Back in 2008, I wrote a couple of columns for Search Insider about ICANN's new vanity generic top-level domains (gTLDs), where a person or business could now register ".anything" for the purpose of creating an open registry, or reserving it for primary brand sites (see "Anythinggoes? The Impact Of New ICANN Vanity Top-Level Domains," and "The Search And Brand Impact Of Vanity Generic Top Level Domains").
There have been many stories promoting this new development as a boon to one's natural search presence, but I beg to differ on a number of those points. One thing is clear, though: Marketers using new gTLDs will not only have to manage their sites for search and social visibility, but will also have to manage the entire gTLD for natural search. We are entering what I believe is a new frontier in search marketing, in terms of managing an entire gTLD for search visibility at a global domain level.
First of all, the claims made in other
articles that new gTLDs will inherently create visibility for highly competitive terms are incorrect propositions at best. The history of other gTLDs like .travel, .museum, .info, .asia, .jobs,
etc., have already proven that having the exact keyword to "the right of the dot" alone does not provide any more benefit than having an exact keyword to the "left of the dot." Some of these
domains have been around for almost 10 years, so there is no need to prognosticate on the benefits of keyword-based TLDs, because the proof is already there.
The birth of the search-optimized TLD
I do believe, however, that we have entered a new era of the "search-optimized" TLD, in the sense that the way the operator manages the registry will be a key influence on how well that TLD performs in search as a whole. Well-managed TLDs that discourage spam, or that may be proprietary, but with significant content resources and utilities, may perform well. For example, .mil and .gov are generally highly trusted TLDs with the search engines, because they are carefully managed, and contain authoritative content, with little or no possibly for spam to gain visibility. In another example, .info was not managed very well for search, and at one point the registry gave away hundreds of thousands of free domains. These domains were snapped up mostly by spammers and abused in many ways with the engines, and thus the signal for the .info gTLD as a whole was weakened greatly, to the point that may be somewhat of a search liability to build a new site on this extension.
There has to be a solid content play behind the URL, with a significant amount of external signals for it to perform well in search across a wide variety of terms, if not to overcome some of their spammy neighbors on the .info TLD. Even recently, Google banned an entire subdomain on a country-code TLD (ccTLD) and freehost from its search index, because most of the content at the domain level was considered too spammy and malicious for the index.
A warning about site migration
One of the biggest challenges in enterprise site redesign is transitioning and maintaining natural search equity from one design to the next, even when the old and new reside on the same .com address. As some brands may choose to move their primary brand presence from .com to .brand or .keyword, they have to be careful for the sake of their search program. At stake are millions to billions of dollars in revenue, backlinks, traffic itself, and years of positive search history.
But there are interesting opportunities from a branding, marketing, and utility perspective. Imagine using a URL like "keyword.google" to go directly to a Google search, or having a well-managed .music gTLD that was able to help users navigate to the music they desire.
Overall, marketers should tread very carefully if they decide to move their primary presence from a .com to a .brand or .generic, and approach SEO in the same way they would approach it for a complete site overhaul. And they should also be very careful about optimizing their brand gTLD for search channels as a whole. For right now, though, I'm advising most clients to potentially acquire and reserve a gTLD, but wait on actually developing it, if they do anything with it at all, short of a 301 redirect to the brand.com.