SMEs are driving Ireland’s surging digital economy

New data from .IE, Ireland’s country domain manager has revealed that .ie domain registrations increased 24% in 2021 compared with pre-pandemic 2019 as tens of thousands of SMEs rushed online.

The data shows that tens of thousands of Irish SMEs built websites and online stores during the pandemic.

A total of 62,198 new .ie domains were registered in 2021 compared to 50,167 in 2019. H1 2021 was the best half-year period on record for new .ie domain registrations, although they decreased 4.5% in the full year of 2021 compared to 2020. As of 31 December 2021, the total .ie database stood at 330,108 domains.

“SMEs whose physical premises were shuttered or only partially open moved online in order to continue selling to their customers and stay connected”

The 2021 .IE Domain Profile Report, which explores and analyses the .ie database, shows that for most of last year, the rate of new .ie domain registrations largely reflected Government lockdown policy.

The digital high street

“In the months of 2021 when Ireland was in strict lockdown and non-essential retail was closed, new .ie domain registrations surged,” said David Curtin, CEO of .IE.

“SMEs whose physical premises were shuttered or only partially open moved online in order to continue selling to their customers and stay connected. In July, registrations bottomed out as reopening continued and the Government encouraged a focus on outdoor activities.”

However, the pandemic’s link to new .ie domain registrations appeared to ‘decouple’ in August as .ie domain registrations once again increased despite the Government’s accelerated reopening plans.

“We believe this decoupling occurred when it did because the Irish economy has, for the most part, exited the ‘acute response’ phase of the pandemic. Businesses have factored-in the uncertainty of restrictions and reduced trading ability to their commercial operations and planning.

“SMEs are also no longer simply reacting to the pandemic. Instead, consumer behaviours are changing, and SMEs are changing with them. Businesses are investing in new websites, integrating e-commerce technology, and making use of productivity-enhancing tools all year round because they now recognise the huge role they play in profitability and customer acquisition,” said Curtin.

International and county growth

At the end of December 2021, the .ie domain accounted for 52.6% of all top-level domains hosted in Ireland, an increase of 1.6 percentage points compared with the same month in 2020. In comparison, .com accounted for 30.8% of all domains, followed by .uk (7.6%) and .eu (2.3%).

At 6.5% year-on-year growth, the .ie domain remains one of the fastest growing country domains in Europe, behind only .ee (Estonia, +8.8%) and .pt (Portugal, +10.2%) and ahead of .fr, .de, and .uk.

All counties on the island of Ireland, excluding Armagh, recorded an increase in percentage growth in new .ie domain registrations in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic 2019. Counties Longford, Mayo, and Meath recorded the highest overall increases; Galway recorded the highest percentage increase among the urban counties, beating Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford.

Cybersecurity and keywords

54% of all .ie websites are secured with a security certificate. A much smaller percentage of .ie domains use other cybersecurity features, such as DNSSEC (0.16%), which adds an additional layer of cryptographic security to a domain, and Registry Lock (0.03%), which protects a domain from malicious or accidental changes.

“It’s encouraging to see that the majority of .ie websites are secured with a security certificate, which ensures that consumers are protected from having their personal details stolen by cyber-criminals during an online transaction,” said Curtin.

“However, comprehensive domain cybersecurity entails using the full range of available tools, such as DNSSEC and Registry Lock. While the number of .ie domain owners using these tools is increasing, the base number is still small.

“Given the clear and serious impact of the HSE ransomware attack last year, as well as myriad other high-profile incidents, it’s very important that all .ie domain owners, particularly businesses and those that have a responsibility to protect sensitive information, are doing as much as possible to protect their users and their internal systems from cyberattacks.”

New .ie registrations with Covid-related keywords (such as ‘vaccine’, ‘Covid’, ‘mask’) decreased in 2021 compared with 2020, with just 187 recorded mentions in the database. However, registrations of general health-related keywords (such as ‘fitness’, ‘pharmacy/pharmacist’, and ‘counselling’) remained strong, with 1,343 registered.

Reflecting growing personal and commercial interest in sustainability and environmental issues, 789 new .ie domains with climate-related keywords were registered in 2021. The top three keywords were ‘green’ (311), ‘solar’ (118), and ‘carbon’ (81).

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.