If you’ve spent any time abroad, you’ll know most domestic website addresses feature that nation’s country code top level domain. Each country has its own identifying ccTLD. For example, the United Arab Emirates uses .ae, and Ireland’s domestic TLD is .ie.
Just a second
The UK market is unusual in its preference second level domains. If we followed the international trend, domestic website addresses would end in .uk. Instead, they normally conclude with co.uk – the ‘co’ part signifying a company. Nobody can satisfactorily explain why British businesses and consumers originally favoured second level domains rather than the shorter .uk suffix, which was one of the first ccTLDs ever created in 1985. A few companies have launched websites featuring shorter .uk domain names, but most have retained second level URLs. However, events later this year might finally persuade them to switch…
For the last five years, the company charged with selling and overseeing .uk web addresses (including second level domain URLs) has offered co.uk website owners exclusive rights to acquire the corresponding .uk domain as well. This moratorium was launched in June 2014 to prevent cybersquatting – a process whereby unscrupulous speculators buy obvious domain names and then relist them at hugely inflated prices. Such practices were commonplace until ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, was introduced in 1998 to regulate worldwide domain sales. ICANN swiftly rolled out a global programme of domain registries, managing at least one ccTLD or gTLD.
The body overseeing .uk domain names is Nominet, and they have been supervising the purchase of .uk domains by existing co.uk site owners. However, the moratorium is scheduled to end on the 25th June. Thereafter, companies with a co.uk web address could find a rival business (or enraged customer) has purchased the corresponding .uk domain name and uploaded absolutely anything. Negative advertising, scathing reviews, or an obscene photo beneath a “buy this address for £10,000” caption – it’ll all be fair game.
Look to the east
India provides a precedent for the move towards shorter URLs. As in the UK, most Indian websites were initially registered under co.in, before gradually transitioning to the shorter .in. A number of advantages were cited for this, which also apply to our own market:
Removing two letters and a full stop from a domain name makes it easier to remember, quicker to type and less prone to being wrongly entered into a browser.
2. National identity.
Our current co.uk TLD rather detracts from the domestic nature of an address, whereas a simple .uk address is quite obviously British.
There will never be a simpler ccTLD than .uk, which means there’s unlikely to be any reason for a further switch in the future.
4. It’s not exclusively corporate.
Because .co is an abbreviation of company, a co.uk address has always been an awkward fit on non-commercial websites.
Despite these benefits, any company transitioning to a .uk domain name ought to retain their former website address for a year or two. The old site should be stripped of content, with a permanent 301 redirect to the new homepage set up, ensuring there’s no content duplication to confuse visitors or displease search engines. Speaking of Google and Bing, they should be notified as soon as content is transferred, so historic SEO gains aren’t lost. Finally, steer customers towards the new site through revised email signatures, corporate stationery, and marketing materials – all serving to wean people away from the old URL.