Registrations for new generic Top Level Domains (“gTLDs”) have topped 13 million. As the use of new domain extensions becomes more prevalent, questions commonly arise about how search engines treat them and how large brands and marketing companies are using them. Some misconceptions about the power of a new domain extension to improve SEO and ranking in search engine results have developed, but new domain extensions can be put to valuable use.
In a frequently re-posted blog post, Google has detailed how it handles new domain extensions. The search engine treats “new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org)” and has no current plans to change its algorithm in order to favor new domain extensions. The good news is that Google will return search results with new domain extensions just as readily as .com, .net, etc. Google looks at new domain extensions more like additional options, and thus, an entity should register whatever domains fit its own specific long-term needs. Over time, the algorithm will begin to recognize shifts in gTLDs, as it has previously. For example, .co was once the country code for Colombia. Now .co is commonly used around the world to signify company or commerce and thus Google’s algorithm has evolved to no longer treat .co as specific to Colombia. Even though Google’s algorithm does not explicitly favor anything to the right of the dot, use of a new domain extension can help increase reliability for your site and those searching for it, send a specific message to consumers, and develop your brand’s web presence.
More Names to Go Around
For the most part, the release of the new domain extensions has not resulted in a “land grab” targeting companies with well-known domains, perhaps simply because there are too many possible domain names. It’s impractical for cybersquatters to buy and lock up all possible similar domains with the intent of selling them later. This means that an entity looking for its name has a much higher probability of finding an available option using a new domain extension.
New domain extensions may be most appealing where the .com of the brand’s company name or acronym is already taken or the brand’s name is a common word with multiple meanings. One article cites ‘Lily,’ the world’s first self-flying camera drone, as a prime example. When the drone was created, Lily.com had already been registered by Lily Transportation Corp. Plus, the term ‘Lily’ has numerous meanings, including as a first name, the flower, or even a town. That’s why the robotics team responsible for Lily opted to secure lily.camera — both to differentiate its domain name from others and to provide a clear message of what the site is all about.
If you plan on communicating with your customers primarily through an app interface and your desired .com is already taken, selecting a relevant domain using a new domain extension can be just as effective. For example, social networking app Whisper could not get its corresponding .com, so instead uses Whisper.sh. Even without the .com, a simple Google search for Whisper ranks it at the top of the results.
ccTLDs & Local Geo-Targeting
Notably, one type of domain extension that may have some effect on search results is country-code top level domains (ccTLDs) because they are used in geo-targeting. Google uses most ccTLDs to geo-target the website because the website is probably more relevant in the appropriate country. For small businesses concerned with generating a more local reach, taking advantage of local domain extensions may be very valuable. A ccTLDs shows search engines and users where the website originates, and this will likely have an effect on search rankings. Thus, if all else is equal, the website travel.nz will most likely rank higher in the search engine results for a user in New Zealand than travel.com or travel.us. Notably, new domain extensions have been created for cities like Las Vegas, New York, Boston, and Miami (as well as cities abroad like London, Paris, Istanbul, Tokyo, and Sydney). Though the city extensions are currently treated as gTLDs, these kinds of domain extensions may become the best way to target local consumers in the future if they also become geo-targeted, especially in the U.S., where the .us extension has not caught on.
If you are looking into country code or city domain extensions, you need to research the meaning of the domain extension that you think applies. For example, .ca is commonly mistaken as meaning California, but it is actually the country code for Canada. Thus, if a California company purchases a .ca domain with the mistaken belief that it represents California, it may be a wasted investment because Google will not geo-target the website correctly. Another example is .de which signifies Germany, not Delaware.
Familiarity & Reliability
Trustworthiness is a key factor in search engine optimization (SEO). So in the future, once the majority of the websites using the extensions .architect or .accountant are in fact members of those professions, those domain names will become a signal to consumers that those domain extensions can be trusted, similar to the familiarity with and trust of .org and .edu. The same goes for custom brand name domains. If .HBO becomes the primary domain extension for the premium cable channel, then consumers will know that any .HBO site is put forth by .HBO, thus increasing its trustworthiness. To demonstrate this point, a number of highly-regulated domain extensions already exist. If you want a domain that uses .bank, .dentist, or .law, for example, you must provide authorizations, licenses, and/or other necessary credentials required to be part of that industry or sector when registering that domain. Thus, a website using .law must have been registered by a licensed attorney.
