When you type in a brand’s domain name, you usually type the brand and then add .com.au. These days you just type the brand into the address bar and Google usually gives you the site you are after (along with a few competitor ads). Alternatively, people click a link from social media and don’t see the domain name. So does the domain name even matter anymore? The answer is both yes and no.
While British computer scientist Tim Berners Lee is credited with establishing the internet, America was the first to commercialise it and, as such, set up the name system of .com, .net, .org, gov, .mil and .edu to symbolise the different type of organisation. These were known as top level domain names and quickly became international domains (except .gov) and people from around the world could register in this name space without much restriction. Countries around the world wanted to set up their own extensions and registries for their citizens. For example, England -.co.uk, New Zealand - .co.nz and Australia - .com.au. This was particularly important for countries that spoke different languages and required domain names in their language, control over the names registered and sovereignty. These country code extensions created new markets and opportunities. Many of these countries followed a similar naming format of .com, .net and .org. Some countries (eg. the UK) chose to use .co instead of .com.
Many organisations like QANTAS, ANZ and Luminary, purchased both the .com and .com.au, seeking to operate in multiple markets while also protecting their brand. Most countries had policy restrictions that limited who could register a domain name to protect intellectual property rights and provide businesses and organisations with an opportunity to be part of the internet land grab. In the .com space, pretty much anyone could register a domain name providing it did not infringe on a trademark, so speculators rushed to register domain names to sell, creating a secondary market.
As the number of domain names registered increased, it became difficult for many people to register the name they wanted. So after years of debate, ICANN (domain name governing body) allowed registries to create new domain name extensions such as .club, .earth, .faith, .green, .gay and of course .ninja.
Some countries didn’t follow the categorisation format of .com and allowed people to register in just the country code. For example, the island of Tuvalu setup .tv instead of .com.tv. This created a huge opportunity for the small pacific island to legitimately sell a domain name extension to media companies around the world who were keen to distinguish themselves from the .com. Twitch.tv is possibly the most successful, choosing to market the .tv extension, even though it also owns .com.
With so many different extensions, does the traditional categorisation of domains matter anymore? The AU Domain Administration (auDA) has been debating this for many years and in March this year will allow Australians to register directly with just the .au (known as direct registration), without the categorisation (e.g .com.au). So yourname.com.au or yourname.net.au can also be registered as yourname.au. This is a significant change and many purists lament the loss of the structure of the domain name extension, while many others argue that countries like New Zealand have been able to register yourname.nz without the .co for many years.
From 24 March 2022 you will be able to register yourname.au without the .com or .net.
As you own yourname.com.au, you might think that you are automatically going to get yourname.au. This is not the case. However, you are likely to be able to get it.
Existing holders of a .au domain name licence (registrants) will have the first opportunity to apply for Priority Status to register the exact match of their existing domain name at the .au direct level through the Priority Allocation Process. Under the process, exact matches of all names in the Australian registry prior to launch will be reserved for .au direct during the six-month Priority Allocation period. During this period, eligible registrants may apply for Priority Status through an accredited auDA registrar. For example, during the Priority Allocation period, the pre-existing registrant of getyour.com.au can apply for Priority Status for getyour.au.
The six-month Priority Allocation period starts on the .au direct launch date, 24 March 2022.
What happens if there are multiple Priority Status applications for the same .au direct domain name?
You have yourname.net.au and someone else has yourname.com.au. Whichever domain was created first, will be able to register yourname.au.
Who is eligible?
This is a substantial change. Simply, all you need is an Australian presence and you can register a name of your choosing, instead of the need to match your name or be the name of an existing service, good, event, activity or premises that you provide.
Should I register for Priority Access to get yourname.au?
Yes, definitely. Due to the fact that the eligibility rules will be different under direct registration, someone else may be able to register yourname.au. Your intellectual property rights will be retained, but to protect your brand, you are better off registering yourname.au even if you do not make it the primary domain or advertise it in your collateral.
Can I just stick with .com.au?
As many people search for brands rather than typing in the domain name, you might ask yourself, why bother promoting yourname.au? Why not just stick with yourname.com.au? You certainly can. In time you might switch to yourname.au as the primary domain, giving more focus on your brand. You get the benefit of the .au and you end up with a shorter domain that focuses more on your brand, e.g. luminary.au. Is luminary.au better than luminary.com? Well it depends on the circumstances and your market and brand strategy.
Opponents to direct registration in .au have said that it is an impost on businesses who now have to register yet another name. Several believe that it is a cash grab by registrars rather than the modernisation of .au in a crowded market. Both might be true. With over three million .au domains registered (most of them .com.au), there will be strong interest in direct registration in March and you should register for priority access to yourname.au and decide what to do with it later.
Marty was a Director of the AU Domain Administration from 2006 to 2012.
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