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Over the years, companies have gone to great lengths to meticulously create and
administer trade mark programmes that identify the circumstances in which
a brand is trade marked, how it should be monitored and the mechanisms
that should be employed for enforcement. However, to date many companies have
not been as disciplined and have not dedicated comparable time and resources to
defining a domain name policy. But why?
Some suggest that the challenge lies in the fact that the registration and management
of domain names within an organization is often a shared responsibility across
several departments – legal, marketing and IT. Without a single champion and budget
line dedicated to the cause, the creation of a comprehensive domain name policy
quickly gets relegated to the “nice to have” category, as opposed to being viewed as
a “have to have” due to the difficulty in securing consensus, budget and staff
resources across multiple departments for such an effort. In sum, everyone has a day
job and there is little time, money and energy left to be a Good Samaritan without
a mandate from the highest levels of management to get a domain name policy on
the books.
The problem with this approach is that the internet is growing in size and consumer
influence faster than any other channel. With more than 153 million domain
names registered worldwide (an increase of more than 33 million from 2006), the
estimated number of internet users reaching 1.4 billion and growing each day and
recent surveys confirming that consumers rely on the internet as their primary source
for news and information, it is more critical than ever for companies to transcend
these departmental boundaries and constraints and develop a comprehensive
domain name policy to secure, promote and protect their brands online. Failure of
brand owners to do so sooner, as opposed to later, will not only result in impairment
to the health of their corporate brands, but also negatively impact their bottom-line
in this global economy.
Mapping out an effective domain policy
An effective domain policy is one that outlines the specific goals and objectives of an
organization, clearly defines individual stakeholder/department roles and responsibilities,
creates sustainable and enforceable policies and procedures to deal with
everything from registration to recovery of domain name assets, and can adapt to
changing conditions. While this may sound like an overwhelming endeavour, by following
the 10-step approach below, your company can be well on its way to reducing
risk and cost and leveraging the internet to grow its business and brands.
Step one: define goals
The late Peter Drucker, often referred to the as the “father of modern management”
once said: “Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They are not commands; they
are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the
resources and energies of the business for the making of the future.” In devising your
company’s domain name policy, perhaps no other step is more critical to the policy’s
future success than a clear definition of goals. Before putting pen to paper, sit down
with all the stakeholders in your organization and understand their strategic business
goals, understand where they have experienced pain in domain and brand
administration in the past, have them talk about domain name initiatives and procedures
that have worked well and ask what they think the top three objectives for
the company’s domain name policy should be. It is important that this is a very candid
discussion, where titles and feelings are left at the door, and participants not only
come from management ranks, but also include those from the trenches.
A domain name policy in 10 easy steps
Gretchen Olive provides a list of stages that every brand owner should consider when drawing up
a corporate domain name policy
June 2015 31
Most companies do not
have a written domain
name policy. This often
leaves staff, management
and contracted third partners
in the dark as to the
who, what, when, how and why of domain
name management within an organization. But
today more than ever it is critical for companies
to transcend departmental boundaries
and constraints and develop a comprehensive
policy to secure, promote and protect their
brands online. A domain name policy development
process will add discipline, visibility and
accountability to the promotion and protection
of your corporate identity and brands online.
This 10-step process covers goals, responsibilities
and overall strategy as well as day-to-day
operations, budget, reporting and review. It
should improve the health of your
brands and benefit the bottom-line.
One-minute read
There is no set formula for the right number of goals, but it
is important that they are specific and measurable. For example,
reduce the number and cost of domain name recovery
efforts by 10% or enable all business units to have online
access to the portfolio of domain names and related data
attributable to their business. In addition, it is imperative to
develop goals that represent the consensus of the stakeholders.
Consensus, while sometimes difficult to achieve, will enable
you to depend on champions of the cause throughout the
organization and create an environment where all interested
departments have a vested interest in a successful domain policy
Step two: assign roles and responsibilities
At the heart of any good policy is a clear understanding of
roles and responsibilities. Stakeholders must quickly answer
several fundamental questions: will the company outsource
day-to-day management of domain assets or will internal staff
be responsible or will a hybrid approach be taken?; will there
be a central domain name administrator who will manage the
portfolio or will each business unit be responsible for managing
its own portfolio?; which department will bear primary
responsibility for administration, what checkpoints and controls
are necessary to prevent allegations of infringement by
outside third parties and who will ensure the security of company
domain and website assets? Once you have answered
these baseline questions, make a list of high-level responsibilities
for various components of your company’s domain name
policy and map them to departments/individuals/vendors.
