From country codes to internationalized domain names

One of the main lessons of the Web Globalization Report Card is the importance of providing “entry points” to your localized websites.

These gates begin with the addresses themselves, which may not include the .com domain. In fact, I would recommend most localized websites not to use the .com domain, as it is an overloaded domain.

This article examines the many ways that brands create more localized addresses, starting with country code top-level domains (ccTLDs).

Country codes

There are over 250 country codes in the world. Some are extremely popular, like .of in Germany and .jp in Japan. Others have been authorized for purposes far beyond their own country, such as .co (Colombia) which is used as the shorthand domain .com.

Let’s look at the .fr (France).

It has over 3.6 million registrations, up 7% in 2020. But what is most interesting is the growing percentage of domains registered by foreign owners:

Percentage of .FR domain names registered by foreign registrants

This is a sign that more and more international companies are investing in the field in order to better connect with the locals. In many countries around the world, brands that use country codes enjoy a higher level of trust with consumers.

According to the 2021 school report, over two-thirds of the websites surveyed now use country codes for one or more local websites.

Internationalized domain names

If you’ve looked carefully at the country code map above, you may have noticed that each ccTLD is displayed in Latin characters. And yet, most of the countries in the world do not speak languages ​​that use Latin characters, such as China, Russia, and most Middle East.

Which brings us to internationalized domain names (IDNs). Below is a map of IDNs around the world:

Adoption of IDNs has been very uneven, due to many factors. But I would say that Russia is one of the leaders in its adoption of IDNs. South Korea was also one of the early adopters of IDNs.

André Schappo has organized a number of IDNs here. Such as IDNs in Korean (Hangul script):

Regional domains

Although the country codes are aligned with the United Nations definition of the country, there are regions in the world which do not adhere to this definition, or which are more specific to the culture or the city. These domains fall under the generic top level domain (gTLD) and include domains such as .NYC, .Berlin and .cat (Calatan).

For example, suppose you want to target Scotland. You can register .co.uk thinking it will do the trick. But there is this little mess known as Brexit that could see Scotland getting off the ship for the European Union. So what then?

Well, there is .scot. So far, I haven’t seen many examples of international organizations using this domain, but many local examples, like the Scottish Parliament (parliament.scot):

And the nature agency of Scotland:

One regional area that is growing in popularity is.cat, for Catalan.

Airbnb is one of the first to adopt this domain:

Brand areas

Then there are the domains that companies register to support their brands. Imagine a brand name without a suffix, just .brandname.

This is probably the most fascinating aspect of domain names today because it allows brands to become de facto registrars. In other words, a trademark can use its registered domain to offer an unlimited number of services, limited only by its imagination. For example, Bmw (which registered the .bmw) could offer its customers their own personalized BMW email addresses. Here are two websites that are currently using their branded TLDs:

Barclays

KPMG

For now, brand domains are more potential than real; hope that will change in the coming year.

Think local

These options are just that, options. What matters most in the end is which option matters most to your customers in the world. You may find that ccTLDs work better in some markets while .com works better in others. While I tend to prefer a more consistent strategy globally, few companies have registered all potential ccTLDs. And branded domains, while impressive, come with significant upfront and ongoing costs that are well beyond the reach of most small businesses.


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