.uk and you

Alongside the current rollout of hundreds of new but potentially useless domain extensions (see my previous article on new domain names), you may also have heard about the new .uk extension. This is definitely one you should be paying close attention to. The registration of any domain name that ends in .uk (such as .co.uk or .org.uk for example) falls under the remit of Nominet. In the UK, we have come to regard .co.uk as the ’norm’ for uk-based websites but actually, most other countries don’t have double-barrelled domain names like this. For example, if we were to take a virtual trip around Europe and register a domain in each country, the list would look something like this

mywebsite.fr
mywebsite.es
mywebsite.it
mywebsite.no
mywebsite.ie
mywebsite.de

well, you get the idea..

For the first time ever, it is now possible for the general public to register a .uk domain name (without the .co part). It’s shorter and also doesn’t imply that you are a ‘company’ like .co.uk does. Whilst I think it will take a while to get used to, it’s probably something that should have been available from the outset – for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we’ve all become familiar with .co.uk and just seeing those pattern of letters after a word tells us its a UK-targetted website. Having the shorter .uk extension would look better on any literature but maybe instinctively, for a while at least, people will type in the .co.uk at the end out of habit. Similarly, in search results we may well see two totally different websites under a .co.uk and a .uk domain name. This may be confusing for the user but ultimately it could be damaging for the website owner. It is this confusion that sits at the heart of why I think that launching .uk isn’t going to produce a whole new blank landscape to fill with new and exciting websites.

I own many .co.uk domain names, a couple of them are really good names. I cannot risk someone else buying the .uk versions of those and either holding me to ransom for them, or have them launch a competing website under the snappier .uk name. Nominet recognise this threat to existing .co.uk customers and therefore have provided a mechanism by which I have first refusal to buy the .uk version of any of my current domain names. They are still relatively cheap and so it is a no-brainer for me to protect my online businesses by purchasing the .uk equivalent, and simply forwarding it to the .co.uk site. Incredibly, there is a 5 year period for .co.uk domain owners to choose whether they want the .uk version or not. My mistake was hurriedly registering those .uk names whereas actually I could have saved 5 years of registration fees; they are essentially ‘protected’ by the fact I own the .co.uk equivalent.

Therefore, as we near 6th October 2019 when .uk is opened up to everyone, we will probably see quite a lot of available names. I am sure that with media coverage around that time, all .co.uk domain name owners will be frightened into purchasing the .uk version while they still can. And so, we end up with a situation very similar to the current one; it will be almost impossible to acquire a domain name based on the name of your business or brand. There will of course be some .co.uk owners who don’t know about the .uk domain or forget to register it. The real skill will be in finding those names shortly after 8am on the 6th October 2019. However, I would be very nervous about launching an online business under a .uk name when I know the .co.uk is owned by someone else and those same fears about misdirected traffic and ransom notes will crop up again.

The only winners here it would seem would be hosting companies and Nominet who will essentially double their income from registrations. It doesn’t tackle the root cause of the lack of available domain names, and, until .co.uk becomes less common (which is hard to imagine), then it is yet another domain name extension that you need to check is available before starting a new online business. I would prefer to see a buy-back policy from nominet for domain names that have not been used as productive and regularly updated websites – but that’s for another blog post I think.

I’ve talked mostly about .co.uk domain names, but if you have a .org.uk domain name you also have a right to acquire the .uk version of the domain name. However, that’s only the case if the .org.uk domain was purchased prior to the 28th October 2013, and the .co.uk was purchased after this date which, I have to say, is incredibly unlikely. In short, if you are a .co.uk domain name owner then my advice would definitely be to purchase the .uk version but not right now, to save on fees. Set a reminder for yourself in early 2019 to buy the .uk version of your names then, unless you’d sleep better owning them now – especially if you are just launching your site, in which case I would suggest using the .uk version as your primary domain. Whilst a lot of the big companies have already acquired their .uk versions, notably PayPal and Ebay haven’t done so yet.

For more information, see nominet’s dedicated .uk launch site at http://www.dotuklaunch.uk

Experienced web designer and developer. An unusual mix of logical thinker with a creative eye. Loves a problem to solve.


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