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A very real and potentially dangerous issue for brands is the continual reliance on obscure country code domains for URL shortening services. Recent reports have emerged that the country code domain .ly will no longer allow domains with 4 or less characters to be registered by users outside of Libya. What exactly does that mean for marketers that are using popular URL shorteners like bit.ly and ow.ly today? It means more risk. As a brand owner who is spending thousands or even millions of dollars on your social media campaigns, the solution is very simple – get your own top-level domain, and control your own destiny.
While some country codes are responsibly managed (Afilias supports over 10 country codes including .ME which Facebook and WordPress have adopted as URL shorteners), not every country code registry can claim the same. Country code TLDs are subject to the whims of the ccTLD domain authority and are outside the purview of ICANN. Most have no agreement with ICANN; many are not supported by standards compliant registry software or technical administrators that specialize in this area; and some don't even have a globally redundant, load-balanced Anycasted DNS network ensuring their reliability.
Given these serious issues, there are a few critical issues that any brand owner should address about URL shortening services based on a country code domain:
Registration: Is the registry for the ccTLD domain operated professionally with internationally-standardized registration policies that you can count on? As I mentioned, .ly has recently changed their registration policy to prohibit the registration of domains with less than 4 characters for owners that do not reside in Libya. While they say they will grandfather in existing sites (presumably bit.ly and ow.ly), they also have taken down and suspended other sites according to changes in their registration policies. It also means that no other non-Libyan companies will be able to use a .ly address the purpose of URL shortening – at least not unless you wish to incorporate in Libya and likely be subject to their Internet policy, privacy and access standards. There is certainly no guarantee that other country code operators won't change their policies either or levy onerous censorship standards on content displayed on links within their domain.
Domain Hijacking: Both a registry and registrar are involved in creating a domain name that can be used as a URL shortener. For example, "bit" is a second level domain name registered via a domain name registrar with the .ly registry (sometimes it can be confusing for countries where the registry is also the registrar). You want to ensure that, whatever the process to obtain a name, the access to the ownership information about the name is secured and that there are policies to prevent someone who is not the real owner, from claiming ownership and stealing the name. Imagine what would happen if someone hijacked bit.ly and all the active short URLs were redirected to malware!
DNS stability: DNS is the technology that converts the name you type into your browser into an IP address, looks it up in the global "phone book" we call the DNS Root, and transports you to the website you want to see. While corporations are responsible for their own DNS (e.g.: bit.ly as a company runs DNS for all lookups to bit.ly), registry operators also have to run DNS for lookups to the TLD itself (.e.g.: .ly). If you use a URL shortener in a ccTLD that is under-provisioned, you run the risk of failure if usage is so heavy that the TLD's capacity is overwhelmed. If responsible, country code registry operators will either beef-up their own DNS network or enable adequate capacity by outsourcing DNS operations to a managed DNS provider that has a large, global network. Has the shortening service YOU use done this? If you are like most users of URL shorteners, you have no idea.
These questions and issues are all very scary for a brand owner that needs to make sure their press releases and digital marketing campaigns get published online, whether in search engines or social media. The good news is that all of these issues simply go away for an organization if they get their own top-level domain when ICANN opens up its application process for new TLDs (which is expected soon).
Owning a new TLD provides any organization with the ability to completely control their Internet address across the Web, before and after the dot. It also removes the risk of anyone hijacking any of the domains that you own. But most importantly, it can allow the organization to communicate with its global online audience via trusted links with its known brand, under its own control.
Afilias can provide registry services for prospective new TLD applicants. View more information on our services for new TLDs.