When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, British entities and citizens residents will no longer be eligible for registration or renewal of .EU domain names.
This can seriously impact upon online businesses:
- Loss of traffic
A site-wide drop in Google rankings. Google will not bring users to ineligible websites.
Links from other websites, newsletters, email, bookmarks, and so on will not reach the website when the domain is no longer online.
- Loss of sales and leads
Sales and leads will drop, as users will stumble upon error messages where published web pages once existed.
- Cybersquatting and reputational crisis
Malicious – but eligible parties – can register and use .EU domain names held previously by legitimate organisations, to scam their (former) customers and readers.
- Reputational risks
If a malicious party takes control of your domain name, potential new customers or not internet-savvy users in good faith can generate negative sentiment, word-of-mouth comments and reviews towards your brand.
Removing these will be challenging.
- Email communication
Individuals and organisations risk being locked out of vital services, they should therefore invest time updating their contact details with suppliers, institutions, websites, online and offline services.
Think that in 2015 the average number of accounts registered with one email in the UK were 118, and a 2017 study says that the average – mindful – employee manages 191 passwords.
- Website migration
Business and individuals can prevent significantly economic damages by migrating their website to another domain name (.uk, .com, .org, etc) as soon as they can.Once Brexit occurs:
- .EU domain names will not be accessible anymore
- redirects users and pages will be impossible
- users will face error pages rather than pre-existing websites
- email addresses will return error messages, with no chance to communicate
- “I forgot my password” link will not be an option
A website migration is the only chance for ineligible British residents to save time, money, resources and a very bad headache.
In this article I outline the current situation and what British domain holders need to do to ensure their businesses are ready for Brexit.
Ascent And Descent: 14 Years Of .EU
As enthusiastic early adopters, UK business and individuals ranked in the top 3 as .EU domains names holders for 6 years in a row (from 2006 to 2012), behind Germany and the Netherlands, as highlighted in Graph 1, which shows the registration progress from Q2 2006 to Q1 2020.
Graph 1: Top 10 countries EU domain names registration progress
Contrary to the 300,000+ .EU domain names most reports claim, with Brexit imminent, only 150,000 are currently held in the UK.
What has changed?
During the last 24 month registrations have significantly declined, which is more pronounced in the second quarter of 2019, as shown in Graph 2.
Graph 2: EU domain names registration progress in the UK (2006-2020)
Other European Domain Names: A Much Larger Impact
Website holders should also be aware of the impact of Brexit upon other European domains. The list below includes a quick summary of the registration rules for each affected domain name:
.bg (Bulgaria): companies registered in European Union.
.hr (Croatia): legal persons registered in a Member State of the European Union and who have a European VAT.
.fr (France): anybody living in the European Union and the 4 countries of the European Economic Zone.
.hu (Hungary): any citizen or entity of the European Union, of the Council of Europe, an EEA or EFTA country.
.it (Italy): anyone who has citizenship, residence or commercial headquarters in the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA), in the State of the Vatican, in the Republic of San Marino and the Swiss Confederation.
.sk (Slovakia): a natural or legal person who has an address for service delivery in one of the Member States of the European Union, in the State of the European Economic Area or in a Member State of the European Free Trade Association.
To maintain a .EU domain name British residents need to fulfill the relevant registration rules.
3rd February 2020 update:
The United Kingdom left the European Union on 31 January 2020 at midnight (CET). After full ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK and the EU entered into the so-called “transition period”. This time-limited period was agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement and will last until 31 December 2020 at least. During the transition period UK residents and citizens will continue to be able to hold and register a .eu domain name. The plan outlined below will apply as from the end of the transition period and will soon be updated accordingly.
23rd October 2019 update:
Following the recent developments in the UK withdrawal scenario, the entire plan outlined below is on hold.
A very important modification has been made: citizenship criteria was added to the residency criteria.
According to Article 4(2)(b) of Regulation (EC) No 733/2002, as amended by Regulation (EU) 2019/517, as of 19 October 2019 the following persons are eligible to register .EU domain names (ref):
- A Union citizen, independently of their place of residence
Including Union citizens resident in the UK, or anywhere in the world
- A natural person who is not a Union citizen but who is a resident of a Member State of the EU
Including British citizens resident in any Member State of the EU
- An undertaking that is established in the European Union
Including British organisation with a branch office or subsidiary in the EU
- An organisation that is established in the Union, without prejudice to the application of national law
Including British organisations running their business in the EU
What Will Happen Once Brexit Occurs?
Once Brexit occurs British residents and entities must check their eligibility for holding .EU domain names.
- Non-EU citizens or organisations that don’t have a branch in the EU, will not be allowed to hold a .EU domain name(s)
- Pre-existing domain names belonging to British citizens/entities will shift into a limbo state: they will not be registered or available for registration
- Domain names can be restored only if the holder can satisfy the requirements
On 24 October 2019
EURid will notify by email both GB (Great Britain) and GI (Gibraltar) registrants, and their registrars, about their forthcoming non-compliance with the .eu regulatory framework.
