Just when you thought the internet couldn’t get any more endless, ICANN, the non-profit dedicated to maintaining the namespaces of the internet, decided to release hundreds of new domain extensions known as GTLDs (generic top-level domains)  We currently have about 22 GTLDs.  These are the .com, .us, .biz, .net and other addresses you’re used to visiting.  Add to these the country level domains: .es for Spain, .it for Italy, .co.uk for the United Kingdom, and so on.  Soon there are going to be over a hundred more.  Think .luxury, .cool, expert, .dating, .guru, .clothing, and more.  Particularly vexing for marketers is the new ‘.sucks’ domain.

In what amounts to super-highway robbery, the company that won the registration rights for .sucks, Vox Populi Registry – owned by the Momentus Corporation, is asking trademark owners to fork over a jaw-dropping $2,499 to own a yourbrand.sucks domain.  If brand owners are not ready for that level of investment, they can block the branded domains for a mere $200 per year.  After an early-bird “sunrise” period, irate consumers will have access to what remains for $250.  It will be an arms race for brand-bashing territory, with most of the competition made up of cyber-squatters hoping for a big legal settlement once they’ve made enough noise.

Cyber-Squatter in Traditional Attire.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

This may sound complex but it really isn’t.  The one word that describes all of this is coercion.

This is a new game of internet whack-a-mole.  If you’re a proactive marketer and buy up your company’s trademarked domain during the sunrise period, you’d better account for every permutation imaginable.  Just shelling out for yourbrand.sucks doesn’t cover the creative genius who will snap up yourbrandREALLY.sucks and yourbrandTOTALLY.sucks soon after.  The promise of .sucks is consumer advocacy and it could have some viable, humanistic uses through cancer.sucks and hunger.sucks.  Some pessimists may have finally found their promised land on everything.sucks.  At best, you can buy your domain and direct people to a customer service portal if they’re taking the time to type a .sucks domain in their navigation bar.  But the real problem with these infinite GTLDs is that there is no end for the marketer with a finite budget.

Many major brands are not bothering with the GTLDs.  Aeropostale.clothing and Burberry.clothing are currently registered by squatters. These brands made a decision to ignore the hype and invest instead in empowering their existing domains.  This may be the best approach because it is only a matter of years before domains like .istheworst, .stinks, and .hatestheircustomers join the fray.  So ignoring it is always an option..but what does .sucks mean for SEO?

In 2012, Matt Cutts from Google had the following to say about GTLDs:

“Google has a lot of experience in returning relevant web pages, regardless of the top-level domain (TLD). Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either. If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that’s your choice, but you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.”

In other words these new domains won’t get any special ranking, but they won’t get left out of the ranking either.  Being brand new, these domains don’t have anything behind them when they first launch, but the eager consumer advocate can get a site up and running and full of torch-wielding product-reviewers in no time.  Even smarter consumer advocates will take the review site they’ve been running for years and move it to the new domain with 301 redirects and social media promotion so they can get fresh inbound links and still benefit from Google’s ‘Query Deserves Freshness’ SEO value.  New things on the internet sometimes find their way to popularity.

After reading all this you must think the sky(net) is truly falling.  The domains are going to keep proliferating, they’ll always be one step ahead of you, and even if you try to keep up, a popular .sucks site could eat your lunch.  But this game is nothing new.  We had the same emotional response to social media and the democratization of product reviews.  But social media has opened up an entirely new means of reaching and engaging with consumers.  Brands have seen net promoter scores skyrocket in response to engaging social media campaigns and a great review on Amazon or Yelp can mean the world to a brand.  Already, individuals can amass thousands of followers on twitter under a @YourBrandSucks handle and spend the whole day spitting vitriol about their negative experience.  Brands can engage with that user and do everything they can to solve their problem, converting them into positive influencers.  The means have changed and your opportunities have grown.

Brand equity is important, and if you have the money and anticipate negativity it may be worth locking up whatever you can while you still have the chance.  But for the most part, if you don’t run a vacuum cleaning business, it’s probably not worth buying into [dot]sucks.  New platforms emerge everyday.  There is far more traffic on Facebook and tumblr and snapchat than there will be on any .sucks site for a long while. If you have limited hours, limited dollars, and a legion of fans out there, focus on connecting with them in the places they spent their time.  In doing so you’ll have the back up you deserve if the haters come calling.