Some commentators still believe that the .com is the “Holy Grail” for a company’s domain in the U.S., primarily because non-savvy Internet users know and trust .com as a website extension. For many, .com adds legitimacy to sites, while an unknown or not readily recognized domain may raise concerns about spam, malware, viruses, privacy, identity theft, etc. Consumers don’t inherently trust sites with unusual TLDs more than ones with more recognizable endings. As an example, one study asked users if, based solely on the domain name, they were more likely to trust an insurance quote from a website ending in .insurance. 62 percent of Americans, 53 percent of Australians, and 67 percent of marketers said they were unlikely to trust the quote based on the domain alone. But as use of the new domain names spreads, users will become more comfortable with them.
New domain extensions may also cause concern where they indicate the website itself is new. While for some sites appearing less established can be a disadvantage, perception likely depends on the extension itself. For example, extensions like .name, .rocks, and .cc have received bad press as being commonly used for spam. But other new extensions have earned credibility with particular industries and types of entities and consumers. For example, .io has gained a lot of traction for websites about computing and technology startups. In general, steer away from very generic new extensions such as .website, .company, and .country, and instead select something specific that directly relates to your brand.
Signals to Consumers — In many cases, the new domain extensions can tell consumers what your site is about before they even click on it. For example, a website that uses .pizza is probably all about pizza, and the .pizza will signal to consumers who are looking for where to order their next delicious pie that your site focuses on pizza before they even click on your link in the search results. Even celebrities are taking advantage of the new domain extensions for their causes and brands. Lady Gaga has registered bornthisway.foundation and Oprah has wherearetheynow.buzz.
The new domain extensions also allow companies with lengthy .com domain names to obtain a shortened version using a different gTLD. Short domains can be useful for clients, marketing, and for platforms like Twitter.
Securing .[BRAND] — Large companies that secure their names as a domain extension (e.g., .mcdonalds, .nike, .cocacola) can use them to create extremely targeted and specific websites for different consumer experiences, based on what the consumer is seeking. For example, the National Football League can establish domains for specific teams, cities, or events using .NFL. Macy’s could tailor specific pages to certain interests, such as Home.Macys, Shoes.Macys, or WeddingRegistry.Macys. Securing a brand domain extension will also allow companies to determine if users are searching for a domain that does not yet exist and signal them to create one. For example, if Disney has Shop.Disney and Movies.Disney but discovers that users are searching for Frozen.Disney and that page has not yet been developed, Disney can determine whether to create such a page in order to capture those users’ interest.
Brand domain extensions will also likely have the ability to offer greater security that is controlled by the company itself. As one commentator stated, “[f]or financial institutions, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, this will have great value if it’s executed properly. For everyone else, it offers something more to consumers in a security-conscious society.”
URL Shorteners — URL shorteners are commonly used for branding purposes in social media. However, these shorteners are typically owned by another brand. One of the most well-known and well-trusted is bit.ly. But consider instead creating a consistent brand message by instead using a custom URL shortener through the new domain extensions. A commonly used extension as a shortenter is .link. So, instead of employing an unbranded bit.ly link, HBO could use got.link for posts about Game of Thrones. For brand builders, these custom URL shorteners offer an inexpensive solution for maintaining brand consistency. Both generic extensions like .help and .link and targeted extensions like .food and .style can help brands specifically target the audience they are looking for.
Careful consideration and planning when deciding on new domain extensions to invest in can set you up for online marketing success. As the frontier of Internet marketing continues to develop, new domain extensions are likely to become an ever-more-present force tapped to spread a brand’s message. So make sure you settle on the right one(s) for your brand and keep an eye out for new possibilities in the future. — Rina Van Orden