Posted by Jonah A. Berger, SEO Manager
SEO effect not to be felt at the outset, but businesses should take note
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the world’s domain name system, recently voted in favor of introducing new gTLDs to the Webosphere. Starting January 2012, established public and private organizations can apply for the rights to the gTLD(s) of their choice – both branded (e.g. .mcdonalds) and non-branded (e.g. .restaurant) – at a cost. The one-time evaluation fee is $185,000 and owners will need to pay a recurring fee of $25,000 annually. The evaluation process can take anywhere from 9 to 20 months, so it can be assumed that the first of the new gTLDs will go live in 2013.
This blog provides additional background on the ICANN announcement, discusses how it may impact gTLDs moving forward, and describes what it could mean for brands and the future SEO landscape.
A Hefty Price Tag and Shades of Gray
No matter how successful the new gTLDs become, what can’t be overlooked today is the fact that their unveiling will be most beneficial for big business. Companies that don’t find themselves on or anywhere near the Fortune 500 list probably don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside for a rainy day, especially if that day approaches but the forecast is mixed. Essentially, this is the case because as appealing as it sounds to have a brand name appearing to the right of the dot in a URL, there’s no guaranteed ROI and no way to tell when – and if – Web users are going to move away from typing .com without hesitation and toward a .yourbusinessname or even .yourvertical. It can be assumed that if a product like Diet Coke is moved to diet.coke, plenty of users will still be typing dietcoke.com or even diet.coke.com into their address bars. As for search engines, which are discussed later on, whether or not (and when) they adopt the new gTLDs is up in the air, as is the value the gTLDs will provide sites.
“Out With the Old, in With the New” Can be Beneficial
This isn’t to say that there won’t be some benefits to gTLD ownership. There are only two dozen or so gTLDs in existence today, including the usual (i.e. .com, .org, .net) and not so usual (i.e. .museum, .travel, .coop) suspects. According to domaintools.com, the Web contains more than 95 million active .coms, nearly 14 million .nets and just over 9 million .orgs – which add up to some serious competition for visibility. Up to this point, companies have not been able to holistically brand their URLs and separate themselves from the rest. Instead, the Coca-Colas and Pepsis of the world have had to place a .com (or another oft-used suffix) at the end of their URLs because that’s all they were allowed to do and what everyone else was doing. With this latest change in how URLs will be structured, displayed and ultimately remembered, it’s possible for Coke to own .coca-cola (or .coke) and all the domains and subdomains within it, while Pepsi and other competitors can do the same.
The new gTLDs can improve more than just URL structure. Online safety for a brand can also be enhanced as domain squatters can no longer be the first in line to buy the domains (especially with a price tag of $185,000 attached to each) of trademarked brands and then sell them for a profit. Under the new gTLD regime, domains that abuse trademarks will be taken down immediately.
What This Could Mean for SEO
At the outset, the new gTLDs aren’t likely to dramatically affect the SEO landscape. If you’re not a big brand and don’t have the budget – like most – that’s required to purchase a new gTLD, you should instead continue to focus on the best practices that grease the SEO wheels today. Search engines and the hundreds of signals that comprise their ranking algorithms are still dialed in to focus on quality content and enriched link portfolios as drivers to visibility and rank. One of these signals, age of domain, is still relevant, so it’s sensical that a new gTLD would need time to garner equity before a search engine like Google assigns it appropriate value. Plus, with more than 95 million active .coms populating the Web (and millions more websites housed under the other current gTLDs), it’s safe to say that the value of having a .com or .net isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
If you are a big brand that has the budget necessary to purchase a gTLD that bears your name, it could be a wise option to consider down the road from a branding and marketing standpoint – especially if competitors are swooping in and doing the same. Due to the rise of social networks, mobile devices and the “I need information right now” attitude of those who use them, as well as microblogging sites like Twitter that rely on URL shortening services, the speed at which people communicate is picking up by the day.
So too are the buzz and uncertainty that the new gTLDs continue to generate.