A tale of two TLDs

Marketing the .ca and .nl domains

David Fowler is Vice-President, Marketing and Communications at CIRA, registry for Canada's .ca domain. Michiel Henneke is his Dutch counterpart: Marketing Manager at the .nl registry, SIDN. Their paths crossed recently at CENTR's marketing meeting in Leiden. We caught up with them to ask how the two registries can learn from the way things are done an ocean away.

One big difference between .nl and .ca is market share. While .nl has about three quarters of the Dutch market, .ca accounts for less than a third of all Canadian registrations. In the Netherlands, .com is very much the second choice, but in Canada it's easily the largest TLD. Does that oblige CIRA to take a different approach to marketing from that used by SIDN? "Having ground to make up makes us more determined," says David Fowler. "To borrow a familiar slogan, 'We Try Harder.'"

David Fowler

Successful domains

David sees the similarities between the two registries as more important than the differences. "SIDN and CIRA are both very progressive. And very successful. SIDN has managed to make .nl one of the biggest country-code domains in the world. While CIRA has achieved substantial growth for .ca over the last decade. By really working at our marketing, we've increased our market share from 20 per cent to 32 per cent. A significant portion of that increase has come from .com.

Made in Canada

Looking at the way Canada's registrars market .ca, what stands out is all the maple-leaf flags and slogans like 'proudly Canadian'. "We do play the patriotic card," confirms David. "If Canada is close to your heart, then .ca's your domain. The emphasis on Canadian identity is also reflected in our 'Canadian presence requirement'. Our presence requirement is a core aspect to our brand promise and fundamental to the value of .ca." The requirement for a .nl registrant to have a local address was dropped a while ago, Michiel points out. "Some years back, we decided to help people from other countries register .nl names: we let them use our address as their postal address in the Netherlands."

Lead generation

CIRA's marketing activities have two focuses: lead generation and content marketing. The company has a particularly strong track record in lead generation. They use AdWords, for example, and their website features a lot of marketing automation. "The programme's been a big hit," says David. "Over the last three years we increased our leads to registrars from 64,000, to 142,000 and anticipate delivering over 165,000 leads this year.  The conversion rate is about 13 per cent, so naturally our partners are very pleased." SIDN rolled out similar website technology a few months back. "We went to CIRA for advice on lead generation before developing the funnel for SIDN.nl," explains Michiel. "Their input was extremely valuable, and the new set-up has already generated thousands of leads for our registrars."

Content marketing

CIRA's been doing content marketing for about a year. And it's now a key element of the registry's marketing game plan. CIRA uses infographics, publishes e-books and produces blogs. The main aim is to communicate the value of .ca in addition to information about domain names: what a domain name is, what you can do with it, and so on. However, Michiel doesn't see a similar approach working in Netherlands. "Dutch internet users are very clued up already," he says. "From research, we know that 84 per cent of registrants have registered names before. Like CIRA, we're active in the content marketing field, but our focus is on building our brand image and raising the profile of additional services such as the Domain Name Surveillance Service.

Michiel Henneke


For both registries, the business community is very important. Commercial use is the driver of domain name sales. If you want to start a business, a website and an e-mail address are essential. Another target community for CIRA is millennials. "Millennials are digital natives, and they use a lot of different platforms," David explains. "A .ca domain is a tool for managing their own on-line identity and/or supporting their entrepreneurial side with a business, instead of being reliant on a social media corporation. A website can serve as a hub for sharing content on social media." Michiel attaches great importance to millennials too, but again with a business slant. "We see young people mainly as business-starters. An increasing proportion of them are self-employed. And having a domain name is part of that lifestyle."

Instructive flops

It's often mistakes that teach you most. What failures did most to shape thinking at the two registries? Michiel recalls one of the first ad campaigns run for the .nl domain, more than ten years ago. "It was a great campaign, which drew a lot of visitors to our site. But our registrars weren't happy about it. They thought we should focus on getting the basics right rather than advertising. And they had a point. Our service levels weren't anywhere near what they are today." David has no problem adding an example of his own. "Before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, we produced a TV commercial. Unfortunately, we didn't have the financial muscle to generate real media pressure with it. With a budget three times as big, I'm sure it would have worked." David doesn't regret trying, though. "Truth is, we have failures all the time," he acknowledges. "But that's part of the deal. You have to keep trying new things. And some of them don't work out. There's no magic formula that guarantees success. What worked yesterday, may get you nowhere tomorrow."


It may be that in the future domain names become less significant, due to the influence of search engines and social media. We're therefore looking to the long term with our Registrar Scorecard scheme, which aims to curb cancellations and promote active use. And, in the short term, Michiel and David see a largely rosy future. "The SME sector is benefitting from the economic upturn and we see opportunities with the millennials," David summarises. "We've also got momentum from the growth achieved in recent years. We'll continue striving to become the biggest domain in Canada." Just as, across the Atlantic, Michiel and his SIDN colleagues will go on working to preserve .nl's number 1 position.


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