Canadians are playing the name game

With the addition of new domain name extensions, such as .name and .biz, the possibility for confusion has increased dramatically. What used to be a simple world of .com, .org and a few seldom-used country codes, has turned into a veritable alphabet soup of bewilderment. Which extensions should companies choose – should they try to corner the market for all extensions – should they even care?

“It is getting confusing out there, with all the new suffixes, so I don’t think (the domain name extensions) have any importance anymore,” said Lorne Erenberg, a Toronto-based financial consultant.

CIRA, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, recently commissioned a study to find out how Canadians felt about domain name extensions, especially .ca versus .com. Over 1,000 Canadians were surveyed in November 2001, with survey results confirming CIRA’s suspicion that Canadians prefer .ca.

“We kind of had a gut feeling that Canadians preferred .ca sites over .com sites but that feeling was not good enough to base important business decisions on,” said Gabriel Ahad, director of communications at CIRA in Ottawa.

“Indeed most Canadians, if given the choice, would rather visit a .ca site.”

More than 70 per cent of those interviewed said they prefer .ca to .com sites since they know .ca sites are Canadian. At the same time they equated a .com site with being American.

There is some debate why Canadians feel this way.

Ahad agreed. “What I can tell you, for sure, is that nationalism is a big part of it.” He also agreed the sinking dollar could have something to do with the .ca preference but that the survey did not specifically ask this question.

Nationalism Aside

It is rather ironic that Canadians feel as strongly as they do about .ca since, until relatively recently, it has been a pain in the butt to acquire it. Prior to the change in policy, a company (it was difficult for an individual to register) had to have a presence in more than one province or be federally incorporated to qualify for the .ca extension , and for that reason many smaller Canadian companies opted straightaway for .com.

But with the .com bomb of 2001, companies are back to rethinking their position. Even one of Canada’s national symbols, the Hudson Bay Company, is contemplating a change in its strategy, according to a spokesperson. As it stands today, the extension is for the commercial e-commerce site while is corporate.

A major factor for choosing a domain name extension is how Canadian a company wants to appear. For those with global intentions, .com is the way to go.

If you have international intentions, I would think that dot com suits you best, Erenberg said.

This is exactly the conclusion made by e-route inc., the Web document company run by a consortium of Canadian financial institutions.

“We chose .com because we wanted the service to have the perception of having global reach and if we had chosen .ca we thought that people might feel it was limited as a Canadian play,” said Tracy Norman, director of product development for e-route.

But if a company wants to appear Hoser friendly, then .ca is the only game in town.

If you want to prove you have a presence here it is an easy way to do it,” Erenberg said. “[.ca] is an advantage to prove you are Canadian.”

This holds particularly true for Yankee companies north of the 49th parallel.

“Canadians are looking for some things to tell them they are on a Canadian site, especially when you have a U.S. company that you are purchasing something from,” said Anwar Sumar, senior manager online with Dell Canada, in Toronto.

Dell did not make this decision based on a whim.

“In extensive usability testing here for Canada, we found that a .ca name was extremely important to our customer base, to Canadians,” Sumar said.

Though the CIRA survey results may prove useful for smaller Canadian companies, it is apparent that larger companies in Canada spend a lot of marketing time and money making what appears to be an straightforward decision.

For Ford Canada the decision was partially based on necessity. Though the company is part of a larger global player, it does not have the same product line both north and south of the border.

Not only are there different marketing strategies between the two countries, there are also – unlike Dell – different product lines.

“Canadians like smaller vehicles,” said Annie Hiraoka, e-business manager, marketing communications at Ford Canada in Oakville, Ont. There are also different vehicle specs between the two countries, so creating one North American build-and-price Web site would be next to impossible, she added. “We really feel that we need a Canadian site for Canadian consumers.”

With increased advertising directing customers to, Hiraoka said there has been a dramatic decrease in traffic coming to the site via the .com parent. The same holds true for Dell. With over 10 million pieces of advertising floating around Canada in December, there is little surprise the vast majority of traffic comes directly to the site.

But in the end it’s all about perception.

“It is all about branding and marketing, from a technology stand point it means nothing,” Ahad said.

Erenberg agrees. “If you have done the branding people are going to bookmark it…and then [they won’t] really care what (extension) it is.”