positive-online-reputationNew Top Level Domains (TLDs) have created a lot of new opportunities for websites and brand marketing. However, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. A new TLD is about to hit the street and there’s a lot of worry that it will negatively affect business owners and brands and make reputation management harder. Though the official rollout has yet to start, it’s clear that the .sucks domain will only harm the majority of business owners if it’s used heavily by the public. This article will explain what .sucks is and how worried should business owners be.

Like other new TLDs, .sucks is a domain that is operated by a third party, Vox Populi in this case, that will allow people to register new websites that end with .sucks. Most commentators assume that this will be used by disgruntled consumers who want to make a site to badmouth a company. (Ironically, consumer won’t be able to buy the domain to make a site, but more on that later). The domain sparked controversy when it was first suggested since many see it as a form of extortion.

In a letter to ICANN, then Senator Jay Rockefeller wrote, “I view it as little more tha predatory shakedown scheme. The business model behind this gTLD seems to be the following: force large corporations, small businesses, non-profits, and even individuals, to a pay ongoing fees to prevent seeing the pharse “sucks” appended to their names on the internet.”

Despite denials from the owners of the domain, the recently released pricing model does more suggest that .sucks exists merely to extort money from brands. Consumers can buy a domain for just $10 but it would cost a brand at least $2,500. To illustrate, say someone who is mad at a company pays $10 to register BrandX.sucks. If BrandX files a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy challenge and wins, they would get the domain name, but they would still have to pay the $2,500 registration fee each year to hold onto it.

For their part, the owners of .sucks say the domain is about consumer advocacy and public discussion. They even have a video with clips of Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to show what they think the power of the platform could become.

For all the fear-mongering about the damage the .sucks domain could do to a business, it’s pretty likely that this idea won’t go anywhere. There are several good reasons to think that .sucks is going to blow.

  1. Consumers Won’t Care – There have been more than 350 new TLDs created in the past couple of years. If you ask the average consumer to name five of them without using a country domain, they wouldn’t be able to answer. Most consumers still stick with the classics domains they know and trust. Furthermore, there’s really no benefit to the consumer for paying for a .sucks domain. The $10 domain consumers can buy would redirect to a generic platform for posting complaints. So they would just be paying $10 so they can put a company’s name by the word “sucks”. Writing a bad Yelp review is free, easy, and has a greater impact. I don’t see a lot of consumers bothering with this.
  2. The SEO Effect Will be Negligible – One of the reasons some brand owners are concerned about .sucks is that they don’t want a negative domain showing up in search results. It’s highly unlikely that a .sucks domain would do well for SEO. All it does it redirect to another site. So there’s no content to surface for keywords, no backlinks, and since few people would ever actually click the link, it would place very low on search results. People can, and do, register sites with names like “BrandXsucks.com” already. It’s not a problem worth paying $2,500 a year to solve. Just create more engaging content to push the single worthless link farther down on the page.
  3. Legal Challenges – As was stated earlier, the entire .sucks enterprise sounds sketchy at best. The owners of .sucks are probably using the $10 consumer advocate registrations so they can say they don’t own domains, in case of trademark suit challenges. But once a few large companies are able to show damages to their business as a result of the .sucks extension, arguments about the improper use of trademarks and unlawful forms of coercion have more teeth. As the letter from Rockefeller showed, there are already powerful interests that want to shut this down.

It will take time to see the effect that .sucks has on public opinion and brand awareness. For the reasons stated above, there’s no need for business owners to rush and waste money to prevent damage from a .sucks domain that will probably never happen or amount to little in the grand scheme of things for the company. Before you waste $2,500 paying what is essentially a high-tech extortion racket, use that money to pay for marketing and materials that will truly advance your business goals.

For more news about TLDs, read this article on Google’s plan to help register new domains.