers were tapping out.

Recent nTLD growth has been driven by frothy China-focused speculation. Many observers, myself included, believe this may prove no more solid than a bubble. Obviously, the exuberant buyouts of numerics and “CHIPs” in TLD after TLD cannot continue indefinitely. At some point, the trend will fizzle out. Registries can’t be blamed for making the most of this sudden craze among domainers, but it’s no substitute for a long-term strategy. Without end users to sell to, domainers will ultimately drop whatever has been registered so far.

Quality > Quantity

The question of how many nTLD domains will be registered by the end of 2016, interesting as it may be, is of more concern to registries and registrars than to my registrant clients – the people actually buying domain names.

Sure, we can all guess. But pulling numbers out of thin air isn’t my style; building a predictive model on a foundation of data, girded in definite assumptions – that would be. Without such a model, I see no real value in my forecast. Unless we discuss renewal rates for each individual TLD, timing of new TLD rollouts, variations in price structure, and the size of each TLD’s plausible name space, then we have no basis for an estimate.

Where volume is concerned, by far the 2 most important factors are (1) sale-price giveaways and (2) registry self-reservations. During the past 2 years, many new TLDs were offered at deeply discounted prices – often under $1 or even absolutely free. We also saw certain registries indirectly buy up large numbers of their own merchandise. Either they stuffed domains into customer accounts in order to inflate registration numbers, as we saw with .XYZ; or else they stocked up on inventory in order to conceal lack of demand and raise prices, which is the habit of Uniregistry.

I stress these 2 factors because they affect registration volumes greatly yet arbitrarily. We cannot predict the whims of companies. Tomorrow some TLD might suddenly grow by half a million if domains are forcibly inserted in people’s accounts. Tomorrow North Sound Names might cease to act as Uniregistry’s left hand, or it might register a million items. Tomorrow AlpNames might discontinue its dirt-cheap specials on TLDs from Famous Four Media; or it might (theoretically) go further and grant renewals under $1 on .SCIENCE, causing those to be renewed rather than drop. Such actions swing the numbers up or down so drastically that forecasting registration volume is almost a lost cause. Certainly, the numbers mean less than we expected they would 2 years ago.

We ought to look at registration volume for particular nTLDs rather than an aggregate all nTLDs. The latter can only mislead us by concealing genuine success stories under a mound of market manipulation. A TLD ought to be judged in the context of its own price history, in light of its own age, and relative to the ideal size of its own name space. The same bare number of 100,000 would be a dismal failure for .WEB but an astonishing feat for a niche TLD like .CRICKET.

Gaming the system only works for a short while. Eventually domainers catch on and disregard talk of volume because heavily manipulated numbers correlate badly with their investment return.

Many end users do care about TLD popularity. But to the extent that registration volume matters, that’s mainly a conservative argument steering us toward established suffixes like .COM / .ORG / .NET and local ccTLDs. In any case, consumers tend to gauge TLD popularity – appropriately enough – by the websites they’ve actually visited and not by claims about vast numbers of unseen domains. That’s common sense.

During 2014 or 2015, consumers might have believed they were about to be left behind by the “New TLD revolution”. But after 2 years of hyperbole from the domain industry, 2 years in which new extensions promised to be game changers, the game hasn’t changed. Henceforward, nTLDs must be sold on their merits; and end users marketing quality brands must lead the way.

Predictions

1. nTLD domains will feature more prominently in the expired domain market. This will occur naturally as renewal dates pass by, coordination between registries and market places improves, and domainers learn what to watch for.

Currently my weekly articles at DomainNameWire rarely include nTLD domains because notable auctions simply aren’t happening. By year’s end, I think it will be a rare week that doesn’t show at least 1 nTLD result. I predict we’ll see at least half a dozen 4-figure expired domains during 2016. New TLD registrations spike initially, but such interest is short-lived. Later, the expired domain market tells us all which domains are being abandoned and which remain resilient. What cannot be sold at auction in this way holds no wholesale value among domainers, and that doesn’t bode well for retail prospects. Attention will turn to the expired market. After all, a year of second thoughts means far more than Day 1’s hasty optimism.

