ICANN – the organization in charge of internet domain names – has approved plans that may create hundreds or thousands of new “top level domain names.” I’ve seen some reports already that this will help with search engine optimization. It won’t. It’ll just enrich some new TLD owners at the expense of brands who will now spend even more to fight cybersquatting.
The New Domain Names Are Coming
ICANN is the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers, and it oversees the world’s domain name system. In its wisdom, it decided yesterday that the 22 generic top level domain (gTLD) names we have at the moment — things like .com, .org and .net — aren’t enough. More are needed.
ICANN doesn’t have anything up in its news section or its blog on this yet, but within its press room area, there’s a news release (PDF format) with more details, which in turn leads to a helpful fact sheet (also PDF).
Winners & Losers
For $185,000, businesses or organizations can apply for to run their own gTLD. If Apple, Google or Facebook wanted to have .apple, .google and .facebook names, that now becomes possible. That could be pretty cool for companies that want to have domain names that fully reflect their own brands.
Of course, not everyone will necessarily be granted a top level domain name. Who gets lucky depends on what ICANN decides. Smaller brands — which are brands nonetheless — won’t be able to afford the names. Who gets to have hot generic names like .money or .tickets will be decided, to my understanding, solely by ICANN.
What happens when two companies with the same trademark both decide they want the same top level domain remains to be seen. Who gets to be .giants — the San Francisco Giants baseball team or the New York Giants football team. Maybe they could play each other. And those are the only organizations out there with a claim to the Giants name, right?
Domain Names & SEO
In terms of search engines and SEO, so far, I haven’t seen ICANN itself say anything directly about how the new names might be helpful. But my experience in watching the release of longer 63-character domain names back in in 1999, as well as the release new names in the 2000s such as .biz and .mobi, tells me that others will soon be making all types of SEO claims about the new names.
Bottom line — the new names will almost certainly mean nothing special to search engines. They won’t have any super ranking powers. If you managed to get .money, that doesn’t mean you’ll rank tops for money-related terms any more than people with the existing .travel domains do well for travel — because they don’t.
Go do a search for “travel” now or any popular travel-related term on Google. Count the number of times you see sites coming up with .travel in their domain name. You won’t need more than one hand. You probably one need more than one finger. You probably won’t need any fingers at all.
Search engines like Google and Bing give no particular credit or boost to generic top level domain names in general. They don’t say, “Hmm, .com — that’s more important than .net, give it a boost.” They don’t say “Hmm, .travel, boost any site with that over other travel sites.”
Search engines do use country-specific domain names, when these can be trusted, as a signal for making content tailored to a particular country. Many UK web sites use the .uk domain. It’s a trust worthy signal.
In contrast, many non-Libyan or non-Tuvalu businesses make use of the .ly and .tv domain names intended for those countries. As a result, those are a less-trustworthy signal of whether a site is from those countries. That’s why other signals such as links have to be used.
So the new domain names? Sites will do well with them not because they have a tasty top level domain like “.travel” but because particular sites might get enough links and other signals pointing at them to do well.
In the end, the domain names do present new opportunities for some businesses. A few companies are going to get very rich off of this. Some are going to wonder if they need to buy their names again with all these new spaces to avoid cybersquatting.
But from an SEO perspective, be calm. Having a new name won’t rocket you to success; not having one doesn’t doom to you never being found.
To learn more about SEO and ranking signals, see our guides below: