Country domain name extensions, or country code top-level domain (ccTLD) are internet top-level domains generally used or reserved for sites based within a country, sovereign state, or dependent territory that identifies with a country code.
Each country has their own domain extension specified by the International Standards Organization. ccTLDs consist of two characters. The first ccTLDs were those of the United States – .US, United Kingdom with .UK, and Italy with .IT in 1985.
What are the benefits of using country domain extensions?
You have higher chance to get the domain name you like – since most good domain names in popular global domain extensions have long been registered.
Since most .com domain names that are short, brandable and with a meaning are already registered, the only way to get them is often by acquiring them from their existing owner. Premium domain names are digital assets, and so in a similar way to real estate, they can get quite pricey. With a country domain extension you are more likely to be able to secure a domain matching your brand name for lower cost.
If you use a .FR domain name it is clear to your audience that you are selling to a French audience. A German audience would trust and feel comfortable with a website ending on .DE (even if I always struggle remembering it is not for Denmark, who’s ccTLD is in fact .DK). Using a country extension for a business indicates that it is aimed towards a local audience. Many global brands use local domain extensions for their country specific websites – you can find Nike in France on nike.fr, or Amazon in Germany on Amazon.de.
What are the risks of using country domain name extensions?
Issues with country code domain names are not uncommon. Since each country extension is governed by the country and/or private companies they sign agreements with, those can be affected by any choices made by the country itself (like in the Brexit case), or can find themselves in the middle of scandals between the parties involved in governing them. Some of them are also more prone to hacker attacks.
Many registrars are more than happy to advertise a .io domain name to you but how many .io owners actually know who owns and regulates .io domains? I don’t think it’s a large stretch to say that most domain owners know little to nothing about the entities behind their domain name. The question that is asked even less is “What is this domain extension’s track record for security?”.
Matthew Bryant, Security researcher
Here are some examples of geography related domain extensions and the potential issues with them.
Can I use a .EU Domain Name After Brexit?
After the UK formally left the EU on 31st January 2020, there was a transition period set that temporarily held off any changes, so the the UK and the EU could negotiate their future relationship. This process finished on the 31st December 2020. Domain names did not go unaffected by Brexit. In October 2020 there were over 317 000 .eu domain names registered in the UK for individual and business purposes. All those domain owners had the clock ticking on switching their websites to an alternative domain name or proving they have an address in a European country in order to keep their .EU domain name.
Imagine building a business, brand and reputation, accumulating traffic and emails on your .EU domain for years. Doesn’t seem like a fun (nor cheap!) process to go through. On the 1st of January 2021 all UK organisations and citizens operating on a .EU domain had their websites stop working. A very ironic example is the Leave.eu domain name – the one used to campaign for Brexit and registered to the organization of the same name, which had been spearheaded by former Brexiteer Nigel Farage and funded by UKIP funder Arron Banks. The domain name is currently not resolving.
Is a .CO Domain Good?
The .CO domain name extension was introduced in 1991 AD and was originally registered for Columbia. Before it was taken from a Colombian university and made available for registrations by a private company, the .CO registry only had a few thousand domains. The new operators embarked on a massive rebranding campaign and soon you could see .CO domains advertised to entrepreneurs, startups, and even being featured during America’s annual Superbowl.
The result – explosion in popularity and profits for the registrar. After the contract ran out – 10 years, a controversial rebidding process, accusations of corruption, and resignation calls for a government minister followed, resulting in Colombia’s .CO contract to return to its current operator, Neustar.
With the new deal Colombia will receive 81% of the profits from the $2.3-million-strong domain extension, a choice of many trendy startups. For reference under the previous agreement the country was only getting 6 or 7 %. The new contract will only run for five years and the government will have more of a say in how the registry is run under a “new operating model”.
As of February 2021 there are over 3 million registered .co domain names, so for all those let’s hope the new management works well!
What Does .TV Stand For?
You may think it stands for Television but the domain name extension .TV is actually the country code domain for Tuvalu, a country in Polynesia. Which shouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that Tuvalu is entire territory is situated on less than 2 meters above sea. With climate change its disappearance is sadly a matter of time.
As per The Country Code Names Supporting Organisation (ccNSO) has submitted a new recommended policy “If the code element is removed, the ccTLD is eligible for Retirement. Reason for removal is not of relevance.” Or simply put, if there is no Tuvalu, there is no .TV.
Given the .TV domain extension represents lucrative opportunities, there have been quite a few scandals about how tit is managed, and whether Tuvaluans get the best deal from their most valuable digital asset.
Is it Ok to Use .ME Domain Name?
When Yugoslavia split into Serbia and Montenegro, each of the newly formed countries got their own domain extension. The .YU for Yugoslavia got retired, Serbia now has .RS and Montenegro got .ME.
Montenegro’s government announced a formal public RFP in 2007 and a local registered LLC doMEn Ltd won (it’s a joint venture by GoDaddy.com, Afilias Limited and ME-net, Ltd). The company has an agreement to run the registry until next year – 2023.
According to the statistical office of Montenegro, the total value of exports for the country was €317.2 million in 2015. For the same year the revenue from .me domain names was €6.5 million. Since most of the registrations of .ME domain names are from outside Montenegro, that means .ME accounted for just over 2% of total exports for that year.
