We all know the common domain suffixes like .com .org and .net, but have you heard of .shop .books or .music? Neither have most small business owners or managers, but the fact remains that permission to use domains like these will be rolling out this year. Over 4 out of 5 SMBs have either never heard of this change or don’t quite know what it’s all about.

Through the course of this year, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) will be approving applications for new gLTDs, or Generic Top-Level Domains outside of the ones we are all familiar with, such as .com or .net. The list of new domains being reviewed by ICANN is extensive, and includes over 1,000 suffixes from .ads to .zone. Just a few days ago ICANN approved 100 top-level domains to companies such as Amazon and Wal-mart, none of which were in English this time around; but the English domains are expected to be close on the horizon.

How does this transformation of the web affect small businesses? We know that small businesses are creating websites in greater numbers every year. In a survey conducted by Sedo of SMB owners and high-level managers, over 60% of respondents had created a business website. Most importantly, 80% of respondents felt that a domain was important to their business—with over half that group declaring they believe it is “very important.”

Although SMB internet presence grows, a total of 80.3% of small businesses either were not aware that new gTLDs would be introduced this year, or were unsure whether they’d heard of it. Only 17.6% had heard about the new top-level domains, while 62.7% of SMBs had absolutely no idea.

So why does this matter? Should small businesses owners care about the new domains rolling out this year? With a $185,000 application fee and a year-long wait time, the opportunity for SMBs to own their own domain suffix is surely out of the question for now. That being said, there are several opportunities and concerns related to gTLDs that SMBs should be aware of.

Part of the reason that these new top-level domains are being rolled out is that the competition for relevant domain names has become too fierce, unique urls have dried up, and it has become difficult for any new businesses to create a relevant domain for a reasonable price. This change is expected to create a chance for more businesses to increase their online relevancy, and create a domain that more accurately describes their business.

While small businesses will not be able to gain control of top-level domains themselves, these gTLDs will be granted to large corporations, who will then become the official registrars of the domain. Registrars will be able to sell the use of these domains for a registration fee, and this presents significant opportunity for emerging businesses and startups. While the domain of a website has decreased in SEO relevance over the years, it still plays a fairly significant part in a company’s search rank; this allows the opportunity for companies to achieve new bearing on Google with a more relevant domain.

Another concern to be aware of is the possibility of trademark violation. While ICANN is being very careful not to accept any top-level domains that violate an existing trademark, many businesses fear that cybersquatters in these new domains may threaten or dilute their brands. Only a few days ago, ICANN created a Trademark Clearinghouse to protect existing brands, to submit your trademark for protection click here.

These changes will surely reshape the face of the internet, and the companies that depend on it. For more news as it happens follow ICANN’s announcement page.

Source: SEDO, ICANN, NewgTLDsite

Article by Rochelle Bailis