There will be a temptation to dive into all the “tasks” that are
involved in managing a domain name portfolio. Resist. All you
want to achieve now is a list of the players/stakeholders and
their high-level responsibilities within the policy. Think of it as
your domain name policy organizational chart. Don’t forget to
consider the role subsidiaries, franchisees and other business
partners may need to play.
Through this process you should also designate a leader –
someone who will sit at the top of the domain name policy
organizational chart. This leader is not necessarily the person
with final say and ultimate responsibility for all domain name
decisions, but this person should at least be viewed as the primary
facilitator and the authoritative source for domain name
policy questions.
Step three: determine strategy
With your goals and objectives in hand and the high-level
areas of responsibility mapped out, it is now time to talk strategy.
Ask what is your organization trying to achieve on the
web? Is it brand protection, brand promotion/awareness, revenue
generation, information distribution, or all or some combination
of the above? If you have more than one objective,
what is the order of priority and how much risk or cost can
you incur to support each? Which markets are you operating
or trade marked in? Which markets does your company expect
to be operating in the next one, three or five years? What
extensions present the highest level of risk to your business?
If brand protection is an objective, compare your existing
domain name portfolio to your trade mark portfolio and list
of company names to determine meaningful gaps, identify
infringements and pinpoint defensive registration opportunities
and potential domain names to let lapse. If brand promotion/
awareness, revenue generation and/or information distribution
are your objectives, understand how internet users are
searching for you and your brands on the web by conducting
a keyword analysis. With direct navigation on the rise, it is
more important than ever to have both a keyword/search
engine optimization strategy and a domain name registration
strategy that work together.
Discuss how the company should determine which extensions
and brand strings to register for new TLD launches, new
brand launches and other important business events.
Recognizing that budgets and resources are limited, this is
where you need to seek empirical data and assistance from a
trusted adviser who has the experience,
data and tools to conduct a thorough
analysis and help you make strategic
determinations. Do not do this analysis
alone; it will be a long and frustrating
process to gather the data manually.
Data gathering tools and advice are
available and can eliminate hundreds of
staff hours spent manually compiling data.
Step four: outline day-to-day mechanics
This step outlines the mechanics of the day-to-day implementation
of your domain name strategy. Minding the details during
this step is perhaps where the biggest administrative cost
reductions and mitigation of risk can be realized. Be sure to
consider the bigger picture – where and when should domain
name registration fit into the company’s branding policies, creation
of new business entities or other important business
events, like a merger and acquisition?
Flow chart how availability searches and domain name
requests for registration, renewal, transfer and modification
should be handled not only by those within your organization,
but also by outside third parties/consultants who are helping
the organization screen, search and register trade marks, create
new business entities, build websites, develop online strategies
and close new business deals. It is strongly recommended
that you develop procedures that require strategic domain
name registration simultaneous to any public filing or expression
of intent to apply for a name or brand. Reports of domain
name front-running where Whois search query data or additions/
changes to public database records have resulted in
opportunistic domain name registration by third parties have
been well-publicized since the start of the year. Because policy
always lags behind technology, position your organization to
be proactive so you can eliminate the costs associated with
domain name recovery of these names down the road.
Also consider what controls and documentation requirements
you want to have in place to ensure your actions do not
infringe on the ownership or trade mark rights of others.
Document what information, approvals and/or forms that are
required to process a registration or transfer of domain names
(such as purchase agreement, registrant name change agreements
or trade mark assignment), make a DNS change or
renew a domain name.
Step five: monitoring, escalation and enforcement
A recent analysis of more than 100,000 domain names that we
carried out revealed that three out of every four domain names
June 2015 32
There will be a temptation to dive into all the
“tasks” that are involved in managing a
domain name portfolio. Resist
containing a brand are not registered by
the brand owner. Furthermore, 34% of
the brand-related sites held by third parties
used their domain names to operate
pay-per-click (ppc) sites. These statistics
not only highlight the pervasiveness of
brand abuse in domain name registrations,
but also provide insight into the
potential negative impact on online traffic
and in the end, revenue, for brand
In developing your monitoring programme,
identify key brands that
should be monitored and define the
type of infringements that matter most
to your organization (for example,
hate sites, traffic diversion, sale of
counterfeit goods). Ad hoc, manual
monitoring is an option, but it is not
recommended. Survey monitoring
tools and services that are available in
the market. Do not accept monthly
monitoring reports that are nothing
more than data dumps: demand prioritized
and categorized results that are actionable and can be
reviewed quickly.
