New generic top level domains (gTLDs) are being auctioned off. This means the days of “.com” dominance may be coming to an end. Soon, we may be visiting URLs like www.smirnoff.vodka or www.baltimore.attorney.
Let’s run through some basic questions about new TLDs so that you and your team can make an informed decision when planning your web marketing strategy for 2014 and beyond.
Why This Is Happening
ICANN, the nonprofit organization overseeing internet domains, began accepting applications for new TLDs over the past two years. Over 1,900 applications were submitted but the steep cost — $185,000 per application — meant that large companies and organizations were the only applicants.
ICANN’s website states that the new TLD program was developed to increase competition and choice in the domain name space. There certainly is some truth to this statement, as “.com” domains are increasingly scarce and expensive.
How This Could Affect Your Website
If you were to swap your existing URL with a new TLD, it would have a very negative impact on your website’s traffic.
Your domain has a huge impact on your website’s findability. This is because search engines rely on a number of domain characteristics (e.g. keywords in URL, external links, age, etc.) when determining a website’s relevance for a given search term.
A new TLD would be a blank slate. It would not have any characteristics indicating what the site is relevant for, making search engines reluctant to display the site in their results. Google’s search quality team has already gone on the record to state that new TLDs will not get an initial preference over existing TLDs.
There are plenty of great uses for the new TLDs, but any immediate promises could lead you down a difficult path.
What You Should Do
We can separate your options for purchasing new TLDs into two major categories:
- defensive domain registrations, or
- offensive domain registrations.
Defensive Domain Registrations
Fear that a domain will fall into the hands of a competitor is a compelling pitch for domain vendors and prevention can seem relatively cheap.
In reality, the danger of a domain being used against you is very, very low. The return you get from new domain purchases is likely to be much less than if you invest that time and money into your existing domain (e.g. SEO, paid ads, etc).
Offensive Domain Registrations
Purchasing a domain with a plan to publish content tangentially related to your website may allow you to secure additional real estate on search engine results pages for your business’s key terms.
Linking strategies with new TLDs may also lead to higher rankings for your existing website. However, offensive domain registrations can still easily become a money-sink without a well-formulated plan.
Ways to Buy New TLDs
Rather than releasing them all the new TLDs at once, ICANN will be releasing them in batches — 544 will be available in the near future.
A handful of the 544 new TLDs became available for purchase as of January 24, 2014, which is the end of a 60 day “sunrise” period where trademark owners are able to register claims and prevent abuse. You can find out which ones are available by using a domain watching service, like the one from name.com.
Pre-registration is also available through some registrars, but comes at a steep cost. There may be premiums attached that will carry into your renewal and there are no guarantees since multiple registrars may have individuals pre-registered for the same domain.
You probably aren’t missing out on any gold if you’re not prospecting domain names on day one. Unless you can say with certainty that purchasing a brand new TLD will improve your web marketing, odds are you’re better holding off until a plan is in place.