Is .com.au Dead?

Natasha Sholl By Natasha Sholl | 21 Feb 2018

Could the proposed roll out of .au domain addresses spell disaster for Australian retailers? Is auDA protecting or harming the .com.au brand?

auDA, the regulatory body that oversees domains in Australia, has spent the start of 2018 holding public forums to gather feedback in relation to the upcoming rollout of .au domains. This has caused quite a reaction in the e-commerce space with fears that the change would cause sites to lose traffic and risk losing their brand to squatters. A major issue is the time and money businesses may have to spend in order to retain the value of their domain name once the top level .au domain is introduced.

SEO expert Jim Stewart, CEO of StewArt Media, attended the public hearing in early February and believes that “the problems are many and the benefits are very, very slim.” In fact, when asked by Power Retail to name any benefits related to the roll out, he couldn’t.

“We’ve been told by auDA that there is a demand, but there is no data to support this,” says Stewart. “In other countries it hasn’t worked. In New Zealand it hasn’t been taken up. In the UK they were giving away .uk for free to encourage take-up.”

So if there is no demand, what are the risks? “What it will do is devalue your existing assets,” Stewart told Power Retail. “A government organisation or another business may end up with your brand. There will be increased competition in search with more similar domains. Even if a retailer gets the .au domain, using it will see a big drop in search traffic for a while. If not implemented correctly, they’ll lose all their traffic.”

It’s the element of uncertainly and confusion that has retailers worried. “People are confused about what the eligibility will be. If you registered an Australian domain name since April 2016, you will not automatically be eligible to get the .au domain name. You will have to go into the pool with everyone else who is trying to get that domain,” he said. This confusion, increased competition and lack of fair process is why Stewart believes this will negatively impact Australian retailers and businesses.

“This whole process has damaged the .com.au brand. One of the very things auDA’s job is to protect. I will not be registering any more .com.au domains and I will be telling my clients the same,” he says. “If you registered a .com.au after April 2016 you may want to look at moving away from it altogether as you probably won’t get the .au unless you pay a hefty sum to cybersquatters,” Stewart told Power Retail.

The proposed registration of .au domains appears to raise more questions than solve any problems. For example, who should be entitled to the .au domain name when there is a brand.com.au and brand.net.au already registered, which auDA reports applies to approximately 3% of domain names? The solution floated at the forum to this and other instances of contested domains appears to be a lottery system. Again, this leads to more uncertainty.

In response to concerns raised, auDA has told Power Retail:

“The implementation of direct registration (being able to register ‘yourname.au’)  is being explored by the 2017 Policy Review Panel, an independent advisory body reporting to auDA’s board.

It needs to be emphasised that no decisions on implementation have been made and the Policy Review Panel is still developing its recommendations. The panel encourages feedback from all stakeholders on this issue, and the other issues raised in the recent Registrant Policy Issues paper, to ensure the best outcome for the entire Australian Internet Community.

The auDA Board will carefully consider 2017 Policy Review Panel’s recommended implementation model,  and may decide to implement in part or full the recommended model.

auDA is committed to a multi-stakeholder model for developing policies for the .au domain.  In 2016 the auDA Board accepted the recommendation of the 2015 Names Policy Panel to implement direct registration.

The Names Policy Panel’s final report was put together after 10 months of panel member deliberations and two rounds of public consultation with feedback from a wide range of stakeholder groups including individuals, businesses and auDA members.

In addition to the public consultations by the Panel, auDA’s Board also commissioned independent market research, which showed 60% of respondents were likely or highly likely to register “yourname.au” if it was available.

The benefits of direct registrations include shorter, more memorable domain names, more choice for registrants, increased utility of the .au namespace and ensuring the .au brand remains competitive in the global market.”

The next meeting about this will be held on 16 March 2018.

Were you at the public forum earlier this month? What are your thoughts on the potential roll out of direct registration?

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