2. Registries will increasingly seek out promising online projects and offer to back them. That will mean branding them with premium nTLDs for the sake of co-promotion – possibly even support beyond a free domain. While the registry may attempt to portray such deals as sales, what matters most is seeing the TLD in action.

3. As reported on DNJournal, nTLD sales by domainers (as opposed to registries) will triple the figures of 2014 and 2015 combined.

4. Aftermarket prices for domains in China will reach a plateau or even correct downward at some point during 2016, preceded by a deceleration in the pace of speculative registrations. In a downturn, new TLDs will be hit much harder than established extensions. As growth in this sector slows, domainers will return to nTLDs to look for opportunities. Registries that can point to end-user adoption and aftermarket sales will stand out.

While I’m at it, here are a couple of private milestones that will (for me) represent a turning point in consumer awareness:

5. One of my clients will finally launch a new brand using an nTLD domain based on my recommendation, instead of insisting on .COM as most do.

6. For the first time, a client will hire me to negotiate the acquisition of an nTLD domain rather than to a .COM to match their earlier nTLD purchase.


tony kirchTony Kirsch, Head of Professional services at Neustar. Follow Tony on Twitter.

With a high volume of recent delegations and some big names moving already to activate their TLDs, 2016 is shaping up to be the year of the .brand. I predict we’ll see a greater volume of brands moving to use their TLDs as they recognise the value of owning their own digital ecosystem. The unprecedented access to data and the ability to evolve thinking around branding and digital marketing is already prompting many brands to begin planning for their TLD’s rollout, as well as creating interest and pressure in a second round amongst those who missed out in the first instance.

Outside of this, I predict the domain name industry will start to gain wider, mainstream media coverage; as well as seeing some of the industry shifting to a more commercial focus from the previously held policy and technical concerns.

Read also Tony’s extensive post at CircleID called 2016 Predictions: What to expect for the next year in new TLDs.


Rob rozicki Rob Rozicki, co-founder of Dot Ski. Follow Dot Ski on Twitter.

Here are three predictions for 2016 when it comes to the new top level domains:

1. We still won’t know when round 2 will begin.
2. Verisign will start buying new gTLD registries.
3. Registration prices will rise.

I don’t think we’ll reach 20 Million registrations by the end of 2016. Most TLDs that drive volume are already registered so there is not much left that can cause significant early volumes. We’ve also seen that unless a registry goes with a bargain bucket launch price the average volume of registrations at launches has been going steadily down. However we will see consistent growth in 2016 as new gTLDs drop the “new” and just become part of the domain ecosystem. Its not impossible to reach 20M in 2016 but I think it would also require registrars to put everything they have learnt on marketing and selling TLDs in their funnels into practice.

I don’t think there will be many (who will do as Barclays Bank and drop .com for their dot brand). I do however think that you’ll see many more sites go live with .brands as their marketing departments catch up to the value of short, catchy domains for landing pages and campaigns.

I think those TLDs that have really tried hard to lay the right ground work in marketing and awareness will succeed. People are waking up to the world past .com and if you’ve done this right work to be in front of your target customers, success is not far behind.

Chinese investors are great at showing a bump in numbers or for catchy premium name headlines but I’m not sure how much quality they bring to the space. To all be successful we need usage of new gTLDs on the internet. The more usage, the more exposure and the bigger the growth. I don’t think there is anything concrete that will impact growth, I think that registries need to focus on building their TLDs.

Simplicity if the winning launch strategy (for a nTLD registry). Over complication has a really negative impact on launches. Keeping it simple for the user and registrar will make them more attractive.


Gary Fisher Dot TicketsGary Fisher, co-founder and co-CEO at Accent Media Limited (The .tickets registry). Follow Gary on Twitter.

1. I believe we’ll see the first breakthrough brand with a new TLD in much the same way as amazon.com showed the potential for .coms in the mid 90s. My money is on broadway.tickets!

