In this guest post Dirk Krischenowski, CEO and founder of dotBERLIN, discusses the growing importance of place-specific, geographic domain extensions and how this trend can benefit city and destination marketing.
With an estimated 1 billion websites in late 2015, you can easily get lost in the world wide web. Imagine a domain name that makes you feel at home right away: geographic domain-extensions bring local identity to the web. The new domain extensions .nyc, .london and .berlin are the three biggest of that kind, with 87,169 (.nyc), 70,131 (.london) and 57,142 (.berlin) registered domain names until today.
In a globalized world, not only commercial goods are competing for awareness and recognition. Also cities are players in the field of attention seeking. Successful branding can turn a city from a location to a place where people want to live, work, invest and visit.
Places compete for people, businesses and reputation – also on the Internet. As the Internet has become one of the most important marketing and branding tools, cities must find unique selling propositions to maintain and increase their global digital competitiveness, also in the virtual world.
In today’s digital era, geographic domain extensions can serve as valuable tool for place branders and marketers charged with creating brand value for their location.
The first geographic top level domain .berlin was launched in March 2014, soon followed by others.
Today, ten of twenty cities listed on the Top Global Cities Index have their own domain-extension: apart from Berlin there is New York (.nyc), London, Paris, Tokyo, Brussels, Sydney, Madrid, Vienna (.wien) and Moscow (.moscow or .Москва).
However, geographic domain names aren’t limited to cities but also help cultural regions to become visible on the Internet, with .bzh for the Breton community or .eus for the Basque language.
Contracts with US-based Internet administration organization ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned News and Numbers) are the basis for those new domain-extensions that give residents and companies the opportunity to develop their virtual brand identity.
A geographic domain extension reflects a city’s diversity, as well as sense of community: residents, businesses and city administration can be united under the roof of one virtual place brand.
As a place branding tool, domain extensions like .tokyo work reciprocally: for local businesses, institutions and private persons it is valuable to position themselves regionally through their domain name. In addition to that, they will receive better search engine rankings and take advantage of their city as a brand.
Digital brand management works the other way around as well: by using city domain extension, residents promote the brand externally. This bottom up approach means not only telling the world where a business, an institution or an individual is located but also about creating a sense of community and identity.
City domains as a tool for place branding create a link between physical geography and virtual space. A new domain extension raises awareness. It is a flexible communication instrument and as part of the Internet infrastructure is an ongoing advantage for a city’s external city marketing.
Websites like www.city-tour.berlin, www.londonnews.london or www.greatestplacetowork.nyc, immediately show what a city has to offer and make these offers become intuitively accessible for people worldwide.
Also, little stories can be told with the help of intuitive names: www.goto.capetown or www.rentabike.hamburg not only offer a functional domain name but work on multiple levels by creating emotions and images, staying in the minds of their visitors and therefore adding value to a city as a brand.
Domain names are the central instrument to show and keep a permanent identity on the Internet. Companies and individuals, political parties and civil administrations rely on domain names that are easy to communicate with, are as intuitive as possible and semantically comprehensive – for the Internet is an effective and substantial channel for communication. And don’t forget that nowadays your domain name must rank prior in search engines to that of the place’s competitors.
And the Internet is growing. According to Internet Usage statistics, there are approximately 952 146 700 websites. At the time you are reading this, there might already be 1 Billion. The domain-extension .de (for Deutschland) currently counts 15.988.000 and the global extension .com over 120.024.000 domains.
A trend has evolved that provides a natural counterbalance to the dreams of globalization from the Internet’s early years. This “hyperlocal” movement is reflected in local searches and location-based services.
Place branding wants to connect people with a place. Creating a local tribe on the Internet is possible with a geographic domain-extension. Have a look at .berlin for example: its community consists of people who can relate to the brand “Berlin”. This includes residents, companies and institutions that are based in Germany’s capital. It also includes people with personal, social, cultural, economic or other relationships to Berlin.
As virtual real estate, geographic domain-extension provide space for the emotions a place creates. It can help build a city brand and make a community feel at home also online.
Dirk Krischenowski is CEO and founder of dotBERLIN GmbH & Co. KG, the company that is operating the .berlin domain extension. He founded the company in 2005.
From the late 1990s, Dirk developed the idea of domain extensions as unique identity and place branding tool for cities and regions on the Internet. Dirk’s efforts significantly contributed to the creation of the new domain-extensions by the Internet’s supervising body ICANN in 2014.
Dirk published various papers on how local domain-extensions contribute to place branding; he also has been speaker at numerous conferences on the topic, including United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum, European Council, ICANN, Eurocities and many other events.
In June, 2011, the German Internet Association eco e.V. honored Dirk Krischenowski with a special award for his exceptional achievements on the new domain-extensions, especially with regard to cities and regions.
Update: Christopher Hofman Laursen of europeandomaincenter.com just notified us of this article and infographic on which cities have their own domain. A useful overview showing a world map of cities which use their custom domain, and which of those city domains are the most popular.