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Top-Level Domains and Search

Search marketers and SEO mavens are starting to pay attention to top-level domains (TLDs) now that ICANN has announced a starting date. Many of them are dubious about the benefits of TLDs to search, but they are missing out on why search will benefit from new TLDs — and vice-versa.

A recent article on SEO.com looked at the value of new top-level domains for search. The author is skeptical:

As an online marketer, I can't help but question how these domains will rank in the major search engines.

One of the reasons for his skepticism comes from a common but completely erroneous notion that there's some sort of order to how top-level domains work today:

As domains become less standardized (.com for commercial sites, .edu for educational sites, etc.)...

I'd like to question that premise. While .EDU certainly has meaning (it's restricted to accredited educational institutions in the U.S.), .COM really doesn't mean commercial anymore, .NET certainly doesn't mean network infrastructure anymore, and .ORG is available to whomever wants it.

Contrary to the view above, the new gTLD namespace is likely to become more standardized than than the current namespace, largely through self-selection. If .LACROSSE is created as a new TLD, there's an excellent chance that web sites under it will have something to do with lacrosse — it would be silly to put your site about ice hockey there, for example. A similar dynamic will take hold with other top-level domains, with the exception of a few (such as .WEB) that will want to copy the free-for-all that .COM has become. One of the reasons that search engines don't really use top-level domains to rank results is that they are largely meaningless: at this point .COM is just four meaningless characters after a name.

To the extent a TLD extension is indicative of the content on the web sites within it, the TLD will have a positive effect on search. Users will also respond to the semantic cues offered by new TLDs. If, for instance, someone is searching for "hotels in New York," they may well choose to click on the listing with an address of

www.hotels.nyc

rather than something long and unwieldly like

www.expedia.com/New-York-Hotels.d178293.Travel-Guide-Hotels

(the first result when I searched for that phrase on Google).

There may well be a virtuous cycle where users respond to the semantic cues offered by new top-level domains, and because user choice is part of the relevance algorithms used by search engines, web sites under relevant top-level domains will be promoted.

New top-level domains will re-introduce meaning into the extension, and search engines will need to pay attention to that, because the TLD extension will once again start to contain real information.

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Comments

This is actually wrong By Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jul 05, 2011 7:22 pm PDT

People dont know or care about a faceless "hotels.nyc" whereas they do have substantial brand recall for names like expedia, travelocity etc.  And they're going to be wary of visiting any random site they see in google, rather than going to a regular brand they've been doing business with for ages.

nyc.expedia, maybe, might be an idea.

I'd probably end up recycling some of various people's comments (particularly "the famous brett watson") in http://www.circleid.com/posts/domain_name_portfolios_worth/ - that's something I wrote in 2007 when tasting etc were at their height, and I don't see how the actual premise of that article changes when a domainer acquires a tld rather than a domain name.

ebay.com vs auction.com - what is an ebay anyway? - much the same as www.hotels.nyc would fare wrt expedia or travelocity

http://www.circleid.com/posts/domain_name_portfolios_worth/#3476 is brett watson's post and there are other comments there that might make interesting reading.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results By John Levine  –  Jul 06, 2011 7:24 am PDT

ICANN has already created industry specific TLDs, .AERO, .TRAVEL, .JOBS, .MUSEUM, and of course .XXX. Do you find a lot of airline, travel, personnel, museum, and porn sites in those domains? Neither do I.

circleid needs a like button By Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jul 06, 2011 7:26 am PDT

or maybe a google+ style +1

And if there's a group that lives in its own fantasy world more than domainers do its the SEO mavens By Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jul 06, 2011 7:38 pm PDT

There's an interesting little german expression that perfectly describes them .. wolkenkuckkucksheim .. cloud cuckoo land.

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