2. Most new TLDs have unsupportable business models and economics, and we will see the first wave of consolidation as registries start going bust and getting snapped up by the stronger players.



bill hartzer globe runner
Bill Hartzer, Senior Strategist at SEO agency Globe Runner. Follow Bill on Twitter.

In 2016, I could see the Chinese domain investors continuing to invest in more domains, especially in certain new gTLD domains. This investment will drive more US domain investors to reconsider their investments, and perhaps start investing in more new gTLD domains. We’ll see more companies start to move their websites away from .com for a better, more descriptive new gTLD domain. And finally, I predict that we’ll see more digital marketers finally realize that recommending that their clients move to a better, more descriptive new gTLD domain (away from a lengthy dot com). They’ll start to realize that the right new gTLD is better for branding, and better for SEM and SEO.

I could easily see us reaching the 25M registrations in 2016, especially as we’ll see more brands start to move to their own Dot Brand domain. Once we see major brands start to use and promote their own Dot Brand domain, consumers will start to “hear about” and embrace the new gTLDs. The average consumer doesn’t even know that the new gTLD exist yet, and I think Dot Brand is going to be the turning point to tip it over the edge, making new gTLDs more “household names” like .COM, .NET, and .ORG are.

There are several hundred Dot Brand applicants that have been approved, and it’s just a matter of time before they start using and promoting their Dot Brand. I won’t make any predictions as to which ones will be launching their Dot Brand in 2016, but I suspect that we’ll see at least two dozen launch their Dot Brand TLDs during 2016.

new .tickets TLD

In the case of .tickets, a premium pricing strategy works because of the particular industry and market. The tickets industry as a whole is very competitive, and .tickets was perfect for that industry. With other new gTLDs, a certain industry hasn’t been tied to the TLD, so it’s made it more difficult to sell domains and get those domain owners to launch websites. I believe the key to having a successful new gTLD is encouraging website development.

I believe a successful launch formula involves getting in front of your ideal domain buyer, not domain investors. Domain buyers who are actually going to move their site to a new domain on that nTLD or develop a new site on that domain. Once actual sites are being built and they start to be visible in an industry, others in the same industry, as well as competitors, will want to follow suit. The key to having a successful launch is connecting with domain buyers and explaining the benefits of owning a new gTLD domain.


sean ottey, RightsideSean Ottey, Technical Evangelist at Rightside. Follow Sean on Twitter

THE NEW WEB – Domains are more available and more descriptive now with the new domain extensions. Now it is time to make them more user-friendly and configurable by a larger part of the population. The 90’s thinking of “a domain is a name for a server” is simply not true anymore. With many households starting up their own private network, naming of nodes, computers, routers, watches, toaster, etc. will come to the forefront of the populace in general.

search.google new web address

THE RISKY PREDICTION – In 2016, Google will move from google.com to search.google. From gmail.com to mail.google. calendar.google.com to calendar.google.


mason cole donutsMason Cole, VP Communications & Industry Relations, Donuts Inc. Follow Mason on Twitter.

First, you’ll see new uses for domain names. As more businesses adopt new gTLDs, you’ll see innovative ways of putting the names to use, plus expanded usage in marketing and advertising. I expect to see more new domains in print, online and in broadcast media.

Second, there still are several gTLDs in contention, and some of them are potentially very valuable. I believe remaining gTLDs in contention will sell for record amounts.

Third, I anticipate additional consolidation in the domain name industry. We’ve already seen some of this in recent months — Neustar acquiring AusRegistry, for example, and CentralNic acquiring Instra — and I think we’ll see more of that in 2016 as the industry sorts itself out.

Finally, I observe that new gTLDs have breathed new life into the domain business at a time it was leveling off. I recall 2013 as a somewhat flat year in terms of investor interest in the industry, but we now see record attendance at NamesCon, ICANN and other industry events.
This has been reflected in company valuations since then — for example, pure-play registrar GoDaddy and pure-play registry Verisign are at record high share prices.

2016 will also be a record year for policy activity as we ramp into the new year.

jean guillonJean Guillon, New gTLD Consultant at Jovenet Consulting. Follow Jean on Twitter.

