2016 Domain Year in Review

It’s that time of year when the domain industry reflects on 2016 and makes predictions for 2017. Last year I made a number of predictions. I knew that new gTLDs would continue to dominate discussions throughout the year. I anticipated that new gTLD use would increase. I knew there would be important developments in the ICANN community. Finally, I anticipated that companies would continue to face advanced security threats.

Here are the details on my top five domain highlights from 2016:

Launches, Launches and More Launches

It was a busy year for domains. Not only did new gTLDs continue to launch throughout the year, there were second level ccTLD launches, such as .SB (Solomon Islands) and the re-launch of .TH (Thailand), registry regulation changes, one and two-character premium domain name launches, and several Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) introduced to the domain market. Verisign reported in their Q2 2016 Industry Brief that global domain registrations across all top level domains grew by 12.9 percent, year over year, reaching a total of approximately 334.6 Million domains by the end of Q2 2016.

Evolving Security Threats

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are nothing new, however, there was a troubling spike with the frequency and size of such attacks, especially towards the later part of the year. Domain owners faced sophisticated phishing scams aimed at stealing valuable login credentials and/or customer data, and the increasing number of domain hijacks at retail registrars was a disturbing trend. Any of these tactics, if successful, could be disastrous to a company’s online presence. Having mitigation plans and preemptive security measures in place, such Two-Factor authentication and Registry Locking, can help protect critical assets should a successful attack take place.

ICANN Developments

MarkMonitor joined colleagues from around the world at regional ICANN meetings throughout the year. 2016 witnessed the long planned and often misunderstood transition of the IANA oversight to the ICANN community, in the spirit of the multi-stakeholder model. New gTLDs continued to be a hot topic, with the New gTLD Subsequent Rounds Policy Develop Process (PDP) Working Group, multiple work tracks and Rights Protection Mechanism (RPM) Reviews underway. Other topics affecting brand owner included Privacy/Proxy Services Accreditation Implementation (PPSAI), the future of Whois /Registration Directory Services (RDS), and ICANN’s role in abuse mitigation.

New gTLDs

While the total number of new gTLDs delegated decreased from just over 120 in 2015 to a little more than 60 in 2016, the topic of new gTLDs in general continued to dominate headlines. Several registries and registrars offered deeply discounted promotional or blitz pricing in an effort to boost sales, brand owners were subject to inflated sunrise fees and special brand protection” pricing tiers where they essentially pay premium prices to protect their brand and news surrounding problematic registry models continued to grab headlines including the filing of a Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Procedure (PICDRP) by major brand owners. We also witnessed the largest URS decision to date filed by Ashley Furniture Industries resulting in the suspension of 474 domain names.

Consolidations and Acquisitions

Stories about new company partnerships acquisitions consolidations and divestitures rounds off my list of top five 2016 highlights. Quite a few new gTLDs changed operational hands during 2016. We saw some TLDs move to new registries such as .JETZT moving from Neustar to Donuts and several TLDs moved from Minds + Machines to Nominet. Domain registrars were acquired by other registrars and we saw website building platforms and other service providers expand their services into the domain reseller business. I anticipate we’ll continue to see these types of consolidations and acquisitions throughout 2017.

Domain Management in 2017

What do we expect to see in 2017? I recommend brands with sizable domain portfolios focus on some critical areas. Now that the first round of new gTLD launches is nearly complete brand owners should refocus their strategies to build a portfolio with an appropriate composition. They should continue to make strategic registration decisions to ensure proper brand coverage but they should also look for creative opportunities to reach an international audience and make stronger customer connections. In addition brand protection efforts should be balanced with defensive registrations to minimize enforcements costs. Companies should continue to focus on maximizing the value of their domain portfolio through domain utilization and capturing and measuring traffic on all domains. They should also remain vigilant about protecting critical domain assets by reviewing domain management and DNS security settings and employing appropriate levels of security like Two-Factor Authentication IP Access Restrictions and Registry Locking where available.

To learn more about top domain management strategies for 2017 be sure to join me for a free webinar on Thursday January 26th. Register here.