So unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ll have heard about the new “exciting” changes to New Zealand domain names. At FutureLab HQ, where I’m copywriter in residence, we’ve already had many calls from clients wanting to know more information about what this all means, so let’s go through the options for domain owners.

On the 30th September 2014, it became possible to register a domain name at the ‘second level’ – that is, under .nz, rather than the ‘third level’ we use currently, ie, .co.nz, .org.nz, or .net.nz. All existing New Zealand domain owners now have a choice – to make the switch to the new domain or keep to the status quo. According to the Domain Name Commission Chair, David Farrar, the change means “greater choice” for New Zealanders and helps the domain name space to “stay relevant” for the future. Well, greater choice, certainly. But relevant? Try confusing!

Granted, New Zealand websites could already include different varieties of web address endings – TVNZ puts the total at 15 before September 30. However, we’d say the majority of websites that Kiwi consumers use on a day-to-day basis are registered under .co.nz. Kiwis know the web address of their favourite companies and are confident on how to find them online.

This “greater choice” now introduces a period of consumer confusion. When typing in a web address, will you type .co.nz or .nz? Will you have to remember which companies have embraced the change and which have kept to their original domain? Are we going to see the .nz wipe out the original domain names entirely, or will the name change fail to take off and die quietly in a few months’ time? Or, most likely for the foreseeable future, and worst for both consumers and businesses, will both exist side by side?

Should businesses buy their new domain name?


Domain name
Should you buy the new domain name?

Yes, most businesses should probably buy their new domain name option, or at least reserve it if they can. FutureLab, for example, have already bought the .nz domain and redirected it, so that browsers typing in www.futurelab.co.nz and www.futurelab.nz will both end up at the regular home page. Unfortunately, if you don’t buy or reserve your domain name within the next six months, someone else could buy it after that. That could risk you losing website traffic down the road. As long as no one else currently has a similar domain name to you, you should be able to buy or reserve the new domain name with no conflicts. You can reserve the domain name for free for two years, so if you don’t want to purchase your new domain quite yet, that’s probably your best option.

Whether you’re going to invest in the new domain system or not really depends on the type of business you are. If you conduct a significant amount of business online – like FutureLab – it’s a good idea to own both domains. If your web presence isn’t a big feature and you’re not worried about someone taking the new domain in the future – fine! Don’t feel pressured by bureaucracy into spending that extra bit of cash per year.

Note: If you’re panicking about not getting in soon enough, don’t worry. If you’ve owned your domain name since May 2012, you’ll have preferential status, which means no one can register the .nz version of your domain name in the next six months. If you registered your domain after May 2012, you’ll have preferential status only if there’s no conflict with other domains. An example would be if your business is called oranges.co.nz, and there’s also a company out there using oranges.net.nz. Both parties may want the shorter oranges.nz domain, but they will have to agree who gets it – or else no-one does. Check out the Domain Name Commisson’s FAQs for more info on preferential status.

So unfortunately, at least in these early stages of the new domain name, this means that businesses will probably need to own BOTH domains – the original version and the .nz version. Now, that may only be another $30 or so a year to each company, but that sure is a lot of money for the registrars! (What do you think – too cynical or hitting the nail on the head?)

Should companies switch to the new domain name?


Which domain to choose?
Which domain to choose?

Now, this answer isn’t so clear cut. You’ve spent months, even years, not to mention budget, on branding your business online. Sure, it’s only a small change at the end of the web address, but in the future it could make a difference to how consumers view you, especially as some parties are touting the name change as more quintessentially ‘Kiwi’, much like the recent .kiwi domain release. If consumers end up buying into that, businesses may rush to display their web address as .nz to avoid looking unpatriotic.

Switching to the new domain means actually displaying that URL when consumers browse your site, rather than just redirecting to your existing domain. Switching domains permanently in this way is not something to be taken lightly. You’ll need to redirect a whole heap of links and put in a lot of work behind the scenes. Therefore, that course of action is not recommendable at this stage of the game. Besides, you’ll still want to keep your original domain name going and redirect to the new one anyway, or risk losing all the value of links and bookmarks to your site, not to mention losing customers. So what’s the difference – you still need to maintain two domains until we can assess which way the domain cookie is going to crumble.

So, the real question is, what are consumers going to do in the next few months? Will they embrace the .nz, or will they stick to their bookmarks and saved searches and largely ignore the new domains? Will we see consumers searching more for .nz or .co.nz? Will new domain owners choose to register at .nz or .co.nz – or perhaps both, effectively doubling the cost of domain ownership?

Until we see a trend emerging, it may be best to keep a finger in each pie – owning both domain names and for now, redirecting the .nz to land at the usual .co.nz homepage.

At FutureLab, we’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on the market to decide what to do next ourselves. What are your thoughts on the new domain change – a great new option for the NZ web, a money-making scam from the DNC, or a confusing and simply unnecessary choice?

We’ll journey with you and help you explore the digital solutions that will benefit your business.

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