In 2016, I strongly believe we will start to see ads using new domain names in the street of Europe. We already see some in the US but they are relatively rare in Europe. As a person watching new gTLD figures on a daily basis, there are TLDs I am confident that will see their registration figures increase but some will probably die. I am pretty much impressed by the capacity of some Registries to install their domain names on the market and it appears that .CLUB is the best at demonstrating this, in China in particular: not only they sell their domain names but they keep having new ideas in their pocket to be on top of the race. As an investor, I’d definitively want to team up with them for Round 2 of the ICANN new gTLD program.

I also like to predict that luxury trademarks who invested so much money in their .BRAND will “wake up” and start to demonstrate their capacity to innovate using their new domain names.

I am confident city TLDs will see their registration volumes increase too: geo TLDs are the best opportunity for local businesses. I am not against “.com” and 2016 is far too early to say that it is the end of this extension but many “.com” owners that I meet tell me: “hey, I didn’t know about these new domain names but I definitely need mine”; so I guess new gTLDs are a fashion that will take time to install but…it will install.

Joe Alagna, 101domain.comJoe Alagna, V.P. Channel Development at 101domain.com. Follow Joe on Twitter

I suspect that we’ll see double digit growth in the new gTLD space in 2016. Awareness of new gTLDs is still very low. Applicants have been focused on acquisition and contention resolution in 2015 so in 2016, we should see a lot more investment in awareness. There will also be the effect of usage in the marketplace to grow awareness. As more and more end users build sites on vertically oriented gTLDs others will follow. I would venture to say that we may even double the number of registrations by the end of 2016.

Although I believe that there is a great case for dot-brand type usage, I think that the adoption is going to take longer than many expect. There will likely be some that will waver between convictions; should we go to our new brand-based gTLD or should we wait? These applicants are the largest in the world and have comprehensive .com websites where so many considerations will come into play. I’m sure we’ll see many of them forwarding to their primary sites this year but I have a feeling that true adoption is going to take much more time.

.Club did well because it is a truly useful ecommerce gTLD. As far as premium pricing strategies, I’m a fan as long as it is not completely unreasonable. I think that .law, .tickets, and .bank hit a proper balance. There are a few others recently that I think have taken “premium” too far out of bounds to achieve real success. In general, I think that most registries have taken the premium idea too far, holding back too many premiums, and pricing them too high. In my view this will hold back the success of new gTLDs in the long term. I believe we would gain more traction as an industry by interfering in the market less. To succeed, they need users and stakeholders that are committed to their TLDs. Those stakeholders come in the form of domain investors who bet on the success of their domains. If the registry holds back too many domains or prices them out of the market or tries to control end users too strongly, they lose that benefit. They don’t have to price domains at $5 or $10 dollars a year to succeed; I think that depending on their goals, a price range in the range of $50 to $150 per year is acceptable. But then, don’t hold back too many premiums or try to tell registrants what to do with their domains. Let the market work things out.

I’m on record as saying that .web will be a great new gTLD, so I suppose I should stick with that as my prediction for top release in 2016.

I have no doubt that the Chinese domain awakening will continue throughout the coming year. It’s a big country and they are just starting to realize the value of digital real estate. The nature of our business is very conducive to continued success there. In fact, I believe that developing nations around the world will contribute to continued success of the domain name business. Having so many new choices and options available should contribute to that. Even though the world is more connected than ever before, there are large masses who still don’t know how to use the Internet for their own benefit. I believe that domain names will continue to grow as more Internet users migrate from consumers of information to creators of information. That transition is still in its infancy.

christa taylor dottba
Christa Taylor, CEO at New gTLD consultancy DotTBA. Follow Christa on Twitter.

My first prediction is the concept that registrants will choose and pay for meaningful, relevant domain names will continue in 2016. Strong TLDs that are easily understood by registrants or have been sufficiently promoted so registrants recognize the TLD will continue to grow and receive the greatest, and most deserved, benefits from industry growth.

