All domain names, or web addresses, can be divided into two main parts. The second-level domain is the element chosen by the end user and can be any combination of characters, within limits. The top-level domain (TLD) is the suffix of the domain name and is determined by the organisation administering the domain. Typical examples of top-level domains are .com, .org and .net.

Historically, the number of TLDs available was limited to six generic top level domains (gTLDs) (.com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov and .mil) and the country code top level domains (ccTLDs) assigned to different countries or territories (such as or .de). However, beginning in 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) began allowing applications by third parties for the creation of new TLDs with much greater flexibility on the content of those TLDs. 

As a result, over 1,200 new gTLDs have now been registered with ICANN, ranging from .online, .shop and .work to .pizza, .party and .guitars. gTLDs with broad or positive connotations such as .top, .club and .xyz have been particularly popular. There have also been a range of new geographically-focused gTLDs that relate to areas within countries or evocations of a state or region: examples include .tokyo, .alsace and .kiwi. The new system also allowed for the first time the registration of gTLDs in other alphabets, including Arabic, Cyrillic and Chinese characters.

ICANN's hope was that this programme would encourage competition in the domain name marketplace, and it has certainly never been simpler for the owner of a new website to find and register a unique domain name. The system also helps to boost visibility of existing brands in new markets (in particular through the registration of domains in non-Latin characters) and even allows greater creativity, with registrations for domains like, or catching the eye.

However, there are also a few drawbacks to the new system that brand owners should be aware of. Primary among these is the sheer number of domains now available. While in the past it was comparatively straightforward to register domain names covering the six gTLDs and any ccTLDs for territories of major interest (for example,,, etc.), the cost for registering in relation to all of the new gTLDs is now prohibitively high. That is especially the case when considering the need to monitor similar or deliberately misspelled domains registered by third parties for the purposes of malware, spyware or email phishing attacks (such as or The number of possible options is close to infinite and it is simply no longer feasible to be able to keep track of everything.

The consequence of this is that the potential for confusion among consumers has increased even in relation to legitimate registrations: with so many available variations on domain names, it can become difficult for visitors to determine which domains are and are not officially connected to a particular business.

Brand owners also need to be aware of current online trends: for example, the past couple of years have seen a huge rise in the registration of .ai domain names.

Finally, it is worth noting that the new gTLDs are administered by an increasingly wide range of third-party registrars. This can make management of a portfolio containing domains with several different gTLDs more challenging in terms of renewal of those domains, as renewals may need to be handled separately by different parties, and there is a risk that new registrars may not provide an adequate level of oversight or accessibility compared to more established names in the field.

Brand owners are advised to consider a domain name watching service (alongside other policing measures such as trade mark and company name watching services and brand monitoring services) to flag any new registrations that may be of concern at an early stage; although taking formal action against each one could be a very high-cost strategy, this can at least help to identify any serious threats.

The introduction of new gTLDs has meant that it has never been easier to secure a domain name that reflects a brand and brand image. However, there are also a number of issues with the system that brand owners should consider carefully as the online world continues to expand.