It’s hard to remember now, but the internet was a much simpler place twenty years ago. As we tied up domestic phone lines every evening waiting for noisy modems to display our ISP’s homepage, browsing the web was an easy process. For one thing, there were generally only two top-level domains to worry about in the UK – the global .com and the domestic .co.uk.
Fast-forward to the present day, and there are now over a thousand TLDs to pick from. An industry regulator (ICANN) was created in 1998 to manage a chronic supply and demand imbalance relating to .com domains. It also had the unenviable job of controlling cybersquatting, where speculative investors bought .com addresses of well-known companies and then charged a king’s ransom to sell them to their rightful owners. Such unregulated extortion was effectively abolished by ICANN flooding the market with alternative domain suffixes, but it does make the choice of which TLD to use on your website somewhat confusing.
Speaking in code
For many businesses, the .co.uk domain has been a staple throughout the internet’s evolution. It identifies a brand as being both British and corporate, as opposed to a charity (.org) or a public sector body (.gov). Since .us never really caught on in America, .co.uk is one of the world’s best-known country code top-level domains. According to internet analysts Statista, 10.68 million websites currently end in a .uk domain, most of which will be .co.uk. The only countries with higher numbers of ccTLDs are China (.cn) and Germany (.de).
However, .co.uk’s period of ‘domain-ance’ may soon be over. On the 9th June 2014, the .uk TLD was launched by the same domain registry responsible for its historic counterpart – Oxford-based Nominet. They introduced .uk after conducting surveys which revealed that 72 per cent of businesses wanted the option of a shorter .uk TLD, and 93 per cent of consumers also preferred it.
The use of second level domains (co.) preceding our ccTLD has long been anomalous. Most countries simply use a two-letter ccTLD as the basis of domestic web addresses. Indeed, India recently transitioned from using .co.in to .in. While some Indian firms retained the longer version to reflect corporate origins, most brands and consumers have happily switched to the abbreviated alternative. Adopters argue that a reduced character count makes domain names easier to remember.
I have a .co.uk TLD. Should I be worried?
Not at all. Articles like this are being published now because a lengthy transitional period was set up by Nominet back in 2014. Anyone owning or registering a .co.uk website address was given five years of exclusive rights to acquire the shorter .uk variant. This moratorium was established to ensure the unwelcome practice of cybersquatting (outlined a few paragraphs back) didn’t make a reappearance. However, we’re now into the last of those five years, and
the deadline for existing brands to acquire a complementary .uk domain is the 25th June 2019. After that, domain names with the shorter .uk TLD will go on general sale. At this point, a competitor could quite legitimately purchase an unregistered .uk domain matching a rival’s brand and trick visitors into visiting their own homepage.
Do I need two websites?
Again, the answer is a definitive no. Many brands will choose to retain their existing .co.uk presence, while others will relocate to the newer domain. Indeed, some firms have already done this. Unused domains should be left blank, redirecting audiences to the correct URL with only a fractional delay in loading times. These 301 redirects are easily set up – if your website is managed through our web hosting packages, simply log into your CHI control panel. WordPress also makes it easy, with self-explanatory plugins like Simple 301 Redirects guiding users through the process one step at a time.
Can I just display identical content at both URLs?
Because the big search engines disapprove of duplicated content, it would be inadvisable to have identical pages displaying at both the .co.uk and .uk addresses. Twin sites would also cause confusion among visitors, so it’s advisable to pick one domain and stick to it. If you decide to transition, don’t rely solely on a 301 to get people to the right location. Inform existing customers about your plans in email signatures, homepage banners and marketing or advertising campaigns. Don’t forget to tell search engines too – Google offers a series of Webmaster Tools where changes in domain names are logged and updated. That way, the hard work you’ve invested in optimising SEO for your existing website won’t be lost once you transition to your new domain name…