When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced its intention to create new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and began accepting requests, over 150 companies ponied up big money to apply for 1,930 new gTLDs (1,816 gTLD requests use the Latin alphabet). The impending launch of these gTLDs is a big deal for both brands and SEOs. Companies will be faced with new opportunities and challenges for controlling how their brands are used on the Internet. SEOs will be faced with a new set of rules and expectations governing open and closed gTLDs.
But first, a little vocabulary:
- Domains on so-called open gTLDs can be licensed and sold to the general public. You can expect truly generic TLDs like .SHOES and .HOTEL to remain open.
- Closed gTLDs will be the property of a specific company and will not be resold. For example, Bentley Motors and Nike requested the gTLDs .BENTLEY and .NIKE. If those requests are granted, they will be closed TLDs.
ICANN had originally planned to start releasing these new gTLDs at the end of 2013, but they have recently announced that the first handful of them might be ready to go by the end of August.
What Custom gTLDs Mean for Business
The big question for businesses is why they should consider moving away from the .COM site that everyone knows and switch to one of the newer gTLDs. Here are a few things to think about:
- We have yet to see how the search algorithms will work, but one would expect that web pages from a company’s closed gTLD will be awarded higher authority over other pages for searches that include that company’s name. This is good news for large companies who can afford to request and maintain a closed gTLD; not so much for the little guy.
- Newer businesses and relative newcomers to the Internet discovered quickly how fast all the best domains were bought up. If you were stuck with your sixth or seventh choice for a domain name, these new gTLDs can be your chance to grab a better, more memorable domain.
- Using one of the gTLDs — especially a closed gTLD — implies that your company plans to have a long future. Investing the time and money to make the switch isn’t something that some fly-by-night enterprise would do. This knowledge can give confidence to your prospective customers that you’ll be there if they have any problems with or questions about your product.
What Custom gTLDs Mean for SEO
Exactly how these new top-level domains will affect SEO hinges on how search engines approach them. In general, though, these new gTLDs will categorize the Internet, which can mean good news for some, bad news for others.
From a savvy searcher’s perspective, custom gTLDs can make finding what you want much easier. For example, say you’re in the market for a new camera. If you want to find reviews and recommendations from other camera users, you can filter out pages on the .CANON, .NIKON and .OLYMPUS gTLDs, effectively cutting off the biased online marketing pages posted by the brands themselves. On the other hand, if you want to find technical specifications for these cameras, you can limit your search to only these official gTLDs and be assured that you’ll get the information straight from the horse’s mouth.
These types of results are available, though, only to the search savvy. That leaves millions of single-word searchers in the world who will be completely at the mercy of the search algorithms and their own patience. As these new gTLDs are launched, though, we can probably expect Google and its competitors to push their advanced search features and take steps toward teaching a wider audience the search power that lies therein.
This categorization of the Internet can revolutionize how people find information online. As the new domains become more widespread, the old keyword- and link-based ways of SEO will disappear. No longer can SEOs game the system by tailoring content to the search algorithms instead of creating content for the end user. Having useful, high-quality content will become more important than any keyword or longtail strategy.
For example, if someone is looking for auto care information only on .AUTO, no amount of keyword stuffing will lead that potential customer to your auto care blog at a .PIZZA domain. If you have a domain on .AUTO, you’ll be competing with other automobile-related sites, so if you want to climb to the top of the SERPs, you’d better have the best content on the gTLD.
Theoretically, as the changes spread and users become more search savvy, businesses with high-quality content should see 1) a drop in search impressions, but 2) a rise in clickthrough rates. What this means is that your web pages will show up in search results less, but they will get in front of the right people more — the ones who are truly looking for what you have to offer.
The beginning will be rocky. Cybersquatters will undoubtedly move in en masset to snatch up the best new domains and hold them for ransom. Huge spikes in the number of redirects, as businesses point their .COM content to their new domains, will leave Google and its competitors (not to mention domain registration sites) a big puzzle to put together. It will take a while before it’s all worked out.
What Are You to Do?
Whoever uses the first gTLDs will serve as guinea pigs for the rest of us and will no doubt be picked over by the Google’s coders as they work out how to fold these new domains into their algorithms.
If you’re a bold company with deep pockets, jumping on the new gTLDs might be a good choice. Doing so will keep you ahead of — or at least on par with — your competitors. It will be a marathon of confusion, misinformation and frustration, but you can reach the finish line in good standing.
For smaller companies and individuals, a wait-and-see approach might be better. Let the big companies spend their money to work out the details and test out the system. When the dust begins to settle and some regularity starts to return, then take a second look at your company, your brand, your website and your future.