Did you ever stop to think what the ‘link’ is all about?

Did you ever stop to think what the ‘link’ is all about?

Did you ever stop to think what the ‘link’ is all about?

By Tony Kirsch
Head of Professional Services, Neustar

From as far back as the 1400s, marketing has existed with three simple objectives; 

1. to inform consumers about products and services they may want or need;
2. to brand that experience in order to build loyalty or recall; and
3. to prompt customers to take action.

And despite a myriad of technical innovations over that time, the game remains pretty much the same. But things do change.

Innovations evolve from raw, often simplistic initial forms into something far more elegant as utilization spreads and they benefit from continual refinement and learning. This is the core of progress. To question the existing and follow the potential of finding a better way.

This leads me to the URL shortener, or the ‘link.’ A tool built from necessity in a social digital world. A tool that until recently, no-one stopped to ask ‘what the hell are we doing?’

Saving the character count

Writing content for social media has its own particular requirements due to the audience, typical behavior and general restrictions of the various platforms available. Twitter in particular presents a challenge for marketers to adhere to the 140-character limit. However, even this in itself has evolved with Twitter making changes to the treatment of photos, videos and quotes within the character count over the last few years.

But because of these limitations, a new ‘best practice’ has developed – the use of a URL shortener – where the destination URL of the content (typically on a long URL) is transformed into a short URL.

In addition to keeping the number of characters down so you can share more of your genius, one of the additional benefits of using a URL shortener platform is that it can often provide you with great insights into how your posts are being shared, clicked and are otherwise performing. 

Options aplenty

Sure, there are lots of options to shorten your URLs – from free services through to more advanced and expensive analytical providers. And if you think about it, you’ve seen them everywhere.

Market leader Bitly (who noticeably rebranded themselves away from bit.ly in recent times) shortens upwards of 400 million links a month which is a staggering number in itself.

Others are infused in your daily social feeds – from bit.ly to goo.gl to ow.ly. And we never blink an eyelid.

The game is changing

The first time I really started to think about this was when Bitly reported that shortened links that have some reference to your brand were capable of driving up to a 34% increase in click-through rate. We’re not talking about minor improvements here – 34% is a massive boost in any context.

And so brands took the advice, to varying levels of success:

  • Some did a good job by using a shorter ccTLD or similar – ibm.co etc.
  • Some added a little extra to the domain – on.nfl.com
  • Some threw a dot in a strange place or abbreviated their brand to make it work – bloom.bg, xfin.tv, ora.cl
  • Others just completely hacked something together out of their brand – capitl1.co, at.van.fedex.com, s.gm.com

But despite this clear insight from the organization who really has the data to make such a statement, a large proportion of brands – some of whom really ought to know better – still use generic links in social media. 

Time to get real

The .brand juice flowing through my veins was starting to pulse as this all started to formulate in my head. We’ve been teaching all of our customers to use their .brand to get people to the content they want through simple and powerful URLs.

So what really is the difference between a social media link and a link we may use in a TV campaign? Are we constrained by slightly archaic mindsets and could our .brand approach work across traditional and social media platforms?

Looking at the BrandFinance Global 500 brands, 142 of those applied for their own .brand TLD but a staggering half of those .brand owners are using a generic URL shortener or no shortener at all.

Something’s wrong with this picture. Could this be an opportunity to not only see .brand usage increase, but start the process of meaningful link development?

A new way of branding links

For organizations with a .brand, there now exists a better way to approach social links. The ability to create something short, with your recognizable brand to the right of the dot, means the best of both worlds – custom links, control of data and an accurate representation of your brand in every post.

In fact, this can be one of the simplest ways to get started with a .brand domain as we’ve noticed with organizations such as HSBC, Philips and our good selves at Neustar.

But even then, not all customized links are created equal. It’s all well and good to include your brand in your links, but what about that randomly-generated text after the slash?

Think about it, what looks better:

or i.neustar/socialblog

This part of your link gives people a preview of what to expect. If your brand comes after the dot, the text after the slash gives you the chance to feature a product, service, promotion, content piece and so on, so people know exactly where they’re going when they click.

Which of the options above is likely to get more clicks?

