The World Wide Web has always had a uniquely British nature. Having been devised by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1991, and developed in English, the UK has played a pivotal role in the modern-day internet’s development. A total of 12.2 million registered domains end in .uk, making it the fifth most common top-level domain behind the generic TLDs of .com and .net, plus China and Germany’s country code TLDs.
Unusually among developed nations, British companies have adopted second-level domains. That term refers to a prefix before the national ccTLD, such as plc.uk. The reasons for this anomaly are lost in the mists of time, but while French companies end their websites with .fr and German firms rely on .de, British businesses often choose to denote their corporate origins with a co.uk suffix.
However, this may be about to change, now that a five-year moratorium on the sale of standalone .uk domains has come to an end. Since June 2014, any company with a UK-based second-level domain was exclusively allowed to secure a .uk domain that matched their existing registration. That privilege was extended to anyone in ownership of a website with the following second-level domains:
Of these, co.uk has always been by far the most common, and it was to this audience the UK’s domain registry (Nominet) was appealing when it introduced a moratorium on public sales of .uk websites. After all, it would have been unfair not to have a grace period. Disgruntled customers and vengeful rival brands could have immediately secured the .uk counterpart to a co.uk domain for the purposes of trolling or defaming legitimate brands.
Fearful of customers venturing onto the bogus site by accident, businesses would have felt extorted to purchase the .uk domain, even at an inflated price. Such practices were common in the internet’s formative years before ICANN was founded in the late Nineties to regulate domain sales and registrations.
Over the last five years, many companies have taken the opportunity to secure a .uk domain that matches their current web addresses. However, unclaimed .uk domain names are now publicly available, sporting what will probably become the UK’s default top-level domain. That’s certainly what happened when India introduced .in, to replace the previously-popular co.in. Companies embraced the shorter domains, and co.in has gradually fallen from favour.
Expert domain advice: .uk
If you haven’t already secured your related .uk domain, chances are that it’ll still be available. If it is, there are several ways to use it once it’s been registered:
1. Add a 404 redirect from the .uk site to the established one. This is the option most companies will go for, maintaining any existing brand identity and online presence.
2. Relocate established content to the new .uk domain. This is great for new brands; existing ones must notify search engines so hard-won SEO benefits aren’t lost.
3. Duplicate content. Copying and pasting content resembles plagiarism – an SEO no-no. Rewriting content is resource-intensive, but two sites might be better than one.
4. Don’t upload anything to the .uk domain. Visitors might see generic text telling them the site has been registered but isn’t in use, implying the company has ceased trading.
Alternatively, if you’ve always wanted to secure a .uk domain which wasn’t previously available but has now gone on general release, act quickly. If companies with similar co/org/plc.uk addresses haven’t secured the related .uk URL, you can legitimately get there first…