The definitions of the various forms of infringement you
develop will serve as the foundation for your written escalation
and enforcement policies and procedures. Catalogue each
potential type of infringement, define the escalation points of
contact and the suggested enforcement mechanisms (such as
continued monitoring, issuance of a cease and desist letter,
DRP, court action and/or site takedown) that would be appropriate
based on urgency, cost and risk of harm to consumers
and the reputation of the company. This will take the guesswork
out of who to turn to and what needs to be done to
report problems, minimize liability exposure and preserve evidence
in times of crisis.
Step six: identify budget
In order to enable your domain name policy to be more than
words on a page, the stakeholders should determine how each
aspect of the domain name policy – registration through monitoring
to enforcement – will be funded. Sometimes it will be
necessary to pool funding from various subsidiaries or departments
to fund parts of your policy, such as to fund monitoring
tools. The key to success in these situations is to gather functional
requirements from all budget contributors and find a
solution that can be customized without additional expense. In
instances where you must seek additional corporate budget to
fund initiatives, use your domain name policy as a tool to
demonstrate the careful consideration and justification for
your request.
Step seven: create standards
To ensure scalability, transferability and sustainability of
your domain name policy, it is critical to standardize communications,
data and resources wherever and whenever
possible. Start with defining Whois templates that should be
used for all domain names owned by the company and its
various business units to ensure no individual has the ability
to hijack or hold company domain names hostage upon termination
of their employment. Create and publicize distribution
lists where requests can be sent and notices can be
directed from your registrar, registries, DRP agencies and
other vendors. This ensures there is no
single point of failure in the communication
chain. Lastly, create a central
repository where specialized tools and
resources (such as Whois look-ups,
global availability searches, request
templates, traceroutes, domain name
forms and a copy of your domain name
policy) can be accessed by all internal
and external stakeholders to ensure
consistent handling of domain name
matters and to safeguard the security
and confidentiality of your activities.
Step eight: set DNS controls
It is estimated that 29% of website
downtime is attributable to DNS failure
which can create a loss of more
than $1 million a year per organization.
Thus, it is important to outline
DNS controls to minimize the potential
of an outage. Define the type of
names (such as live sites, e-mail, redirects)
that should be on globally dispersed
DNS, either hosted internally or through a third
party, as well the types of names that can reside on less
redundant DNS. Determine if DNS slaving is something
your organization wants to implement and set out how and
with whom that should be set up. Finally, clearly define the
circumstances, personnel, procedures and authorizations
that your organization will require to make changes or
modifications to DNS.
Step nine: define reporting
To ensure expectations are clear and communication among
stakeholders is effective, your domain name policy should also
define the type and frequency of reporting that will be available
to various parties within the organization, as well as
whose responsibility it is to generate each report. This will
enable people to understand the type of information they will
be receiving on a regular basis (such as quarterly portfolio
reports to help review of upcoming expirations to determine
renewals and lapses), how progress will be tracked and what
information can be pulled from the database when conducting
corrective action reviews.
Step 10: policy and compliance review process
It is important to pre-set periodic reviews of the domain name
policy, its effectiveness and an evaluation of organizational
compliance. This is an important mechanism for stakeholders
to determine if the policy is working as intended and where it
can improve. It also provides a forum for discussion of new
policy provisions to deal with situations not previously contemplated
and to assess whether the policy has strong enough
teeth to adequately prompt compliance.
By considering and utilizing these 10 steps in the development
of your domain name policy you will find yourself wondering
how your organization ever did without it.
June 2015 33
1 Define goals
2 Assign roles and responsibilities
3 Determine strategy
4 Outline availability search, registration,
renewal, transfer, modification processes
and procedures
5 Establish monitoring, escalation & enforcement
6 Identify budget
7 Create standards
8 Set DNS controls
9 Define reporting
10 Create a policy and compliance review
10 steps to an
effective domain
name policy
Gretchen M Olive
© Gretchen M Olive 2015. The author is director of education and
industry affairs at Corporation Service Company

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