I predict that by the end of the 2016 the 80/20 rule will apply with the top 20% of new gTLDs receiving 80% of both revenues and registration volumes. The concern of course, is how much revenue the remaining 80% of new gTLD businesses will earn and the potential impacts to their business. As 25% of new gTLDs have a yearly registration volume of ~2,500 and an average retail price of ~$35 they are operating a loss. For these non-portfolio, new gTLD companies, it is a quest against time and selling their premium domain names to ensure sustainability. Thus, increased industry awareness and the utilization of any channels to promote the industry, including the use of ICANN auction funds of $60+ million, would be beneficial to all new gTLDs. Secondly, new gTLD launches that gain a spot in the top 20% will have an emerging markets’ component within their launch strategy. While they will have to endure increased regulatory issues with the Chinese government, other emerging markets such as India will begin to sprout. While it will take time to gather momentum, registries who have strategically poised their TLD will seize a dominant market position along with the associated revenues. New gTLDs that bundle additional services such as an ‘easy setup’ website will boost traction while cultivating further growth.

Finally, consolidation and integration between registries, registrars and backend providers will further expand the breadth of their services and revenue streams. Similarly, new gTLD portfolio companies will improve their market position by focusing on expansion, gross margins and effectiveness within the marketplace while smaller or individual new gTLDs will reconsider their business plans and how best to proceed with the current market conditions. 2016 will undoubtedly be another interesting year for everyone within the new gTLD industry.


Bill doshier dot buzzBill Doshier, founder, dotStrategy, Co., The .buzz Registry. Follow dotStrategy on Twitter.

New top level domain registrations soar toward 100 million as mass brand adoption, development and education efforts gain traction.

Late 2016 – as new top level domain registration totals plow through 80 million strong – the domain.buzz focus is on which registry and domain registration will become the 100 millionth new top level domain registered. Bloggers feed the momentum with endless speculative posts, complete with the daily count to 100 million. Michael Berkens runs his most successful TheDomains.Com poll ever. Registry operators fuel the new registration energy by offering – BUY 1 DOMAIN GET 10 FREE!!! deals. All aspire to be a part of this 2016 industry event of the year.

Acceptance of these cool, fun and meaningful new domains sweep the globe. New websites increase awareness, boosting 2016 registration totals exponentially. .nyc registration totals explode as City Hall opens new registrations to the world. Pre-launch – in those early application days – the idea of limiting .nyc registrations to residents of the five boroughs certainly seemed a just and noble cause. Supported by city government, this new massive digital undertaking- provided as a service to the people -looked great on paper. In 2016, New York City now operates one of the most valuable Internet properties ever. Attaching a governor to this most dynamic of city based top level domains appears to be a small slip-up, perhaps occurring during a confusing application process. No big deal. Many new registry applicants would take a mulligan on their initial registry application. The good news is this will be corrected. NYC, recognizing the positive global potential of .nyc for both the City and its residents moves to open up .nyc domain registrations for all. A world of new business prospects and web developers anxiously wait. ICANN announces top level domain registry application round two is postponed spurring a malady referred to as RHAA. The continuing chaos that is ICANN forces the industry overseer to postpone top level domain application round two. New registry operators emboldened by this development, and the ongoing successes of 2016, hold tightly to their treasured registries and new opportunities.

‘Registry Heightened Acquisition Anxiety’ expands to epidemic status. The only known RHAA cure is registry ownership and the feel good opportunity to be a player in the new Internet age. In 2016, industry consolidation occurs through numerous registry acquisitions. Acquiring principals from outside the domain community make themselves and their desires known -driving offerings for all domain registries to new high multiples.

Rubens Kohl, nic.br

Rubens Kuhl, Product Marketing Manager at nic.br. Follow Rubens on Twitter

I see 2016 as a year when registries will look to cost efficiencies, either for them to survive the slow pace (compared to projections made at application time) or to invest more in marketing than what they invested in 2015.

2016 will also feature some instances of the China unknown where all of sudden Chinese investors get all interested in a TLD, and not because of specific business development targeted at China.