The possibility of owning a verb and noun combinations as domain extension continues to lure in private individuals and businesses. The question is who will own the .ME extension next?
What Happened to .LY Domains?
.LY is the country extension for Lybia. It was introduced back in 1988 and is managed by the registry LYNIC. It wasn’t always the case though.
In 1997, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) granted authority for .ly to somebody named Kalil Elwiheshi. Mr. Elwiheshi provided with his application, an address in Tripoli, Libya’s capital. At the time, the IANA did not have the resources to do thorough checks, so Mr. Elwiheshi became the technical manager of .LY’s registry.
Fast forward to April 2004 where 12,400 domains ending in .LY disappeared. The British company managing it had disappeared, too, and for some time nobody knew what to do. According to Bridle, “some but not all” of the domains came back online within a few days, a “Dr. Hosni Tayeb” sent a cryptic email to all domain holders communicating, in broken English, that everything was fine: “Thank you very much for your concern about .LY ccTLD. People do care around!”
LYNIC seems to be doing a better job at making sure domain names don’t disappear. At least those that comply with the rules.
According to the registration site, registered .LY domain names must not be “obscene, scandalous, indecent, or contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality”.
Similar to the .ME and .CO extensions, the .LY one has attracted businesses who use it in creative ways – brands like embed.ly, crowd.ly, Ow.ly, and the popular link shortner Bit.ly. How do you make sure your business is in compliance with the register rules though?
Sex columnist Violet Blue found out the hard way. She started her own “sex positive” URL shortener – vb.ly – similar to bit.ly, but unlike that site, it doesn’t ban porn in its T&Cs. Libya ended up cutting off the vb.ly site, taking all the shortened links with it. Ouch.
.IO is the domain extension for British Indian Ocean Territory. This ccTLD saw a rise in popularity with tech startups due to the input/output reference. You may think that’s a great thing right? The people of the British Indian Ocean Territory are actually getting pretty much nothing and the sales of .IO domain names just adds to the list of wrongs being done to them.
I am afraid that this is another example of the Chagossian people being robbed — when there were tuna fishing licences for sale the exiled Chagossians saw none of the profits, nor any of the tourist fees, nor of course the billions of pounds of rent paid by the U.S. military for leasing our homeland.
Sabrina Jean, the chair of the U.K. Chagos Support Association
In a time where consumers are increasingly more conscious about not just profits, but moral values, it is wise for entrepreneurs to start considering factors beyond just the benefits of a domain extensions for their brand.
In July 2021 a consumer group and a human rights group joined forces to file a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) detailing consumer and human rights harms committed by Afilias Ltd, the current manager of the .IO domain name extension. Afilias Ltd bought the .IO TLD for $70 million in 2018. And if you wonder, yes, that is the same Afilias from the .ME paragraph above, they have been involved in quite a few dodgy stories around determining who is responsible for new extensions.
Dr. Jonathan Levy, the international lawyer representing the Chagos community, while .IO is utilized by legitimate companies, it is also often used for crypto asset based criminal operations: Ponzi schemes, money laundering fronts, cryptocurrency gambling and fraudulent Initial Coin and Token offerings.
Afilias as an Irish company acquired .IO knowing full well its sordid past, connection to human rights abuses, and ongoing criminality. They should make restitution and divest before their liability increases.
Dr. Jonathan Levy, the international lawyer
As a side note, Ireland voted along with 115 other UN members in 2019 condemning the continued occupation of the Chagos Archipelago by the United Kingdom.
What is a .GG domain?
The .GG domain extension is the country code for the Bailiwick of Guernsey. The islands have a peculiar constitutional status and political position. The extension was introduced in 1996 and hasn’t really been very popular until up until recently. The reason? GG is a common abbreviation for Good Game, so with the rise of online gaming, many sites, communities and game related projects started using it for their online presence.
At the time of writing of this post being a citizen of Guernsey is not a requirement to register a .GG domain name. The registration fee is higher than that of .COM – currently it is at around $70 USD per year (compared to under $10-$15 USD for .COM).
As per the terms of the governing body of the .GG domains “If it reasonably appears to the Registry in consultation with its own legal advisers, and/or the relevant Insular Authorities (for example, members of the Channel Islands Governmental Advisory Committee on Domain Names and the Internet, the Law Officers of the Crown in either Bailiwick or the Islands’ police forces) that a domain name is being used in contravention of the law of any of the British Islands, or to promote or assist such contravention, the Registry (whether using its own discretion or upon receiving a complaint about use of a domain for such purposes) may suspend or cancel the domain without notice, or by giving such notice as appears to be reasonable to the Registry in the circumstances.”
So in short, if you are planning on building a brand that you want to last on a .GG domain name, ask yourself how much do you know about the laws of the British Islands? And if the answer is “not much”, you have some homework to do.
The rules of domain name registration vary significantly from one country code operator to another. When registering any domain name, as with any service you sign up to that is critical to the operations of your business and how you market yourself, make sure you read the small print.
Phil Kingsland, director of Communications at UK registrar Nominet
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