Highly-available tools allow you to easily set up branded link shorteners with the freedom to also customize the extension – and for many of them it’s a free service. It’s almost too simple, and is out there waiting and available for any brand to take advantage of.

The importance of brand in social

The matter at stake here is bigger than freeing up a few more characters in your Twitter posts.

It’s about building things that people can identify and can trust. It’s about increasing visibility of your brand, and your product. It’s about creating a consistent experience for customers.

With a custom link shortener using a .brand, your company’s identity can be present and strengthened with every post, while creating a more trustworthy experience for audiences that they’re more likely to engage with.

On top of this, customizing to the right hand side not only looks better, but gives people something they can identify and connect with.

Identifying, connecting, tracking, building trust, branding. All of these outcomes are crucial to what marketers try to do every single day.

So why are so many stuck in an old way of thinking?

Mark my words, this is a game changer and in the very near future we’re all going to reflect on this and wonder why it took us so long to come up with this simple and efficient improvement to the ever powerful ‘link.’

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Upcoming webinar – .brands 101

Upcoming webinar – .brands 101

Upcoming webinar: .brands 101

You may have heard that over 550 big brands have a .brand Top-Level Domain (TLD), such as .microsoft, .ford and .barclays. But what exactly is a .brand TLD, and what can you do with it?

Following our successful .brand update webinar in June, we’re pleased to bring you another webinar that goes ‘back to basics’ on .brands. 

Register for this webinar to hear:

• An explanation of what a .brand TLD is in plain English (also perfect for bringing co-workers up to speed)
• Why some big brands have a .brand, and what to do if you want one too
• The different models being utilized with .brand TLDs
• The five real reasons .brand should be used

Come along for a great refresher on the fundamentals of .brand TLDs – or invite your colleagues to introduce, educate and inspire them about the .brand movement!


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Mid-year .brands review: 2017 off to a brilliant start

Mid-year .brands review: 2017 off to a brilliant start

mid-year review .brands dotbrands dot brands brand TLDs

.brands mid-year review: 2017 off to a brilliant start

By Tony Kirsch,
Head of Professional Services, Neustar

If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you’ll know that I’m really passionate about the benefits that .brands can deliver to organizations and their customers.  mid-year review

We are now half way through 2017 which provides us with an opportunity to have a good hard look at the data and reflect on the last six months in the .brands space.

Here is the punchline – it’s pretty damn impressive, and for a variety of reasons.

Let’s be frank – supporting an innovation such as the .brand movement is not for the faint hearted and the continual momentum we’re experiencing is great reward for those of us that have ‘stayed the course’ (with only maybe the occasional wavering!).

mid-year review .brands dotbrands dot brands brand TLDs
mid-year review .brands dotbrands dot brands brand TLDs

.brands are asking questions, and moving ahead

I’m privileged to be one of the few who has a job that is completely dedicated to this type of .brand engagement, but I can tell you that we are being asked more and more informed and targeted questions about how to optimize their .brand strategies each and every day.

All the while, organizations like Google, Audi, CERN, Bloomberg, Canon, Microsoft, and Lamborghini have launched .brand sites this year already and continue to pave the way – and that’s just a handful of them.

I think that the most important elements of .brand domain names also include the diversification of usage. Building microsites on .brand domains is still strong, but the use of .brands in alternative methods such as vanity/redirect strategies, social media, internal tools, email and full site transitions are also growing significantly.

To illustrate my point, check out the Showcase at MakeWay.World where we highlight the variety of global examples of .brand usage. It’s growing every day and the stats below speak for themselves.

mid-year review .brands dotbrands dot brands brand TLDs
mid-year review .brands dotbrands dot brands brand TLDs

The facts behind the facts

As noted above, the number of brands that have gone beyond creating the mandatory ‘NIC’ page and have registered at least one other domain under their .brand since January 1 has grown by 17 percent.

Importantly, there’s also been a greater than 23 percent increase in the number of .brands with more than 20 domain names registered – showing that there is growth at the upper end of the spectrum as well. This includes brands such as Microsoft, Bentley, Philips, AXA, Saxo Bank and BMW to name a few.