In the brand arena, financial organisations will keep being the early adopters, but in 2016 we will probably see media groups (BBC, NHK etc.) start moving as well.

______________________

You’ve heard the predictions of some of the leading experts in the domain industry. Let me know what you think in the comments.

One thing is for sure: 2016 will be another exciting year for the new TLDs.

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  • Christa Taylor

    Nicely summarized Christopher. There are definitely a few ‘themes’ to the 2016 predictions and it will be interesting to see how they roll out along with any surprises!

    • http://www.europeandomaincentre.com/ Christopher Hofman

      Thanks Christa. I’m sure there will be many surprises in 2016 😉

  • Andre Forrester

    Great piece here Christopher with some great advice. Thanks for putting this together!

    • http://www.europeandomaincentre.com/ Christopher Hofman

      Thanks Andre. Yes, they did a great job 😉

  • http://LinkedIn.com/in/DomainNameConsultant Joseph Peterson

    There’s a startling degree of consensus here.

    Konstantinos Zournas and I both wish to steer the conversation away from Quantity towards Quality. As he points out, credit.cards offers something that creditcards.web doesn’t, even though .WEB is expected to beat .CARDS in terms of overall numbers. We must look for smaller successes – often in isolated niches. Individual stories mean more than tally marks.

    A number of people apart from me are emphasizing domain placement with end users. Kathy Nielsen mentions “promotions that encourage development and usage”; she wants niche marketing “directly to the end user” as opposed to “a mass, generic audience”. Rob Rozicki is with me in seeing Chinese registrations as being of dubious quality, stessing that “we need usage” not numbers. Likewise, Bill Hartzer says the “key” is “encouraging website development”; and when he says this means “getting in front of your ideal domain buyer, not domain investors”, it’s clear he also believes registries have gone after short-term gains and taken the wrong long-term course.

    Domainers do matter. I’ve called them the outsourced, unpaid marketing arm of registries. Whether end users or domainers, registries need “stakeholders that are committed to their TLDs”, as Joe Alagna remarks. But relying on domainers is no substitute for real registry marketing. Both must work in concert. As a matter of fact, registries get in domainers’ way with outlandish pricing and long reserved lists. Joe Alagna is right in saying “we would gain more traction as an industry by interfering in the market less.”

    In general, registries overestimated demand and underestimated the uphill battle they’d face in securing awareness / adoption. Michele Neylon is not alone in shaking his head at “very strange assumptions about how their TLDs would be adopted and what price point the market would bear”.

    With few exceptions, marketing has been unsuccessful in gaining meaningful end-user adoption. 2016 should see the focus there.

    • http://www.europeandomaincentre.com/ Christopher Hofman

      Great summary Joseph. It would be interesting to hear from Mason, Sean and the other new TLD registries how they plan to focus on marketing efforts differently in 2016. My hope is that ICANN decides to go full steam ahead sponsoring the global awareness of the new TLDs. While their quarterly global awareness studies are valuable to know where we stand, they should make an effort to promote the concept as well.

      • Graham Haynes

        Hi Christopher
        ICANN are not going to promote or sponsor one string over another. Its in their constitution. Nor will they promote a whole class i.e new gTLDs over the legacy TLDs for the same reason. The registry(s) have to do it themselves, they knew the rules before they applied and ICANN is not there to invest and do the heavy lifting regarding new gTLD awareness.

        Having so many new gTLDs has diluted their value and effectiveness. The registry(s) are mainly now trying to rinse domain speculators as they change their business model to sell for a $1 in the first year and hope enough renew and achieve profit in subsequent years at the higher renewal price. Even the much praised .club is doing this in China. The China market is slowing dramatically, in the first 4 months of the year.

        Consolidation whereby the failing strings will be acquired for cents on the dollar will now happen and Mind+Machines are in dire trouble and only keeping afloat by losing so many contested auctions. Operationally in big loss making territory. They are selling .work for a $1 and its accounts for a third of all their registrations!

