What are IDNs and what are their advantages?
How to get the most out of internationalised domain names (IDNs) when building your brand?
IDNs (Internationalised Domain Names) are domain names that can contain special or non-Latin characters. Created in 2003, IDNs were designed to overcome the lack of linguistic representation that comes with the limitations of standard domain names. Indeed, contrary to IDNs, they can only contain Latin characters, digits and hyphens.
Striving to respect the world’s linguistic diversity has continued to motivate other developments after IDNs, from the creation of a standard for internationalised e-mail addresses to the launch of new IDN TLDs (Top-Level Domains).
But what can be gained from the registration of IDNs? Let’s take a look!
Highlight your brand
Building your online presence, and by extension purchasing a domain name, is sometimes a step that you get to after your brand has already been established. The question then being: how to integrate your brand or company name to a domain name? If it contains diacritical marks (accent, umlaut, etc), removing them might seem like the thing to do. But before making this decision, it might be useful to ask yourself some questions.
- Do you clients risk having trouble finding you? If your domain name includes common words that usually have diacritical marks, getting rid of them could deprive you of qualified traffic. In which case you’ll want to consider registering both versions of your domain and redirecting one to the other.
- Do your brand or company name take on a different meaning if you remove diacritical marks? For instance, the company name of a French company, “Chocolat corsé” (rich chocolate), would become “chocolatecorse.fr” (Corsican chocolate) in a standard domain name, which could cause confusion to say the least.
In short: don’t depreciate the value of your brand by going with a standard domain name at all costs. And if you’re worried that choosing an IDN will hurt your chances when going international, the following point is for you.
Expand into global markets
That’s it, your company got its IDN! But there’s a catch: not everyone has this character readily available on their keyboard, which could hinder their accessing your website.
Not to worry, there’s a solution to that problem: multi-domain strategy. The principle is simple since it’s all about having multiple domain names, each catered to a specific linguistic zone. The goal is to establish a strong local presence and make it as easy as possible for your customers to find your website in their preferred language. And this isn’t a step that can be overlooked: to reach a wider audience and convert visits into sales, accessibility and simplicity of use are key. The SEO bump that comes with that strategy is also to be taken into account, as we will see later.
Additionally, IDNs are also supported by several ccTLDs (Country-Code TLDs), which can allow you to gain even more visibility in local searches.
Protect your brand
Besides multi-registrations aimed at reaching a new audience, you can make what are called defensive domain name registrations. For example, to avoid confusion between a competitor and your company. Or to prevent someone from registering a domain name with the purpose of harming your organisation or your clients.
An unfortunate situation that happened to the French government website https://www.republique-numerique.fr/. Shortly after it was launched, a second site appeared, with a similar address except that both words were spelled as they usually are, with accents. The real problem was, its content was anti-government, which is not exactly ideal to promote an information campaign. Some brands like Hermès, L’Oréal or Céline took action to prevent this entirely. The IDN versions of their domain names have been registered and now redirect to their main website.
In addition to strategic defensive registrations, you might also want to look into brand protection programs. They aim at protecting your trademarks from being used in domain registrations. These services include not only your trademarks but also, depending on the plan you choose, a number of variations. You can go to our brand protection page to learn more about them.
Make your users feel included
If it’s difficult for Internet users to type characters that don’t exist on their keyboards, it’s not exactly easier to have to use a completely different alphabet to access what they’re looking for. However, that’s precisely what some Internet users are forced to do to be able to access some websites. Even though the percentage of users who speak languages using non-Latin alphabets has increased the most between 2000 and 2021: a progression of up to 9,348% depending on the language, according to Internet World Stats.
Beyond the accessibility issue, your brand image can only be improved by taking into account the specific needs of your customers. And offering them access to a website that’s easy to find in their language is a real plus. Especially since it avoids having to use a bridge language, which may make communication less effective.
In our article on how to properly choose a domain name, we discuss the option of integrating keywords into your domain. IDNs are useful for this purpose as well, since they allow you to insert keywords in the language of the target audience, without changing how words are spelled.
This means that when a user searches for those same keywords, spelled as they usually are, your site is more likely to be at the top of the search results. You can take advantage of this while keeping your non-IDN domain by registering an IDN and setting up a redirect to your main domain.
IDNs used to have a bad reputation, especially in the first months after their launch. The reason? A fear that they would be used to carry out what are called homograph attacks. That is, cybercriminals creating domain names that deceptively look like the name of a well-known organisation, company or brand. In other words: it’s a form of phishing.
IDNs are used for these attacks because of how similar some characters are. It’s very difficult to distinguish, for example, the а from the Cyrillic alphabet and the a from the Latin alphabet. This is what the author of this website, https://www.аррӏе.com/ (or https://www.xn--80ak6aa92e.com/ in its punycode version), which doesn’t belong to the famous multinational at all, tried to prove.
And how to avoid it
Homograph attacks using IDNs don’t make the top list of dangers on the internet. But users still need to be protected from them. That’s why some Registries don’t allow the registration of domains containing a mix of characters from different alphabets. A practice that some experts would like to see becoming the new standard.
Until Registries or ICANN arrive at a solution, some browsers display a warning message when you try to access websites with questionable IDNs. Google Chrome also shows the punycode version of the IDN if it’s considered risky (learn more about punycodes on our IDN page). Precise rules determine what Chrome will consider as suspicious (see the full IDN rule list).
The goal is simple: flag potentially unsafe IDNs without putting legitimate IDNs at a disadvantage.
As for protecting your intellectual property from these types of imitations, trademark protection service can be useful, as discussed above.
Ever since their introduction, IDNs have become more and more integrated into systems, especially for what characters are authorised in email addresses. They seem bound to become unavoidable if we consider the growing number of internet users using Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets or Japanese kanji, to name a few.
And now that you know how to best unlock their potential, you can include them into your marketing strategy!