Some of the more active industries include insurance, which collectively have now registered over 1,800 domains; automotive with over 1,000 domains and information technology with just shy of 1,000.

We’re more thrilled than ever that we were able to launch the Stats Hub on MakeWay.World earlier this year, as the numbers paint a very clear picture of the .brands space and are now available to anyone to explore.

.brands making headlines

The .brands space has also received some great coverage in industry and broader media so far this year.

– ClickZ published a three-part series on .brands that culminated in a webinar featuring myself, Matt Dorville of Major League Baseball and Katie Hankinson of VaynerMedia.

– India’s biggest bank announced its plans to move to .sbi, which was reported on by Domain Incite.

– Domain Name Wire looked at how Major League Baseball is planning to use its .mlb domain names.

– Domain Pulse reported on the French national railway’s plans to move to its .brand TLD.

– I was published in B&T commenting on the Australian Football League’s use of .afl for its historic women’s league competition.

Moving forward

In just the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen new .brand sites from the likes of Google, Audi, Leclerc and Allstate, which says to me that the .brands space isn’t slowing any time soon.

Of equal importance is the fact that the majority of conversations we’re having with .brand owners are more and more about how to use their .brands, rather than why. They’re looking for practical advice on integrating with social media channels, rolling out email addresses and communicating with staff and clients about changes to web addresses.

That will be our focus for the remainder of the year here at Neustar, and we’ll share this on MakeWay.World.

And of course, let’s hope that these next six months continue to drive digital branding and that we can really move forward towards another application round for others who would love to join this movement – maybe even by the end of 2018?

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.brands Spotlight: Automotive industry

.brands Spotlight: Automotive industry

.brands Spotlight: Automotive industry

The .brands Spotlight series takes a deep-dive into interesting facets of the .brands space, looking at Stats Hub data to find insights about how .brands are being used across different industries, regions and organizations. This Spotlight piece focuses in on the global automotive industry.


The global automotive industry produced over 94.9 million vehicles in 2016, and is considered one of the world’s most important economic sectors by revenue. As an industry of such magnitude which has by definition been built on a foundation of constant innovation, it is no surprise that the automotive sector is one of the most highly represented in terms of .brand TLD applications and subsequent usage. While automotive brands in some geographic regions are more active than others, overall the sector is emerging as a leader in .brand adoption.

Key statistics

Total TLDs delegated: 42


AUDI        BMW       FERRARI       HYUNDAI       TOYOTA

Total domains registered

Average domains per .brand

  • Industry percentage of all .brands 13.8% 13.8%
  • Proportion of active TLDs (more than 2 domains registered) 41.6% 41.6%
  • Proportion of active domains (resolving or redirecting) 74.4% 74.4%

Key use cases

Industry spotlight: Audi leading the way

Of the automobile manufacturers using .brand TLDs, Audi is the clear leader, registering over 600 domains, 75 percent of which are actively resolving or redirecting.

Audi’s usage of its .audi TLD is interesting and varied. The resolving domains on .audi, which total over 440, include product and campaign pages, redirects to existing content and assets, links to corporate information pages and shortcuts to local dealer websites just to name a few.

Take for example the Audi dealership in the medium-size town of Leipzig.

While the URL for the specific dealer (www.audi-zentrum-leipzig-sued.audi) appears longer than one might expect, its performance in organic search is clearly the goal – which it appears to be achieving.

Other more intuitive examples include the July 2017 Audi Summit, which is hosted at www.summit.audi, while the brand’s social media profiles can be accessed through vanity URLs such as www.twitter.audi and www.facebook.audi. Links to .audi domains have been widely publicized in social media posts.

Audi is not the only German automotive brand to have adopted .brand domains. In fact, of the six top automotive companies by .brand domains registered, four of them are from Germany. BMW features highly in the ranks, with the motor group collectively registering 55 domains of which 82 percent are currently active. MAN SE follows closely behind, also with 55 domains.

So why is Germany so highly represented in terms of .brand TLDs in the automotive sphere?

