The Dutch ccTLD .nl passed the six million registered domain names last week, a milestone that was reached somewhat earlier as a result of around a quarter of a million new registrations following the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
.nl is the world’s fifth largest country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) and 64 percent of all Dutch websites have .nl addresses. It is also the ccTLD with the highest number of domain names per thousand people apart from a few with free registrations like .tk.
To mark the milestone, SIDN, the registry for .nl since 31 January 1996, has published a potted history showing some of the highlights. The first .nl domain name registered was cwi.nl, registered on 1 May 1986 by .nl’s founder, Piet Beertema. Piet worked for the Centre for Mathematics and Informatics, whose Dutch initials are CWI. The Centre has continued using the domain ever since. With that registration, .nl became the first active ccTLD outside the US. A little less than ten years later, on 31 January 1996, the newly formed SIDN took over as .nl’s operator. Back then, only businesses and other organisations could register domain names. That changed in 2003, when registration was opened up to everyone.
It was a popular move: the millionth .nl domain name was registered soon after, and in less than a decade the number had soared to five million. Since that milestone was passed in 2012, the rate of growth has slowed, with another eight years passing before the counter hit six million. The slowdown was part of a global trend affecting nearly all established top-level domains. Factors driving the trend included the rise of apps and social media, plus search engines attaching less importance to domain names when ranking hits. In the Netherlands, the depth of the market penetration played a role as well. The country has more than one domain name for every two people: an extremely high density. Every year, about 850,000 new .nl domain names are registered, while roughly 800,000 existing ones are cancelled.
“We might be a small nation, but we’re big in domain names. There’s one .nl domain name for every three Dutch people. You don’t see numbers like that anywhere else,” says SIDN’s CEO Roelof Meijer. “Over the last few months, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of registrations. Since the Netherlands went into ‘intelligent lockdown’, more than 250,000 new .nl domain names have been registered. There’s never been a sharper rise.”
One explanation for the surge is businesses switching their focus to the internet in response to the coronavirus crisis. “An increasing number of traders, especially in the leisure and retail sectors, have been moving online in recent months,” continues Meijer. “And, because of their strong local or regional profiles, most of them opted for .nl domain names.” Another point highlighted by Meijer is that relatively few pandemic-related scam websites have appeared in the .nl domain. “We maintain an active watch to pick up fake webshops and move against them quickly. There was a minor uptick in detections at the start of the pandemic, but otherwise .nl hasn’t seen many malicious registrations trying to exploit the crisis.”
Amsterdam has the biggest concentration of .nl registrants, but the areas around the university cities of Groningen, Enschede, Nijmegen and Eindhoven are important focal points as well. Interestingly, the average .nl domain name is sixteen characters long, whereas the norm elsewhere is thirteen.