On 1 November 2019
EURid will again notify by email both GB and GI registrants and their registrars that their domain name(s) is/are no longer compliant with the .eu regulatory framework.
As of 1 January 2020
All registrants who did not demonstrate their eligibility will be deemed ineligible and their domain names will be withdrawn. A withdrawn domain name no longer functions, as the domain name is removed from the zone file and can no longer support any active services (such as websites or email).
Only 12 months after the Brexit is in place, (i.e. on 1 November 2020)
All the affected domain names will be revoked, and will become available for general registration.
What Should A UK Business Do If Not Eligible?
The British government has published a guide for domain holders in case of ‘no deal’ Brexit, but the advice is just not enough.
If applicable, they should update details of the eligible individual or entity within the organisation that satisfy the registration rules.
If not eligible, UK businesses and individuals should evaluate if they can wait and see if the EU authorities will facilitate UK residents, but with current events this is looking increasingly unlikely. Otherwise change the domain name now.
This risks clients no longer being able to find them and being locked out of vital services.
But if the individual/organisation is not eligible:
- The website/email will no longer be online
- They will need to move to a new domain name
- It will not be possible to redirect the current .eu domain name to your new website
- All the email addresses should be updated
- All the details access on 3rd party websites should be updated
- It will not be possible to use the “I forgot my password” if details are forgotten
This means starting anew, planning and investing the time and energy into your business before the deadline to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Take action. Migrate your website. Today.
The following is a quick overview of what you should do to do damage control if you’re not eligible.
As any European Union citizen or resident can register your domain name, Cybersquatting is a serious hazard. This is because anyone can replace your website with their own and scam potential customers looking for your business and services.
Your brand, trademark and reputation could be negatively affected.
Domain Address Change
Your website is your brand, showroom and ultimately your sales and leads acquisition channel. An overnight change can be hugely damaging to business, resulting in a major drop in visitors and subsequent sales, as customers will struggle to find your website.
If you hold a .eu domain and you rely on SEO and organic traffic from Google, you risk losing it all, with sales and leads dropping to 0, as shown in Graph 3.
Graph 3: An example of a website which lost traffic overnight
Organic traffic brings most of e-commerce’s revenue. In terms of customer acquisition, Organic traffic’s conversion rate is #3, just after Referral traffic (recommendation from one website to another) and Email (people already engaged with you).
Google is the biggest search traffic acquisition channel in Europe and the UK, see Graphs 4.
Graph 4: Search Market in the UK
Unfortunately this means British .EU domain holders and entities will need to invest time and resources to re-acquire their traffic again, much like with a new domain name.
To prevent all of these negative consequences for your business, get a website migration as soon as possible.
What you should do
- Temporarily transfer the domain name(s) to an eligible trusted third party, in the hope of an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
- If this is not possible, define a different domain name for your activities.
You can choose any other domain name you are eligible for, like .com, .co.uk, .uk, etc.
- Plan an SEO migration to redirect your visitors and customers to your new domain name.
What is an SEO migration
A website migration is an activity that allows current and potential customers to find your website’s pages via Google and other search engines, after the business changes domain name.
It requires an analysis of your website to allow Google to get current signals, and handle the changes to prevent a drop in the rankings (and consequently visitors and then sales).
It also enables modifications to be made to other marketing activities, such as paid ads, newsletter, Social Media, etc.
This is a sensitive activity, and you should employ an SEO professional as soon as possible.
Email Address Change
Email addresses are the main method of communication between you and others (customers, suppliers, partners, etc), and access of information when logging in is required. Consequently changing it is essential, but this may be difficult and time consuming. If done within a short period of time it can negatively impact your communication with others and the organisation itself.
If you attempt to continue to use a .EU email address to communicate with others, when no longer eligible, you will lose access to that account and will not be able to change your login details or receive email messages, so potentially be locked out from the following:
- suppliers and partners (i.e.: web hosting, electricity, courier companies, G Suite)
- financial institutions (i.e.: banks, payment gateways)
- governmental services (i.e.: HMRC, City Council)
- customers (i.e.: customer support, newsletter, ongoing private conversations)
- any other sensitive online and offline services (i.e.: email marketing platform, solicitor, accountant, patent office, etc)
Reclaiming all of this will be difficult, frustrating and time consuming. So it is important to start as soon as possible.
What you should do
- List any website, online tool, supplier, partner, business the organisation work with
- Activate new email addresses on a new domain name
- Update all the details wherever you can
For some of them you can login and update the new details yourself, other times you should contact the customer support, phone call or visit the relevant office.
It’s easy to forget services you use a few times per year, so do it now.
With Brexit UK residents and organisations may become ineligible to hold a .EU domain which can be damaging to their businesses and risks cybersquatting. British Businesses should consider migrating their websites now and employing a strategy to minimise the effects of Brexit.
Find all the reference on Google Drive