Using your .brand in crisis – A COVID-19 analysis
By Tony Kirsch – Head of Professional Services, Neustar
We’ve often talked about how dotbrand top-level domains create safe namespaces and an opportunity for their owners to establish a trusted home on the web.
And whilst this results in a range of benefits such as eliminating squatting or concerns about expensive domain acquisitions in the aftermarket, the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the benefits of speedy domain registration to support crisis communications.
Crisis communications can occur for a variety of reasons across large organizations, including responding to topical important news, customer feedback or product/service related issues.
The COVID-19 crisis is one of the most devastating situations that has faced the global economy in modern times, and many large organizations have found the need to produce digital content to support their business needs and provide information to their customers and clients.
The use of a .brand to achieve this can be highly advantageous for a number of reasons – let’s take a look at just a few.
1. Domain squatters buy all the names immediately
With relatively low domain pricing available on most popular extensions these days and plenty of options to choose from, buying multiple variants of domains that relate to a topic is a low cost investment.
As you’d expect, the vast majority of these are in .com but there are also plenty of domains that have been registered in ccTLDs and other gTLD extensions – both traditional and new TLDs.
How many you might ask?
According to some industry sources, there are almost 100,000 names that have been registered in 2020 that relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. As you’d imagine, these often have the keywords ‘corona’, ‘virus’ and ‘covid’ within them.
To be clear, many of these names will be used for legitimate purposes so we’re not suggesting that this is only the realm of bad actors on the web. However, if you’re even a few minutes slow on grabbing that campaign domain that you want, you can rest assured that the domain name you want will be taken and you’re either searching for a domain that’s close to what you wanted or entering the aftermarket to buy at a higher price if it’s even available.
2. Many names are often used for scams which harm consumer trust
As reported recently by Trend Micro in this article, the use of COVID-19 or similar domain names have been used many times already by malicious actors.
Whilst it can be hard to picture why this would occur at such a scale, imagine for a moment the number of people seeking to profit from this virus in an illegitimate way – including those with fake information, selling untested vaccinations and seeking donations for non-existent organizations to name just a few.
Consumers are becoming increasingly wary of these types of domains and it’s reasonable to expect that trust levels from many within the online community with these types of websites is not high. Nonetheless, education on online behavior is not consistent across the world and plenty of opportunity for illegal and immoral activity that harms the consumer exists, especially in times of panic and increased research.
3. These scams often cause deeper issues
Further information from the Trend Micro article claims that COVID-19 domains are regularly being used to inject malware into local machines and causing permanent security breaches.
We’re talking here about attacking internal networks, rendering local machines inaccessible and potentially hacking sensitive data from businesses and individuals.
Sure…this can happen at any time and isn’t specifically related to COVID-19. However, history is a good indicator of future activity when it comes to understanding how bad actors get the attention of the vulnerable using topical and seemingly legitimate domain names.
4. Crisis creates new levels of exposure for brand owners
Many of our large clients have reported a need to register substantial volumes of domains to protect their brand in relation to COVID-19, causing additional expense and headache.
Organizations that are involved in finance, technology and pharmaceutical are particularly impacted as they need to suddenly ensure that squatters do not register names that contain both their brand and anything related to COVID-19.
Even organizations such as Facebook which are under increasing regulatory pressure to ensure legitimate content publishing were forced to register over 500 COVID-19 related names such as facebook-coronavirus-info.com according to Domain Name Wire.
Sound ridiculous? Perhaps so.
But as any brand manager will tell you having experienced this for years, preventing rather than legally challenging is always the preferable option.
.brands in use with COVID-19
So what does this mean for .brand owners and how can your own .brand TLD help you in these challenging circumstances?
Below you will find some great examples of sites that are currently being used to support COVID-19 communications by .brand owners and where applicable, a list of the other supporting domains that were created to ensure a seamless customer experience in the event of mistypes.
Few organizations have such a crucial role to play in beating the Corona Virus due to their extensive range of testing facilities. Abbott have used this domain as a redirect through to their abbott.com site but the content itself is brilliant at outlining information about the disease and what Abbott is doing to assist with testing and research.
We all know that increased time at home and social distancing equates to a higher than usual reliance on logistics and delivery and German owned, global distribution organization DHL is no exception.
With millions of customers and employees all over the world, this information portal outlines DHL’s commitment to its stakeholders throughout this crisis.
The domain coronavirusnow.fox and coronavirus.fox have both been created to forward through to Fox News’ statistical and news portal which is housed at coronavirusnow.com
This site is being promoted heavily through the media cycles and would be experiencing substantial volumes of traffic as a result of the large amount of public interest.
Google are no stranger to using their .brand TLD for important social purposes and coronavirus.google is no exception.
This .brand redirects through to the Google COVID-19 information hub – almost Wikipedia like in terms of its unbiased and succinct information presentation on causes, symptoms and prevention tips.
Domains such as covid19.google and covid-19.google also redirect to the same location.
Another avid .brand user, the Australian Football League is currently on hold like most other sports globally. But with millions of fans within Australia who are very keen for information on the sport’s hopefully imminent return, this .brand redirect goes to the news portal on the League’s main site.
Another highly involved research center against COVID-19 is the Geneva Headquartered organization CERN. Famous for starting the WWW, CERN’s new COVID-19 research program will “draw on scientific and technical expertise and facilities at CERN, in the Member State countries and beyond, and will be carried out with that community and in close contacts with the relevant health institutions and experts from other fields.”