        • http://www.europeandomaincentre.com/ Christopher Hofman

          Hi Graham, thanks for your comment. I’m not saying that they should promote one tld over another. For my sake they can promote .biz until people’s ears fall off. Their coffers have been filled the last years, by the very same people who now need their help. They should allocate a huge amount to promote ALL the options available. Most people only know .com, which isn’t fair to the rest of the programme. I’d be happy to donate our all TLDs infographic with an ICANN logo, if they would do worldwide advertorials for it ;).,

          • Graham Haynes

            I would love it if someone used their money to promote/market my product. I’m sure we will hear this more and more as some of the new gTLDs fail. Blame ICANN, in any way you want to couch it, for lack of promotion. In truth the registry(s) thought there would be people queuing up to purchase their names. ICANN’s purpose is to make the naming system stable and inter-operable and not promotion marketing, they are non profit making and this is the registry responsibility.
            What we are now seeing is the realisation of the prediction made in 2011 by ICANN founding chairman Esther Dyson who wrote an argument against the proliferation of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs), a reversal in policy that allowed for the creation of numerous top-level domains for arbitrary purposes, like .cloud, .rich, .plumbing, and for reasons that defy logic, both .black and .blackfriday.
            Dyson predicted that this expansion would “create lots of work for
            lawyers, marketers of search-engine optimization, registries, and
            registrars” constituting what is ultimately a “waste of resources.”
            There simply is not the demand because the legacy TLDs offered enough options/supply to satisfy the current demand.
            Its a long play now to see if there is increased demand in future to justify a 1000 newGTLDs – not in my life time.
            As an aside why not use the shortner EuropeanDomain.center available at $30 a year, why because there is no need, your dot com URL does very nicely and it saves explaining to everyone its .center and not .center.com or center.com, a classic reason why they are not being adopted.

          • http://www.europeandomaincentre.com/ Christopher Hofman

            You can find doom sayers in any niche. I would onlylisten to Elon Musk. I have great fun listening to Howard Fellman on LinkedIn if you want to tune into a .com evangelist 😉 i have always stated that the new TLDs was a second chance for startups to get a great domain name, which in some cases is better than .com. Changing domain hardly only makes sense, when you rebrand your business (although I did write a post about 50 businesses which upgraded their domain name without rebranding.

          • Graham Haynes

            I agree with that Christopher, Elon Musk is inspirational and being an owner of one of his cars Ive brought into him. I also agree with the new gTLDs being great for start ups and those that are looking to re brand and cant afford the .com or ccTLD. Where I think we diverge, is I believe many will fail simply because there is not enough start ups/rebranding to justify so many gTLDs for example in the same genre; .photos .photo .photography .digital .pics or if you think you are a genius in photography, photography.guru .ninja .pro and the list goes on……. Not sustainable.
            You can find cheerleaders in any niche aswell, especially if they are invested and suffer from confirmation bias.

          • http://www.europeandomaincentre.com/ Christopher Hofman

            Many will fail as in any other abundant market . Eg the US has seen 1.800 car manufacturers since 1896. How many are left today? But let’s at least give them reasonable working conditions, ICANN decided to sell tickets to everyone. We went from 260 to 800 tlds in two years. Completely overwhelming for businesses and internet users. It’s only fair that Icann spend some of this money to inform what’s available and build trust.

          • Graham Haynes

            We are getting to a consensus. Many will fail simply because there is too many. Everyone knew the rules when they applied and no one was shouting then ICANN needed to invest to inform the public; applicants could of simply not applied if they thought the chances of success are greatly reduced if ICANN didn’t invest. The build trust part, is a little laughable when you consider of those xyz domains in use, 90% are being employed to spam or scam people. Selling at less than $10 will always attract spammers and the registries are doing very little to police it because that’s their main revenue stream spammers and domainers. It’s all so short term at the scarfice of goodwill and the only awareness most of the public will experience is going to be negative. Early days and always time to change perceptions. So good luck to them. Great article Christopher be good if you did another in 2017 and if you want a domainers point of view be glad to oblige, clearly I’m not a great fan so adds balance.

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