seo, Technology

Small businesses face expensive fights for “.au” web addresses as experts sound warning over new domain changes

Emma Koehn /

Website domain experts have warned small businesses may have to spend significant time and money fighting for the “.au” web address for their businesses, with the body overseeing domain registries in Australia still considering how new website addresses will be claimed when the top level “.au” domain is introduced.

The regulatory body that oversees domains in Australia, auDA, has spent the past few months holding public forums to discuss the upcoming rollout of the “.au” domains, including how businesses will be able to claim the equivalent “.au” address if their business currently uses a website that ends with a “.com.au” suffix.

Jim Stewart, an SEO expert and chief executive of StewArt Media, says he was present at a public hearing on the issue two weeks ago, and while there is no strict timeline for the implementation of  “.au” domains, he believes the discussions currently being had spell bad news for small businesses.

My main issue with all of this is that there’s been no studies to say why we need it [the new .au domain] — and no data on why we need it. The problem associated with the change is that businesses could lose their brand at a ‘.au’ level,” he says. 

This is because current discussions on the topic suggest not all businesses that have a “.com.au” address will be able to automatically claim the same address with a “.au” ending, Stewart says.

Instead, he says he has heard discussions from auDA about businesses having their websites fall into a pool of “contested” web addresses.

One suggestion for the rollout of the new domains is that businesses and organisations that have held their “.com.au” address since before April 2016 would have first chance to claim the equivalent address in a “.au” structure.

However, Stewart says at the public hearing this month, the prospect was raised that businesses that had registered “.com.au” or “.net.au” addresses after April 2016 would not have automatic rights to the new “.au” domain. Instead, they could have to apply to claim the “.au” equivalent of their current “.com.au” site.

“Basically, this means that domain names registered before April 2016 are more valuable than those bought after,” Stewart says.

Stewart says if someone else were to buy that “.au” address first, businesses would have to bid to buy it back directly.

When contacted by SmartCompany, auDA said it was still “developing its recommendations” on how claiming .au sites would work, and invites feedback from the general public on the issue.

In a policy meeting on February 1, the auDA policy review panel agreed that organisations that had registered a “.com.au” domain before April 18, 2016, should be eligible for priority registration for claiming their new “.au” domain.

According to the meeting minutes, the panel also discussed what would happen for other businesses wanting to claim a domain name, or if more than one business wanted to claim the new domain address.

One model suggested is that if a business wanted to claim a domain but didn’t have “priority” access to claim it, they would have to register for a “lottery ticket” to claim it.

If more than one party registers for a ticket, the idea of mediation between the parties was floated as a way of working out who ultimately can claim the address.

Stewart says suggestions like this present incredible complexities for small businesses to deal with at a time where auDA has not shown why Australia needs to roll this new domain class out this year.

They’re asking how we should implement this, while we’re asking for a business case at all for it,” he says.  

Challenges raised by transferring sites

Stewart also warns that the introduction of the “.au” domain will mean challenges for businesses that want to stay at the top of Google search results.

“With this new domain space being introduced, it’s going to mean there are multiple domains with the same key words in them, which hasn’t been done before,” he says. 

SMEs also have to take significant care that they don’t inadvertently lose search traffic if they incorrectly migrate their site to a new “.au” web domain in future, because this is a difficult process, says Stewart.

“If they don’t do that properly, they can lose all their search traffic,” he says.  

Search engine optimisation and website experts stand to gain work from the changeover, but Stewart says that comes at a cost to the ecosystem overall.

For us, we’ll make money from it — but it’s the wrong thing to do,” he says.  

Know more on this topic or have thoughts on how it might affect your business? Email [email protected]

NOW READ: Government launches review into .au domain governance as auDA considers changes that experts say could cost SMES “literally millions”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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