As many would be aware, Germany is a country known for its technological innovation, with a great deal of investment every year in research, development and education. In addition to its strong automotive industry which was responsible for manufacturing around 6 million vehicles in 2016, the country’s broader desire for continual technological advancement has embedded innovation into Germany’s culture and economy.

In fact, the prominence of German companies in the top-performing automotive .brands may be linked to a wider trend of European uptake in .brand TLDs. Certainly in the automotive industry however also identifiable in other sectors, European brands are among the most active in terms of .brand domain registrations and usage.

One potential reason for this may be that European brands and consumers are more ‘primed’ to use alternate domain extensions, with .com being less ubiquitous than in the USA. European consumers would be very familiar with websites under .uk, .de or .fr to name a few, and perhaps have more day-to-day experience with a range of domain options beyond .com. This may then impact European brands’ openness to adopting .brand domains as an alternative that can encompass all geographic regions and remains relevant without requiring a separate domain for every location.

dotbrand spotlight stats hub


Representing 14 percent of all .brand domain registrations, the automotive industry is highly represented in the .brand space. It also has one of the highest proportions of active domains, indicating that usage of .brands in the sector is significant.

However this ranking is supported largely by the efforts of a few key players that are leading the way, with 85 percent of the industry’s domain registrations coming from just five brands.

As an industry, the automotive sector is not without its challenges. As threats emerge in changes to the global economy, challenger companies like Uber and new technologies such as self-driving cars, the automotive industry as a whole is facing an environment of ‘disrupt or be disrupted.’ By its nature, the automotive sector has always been one of technological advancement, however more and more auto manufacturers are needing to think more like tech companies in order to stay relevant in the swiftly-evolving market.

We’ve seen evidence of this in the future-minded projects launched from some of the world’s most established automotive brands. This year Ford announced a five-year, $1 billion investment in the development of a self-driving car; while General Motors acquired a similarly-focused organization in 2016.

In this regard, it is not surprising to see automotive brands looking for opportunities to innovate in their marketing, digital and customer experience as well. In projects like BMW’s www.next100.bmw campaign, we can see .brands finding a place among the culture of innovation that has become synonymous with automotive manufacturers since their early days.

GoDaddy acquired Neustar's registry business as of August 3, 2020.


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Explore brand TLDs with the Stats Hub

Explore brand TLDs with the Stats Hub

stats hub launch brand TLDs dotbrands

Explore brand TLDs with the Stats Hub

Today MakeWay.World is pleased to reveal an exciting new range of functionality that we’re really proud of: the Stats Hub.

Completely free for anyone interested in .brand activity globally, the Stats Hub is available now in the top navigation of the MakeWay.World website. 

This is the world’s first free, interactive database of up-to-date, publicly available data on .brand usage.

stats hub dotbrands brand TLDs

What does that mean? Well, this is the first time this information has been available in one centralized location that can be searched and filtered to find what you need quickly and easily. So whether you’re a .brand owner yourself, a journalist or just simply someone that loves innovation in the digital space, this is the site for you to go to anytime you’re looking to see what’s going on in the .brand revolution. 

dotbrands stats hub brand TLDs

What’s in the Stats Hub?

With a click, you can now explore .brand TLD statistics for every applicant including the number of domains registered, how they’re being used, and any other TLDs owned by that applicant. 

The data can also be sorted by industry or location to compare what others in your region or field are doing with their TLDs, or by the volume of domain registrations to see who is leading the way in .brand domains. Factors such as .brand domains with Alexa rankings have been included to provide greater context and detail to the information provided.

How do I use the Stats Hub? 

  • .brand applicants and project owners can easily discover who else applied for a .brand TLD and investigate how others in their industry are using them to get inspired and make more informed business decisions. 
  • Media and analysts can crunch the numbers and gather data, statistics and interesting facts to accompany articles and reports. 
  • Digital marketers can stay up-to-date on the strategies being implemented by some of the world’s most innovative companies, as this select group of ‘Digital Superbrands’ emerges. 
  • Other brands can keep tabs on the .brand community and gain inspiration while we await a second round of new TLD applications. 

Explore the Stats Hub now on MakeWay.World.

stats hub dotbrands brand TLDs

GoDaddy acquired Neustar's registry business as of August 3, 2020.


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