Generic Top Level Domains or ‘gTLDs’ (sometimes known as general top-level domains) are about to be big news in web design. You may have seen a few examples of these but not paid too much attention so far. For example, Sydney and Melbourne businesses recently were treated to a new option for their website URL – instead of being webdesignSydney.com, they now have the option to be WebDesign.Sydney. These new “extensions” are General Top-Level Domains.
So, does your business need to consider pre-ordering gTLDs? Here’s an explanation of the pros and cons.
What are top-level domains?
Technically speaking top-level domains are those at the ‘the first level’ of the domain name system (DNS) ‘root zone’.
An original top level domain is a website address that has no extras after the ‘dot’ – most commonly these are .com, .org, .net, .edu and .gov.
Country code top level domains (ccTLDs) are domains in which only the country code appears after the dot; mediaheroesbrisbane.com.au, for example. There are also a few others that are used for testing and infrastructure.
Generic top-level domains (gTLDs) in the past have included extensions like .biz, .name, .info and .asia, to name a few. Over the past year more and more descriptive domain extensions have been rolling out, including .website, .software (you’ll pay handsomely for this one!), .legal, .memorial, .sucks and .rocks (imagine YourName.rocks). You can find information on upcoming gTLD releases here. Upcoming ‘release auctions’ include .fun, .maps and .living. The .Brisbane option is still waiting to roll out after the success of .Sydney and .Melbourne.
There are also company gTLDs available via application. Instead of mediaheroesbrisbane.com.au, for example, you’d be looking at WebDesign.mediaheroes.
Why generic top-level domains matter (and don’t)
Exact match domains
The industry debates around gTLDs mostly concern Exact Match Domain (EMD) queries; that is, website URLs made up of keyword phrases. EMDs were big business in the old days of the internet (ten years ago – feeling old?). A web marketer in Brisbane would register the domain webmarketingbrisbane.com instead of their business name. Then, when anyone searched the keyword term, this website would appear at the top, or close to the top, of search results, even if their SEO clout was inferior. This practice was greatly devalued a few years back and in some cases, where the strategy was overused, Google even penalised marketers for doing it.
‘Devalued’, however, is the key term here. Search for a competitive keyword nowadays and you’ll find some powerful sites popping up on page one of the search results. Pages with massive clout and influence dominate the most popular searches, but you may well also find an Exact Match Domain with poorer SEO clout snuggled in amongst the top brands. They were devalued, but not deleted. Used in moderation, they still deliver some SEO benefit.
Avoiding Penguin penalties
Penguin is a Google algorithm that (amongst other things) punishes brands for using their keywords as part of their links. Links to your site from other websites come attached to a phrase (called anchor text) which is used to ‘tell’ Google what your website is all about. In the past, smart use of these links was a powerful strategy for SEO success but was exploited by SEO companies. Google introduced the Penguin Update to catch people trying to manipulate search results using too much of this anchor text. Penguin 1.0 ruined some of the biggest businesses on earth in one day. It’s kind of a big deal in the SEO world.
Having .brisbane as your extension, however, means that just about any links to your site will contain your geographical location. It, therefore, packs all the benefits of anchor text into each link without the risk of a Penguin penalty.
So, do these gTLDs score better in search results than the old-school options? Matt Cutts, Google’s Spam Boss says no – kind of. Google has stated that we’re in a period of transition while they determine the best quality content regardless of the domain. According to Cutts, “it’s unlikely there will be a long-term benefit to owning the gTLD”, but then Cutts is also keeping his options open with that phrasing!
“Google has a lot of experience in returning relevant web pages, regardless of the top level domain (TLD). Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either. If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that’s your choice, but you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.” Matt Cutts
At least in the interim, studies on the performance of gTLDs have shown a definite advantage to registering and using them. Search Engine Watch covered a study that showed that a .diamond gTLD increased the impression rate substantially and attracted cheaper Adwords clicks. The .menu gTLD didn’t fare as well but still returned positive results. For local businesses considering a website hosted on a dot Brisbane domain, there will likely be advantages, at least in the short term.
Trademark lawyers will join copyright lawyers in the battle to catch up with this technology. It’s a good time now to consider trademarking your name, especially if it includes the term Brisbane. gTLDs like .marketing for example are already causing some upset around trademark issues.
So, when dot Brisbane becomes available, should you grab yours?
It all depends. Some of these are priced well out of the small business budget (some SEO related gTLDs go for well over $2 million) but many start at around the $50 mark and may be worth grabbing. For local businesses, there’s a good chance that over time gTLDs will become part of your local digital marketing strategy (read more on local SEO here) so it’s worth investing $50 a year to keep your local gTLD in reserve.
There are already plenty of gTLDs for specific industries –.plumber, for example, is available – so you can go now and register Wooloongabba.plumber if you desire. If you’re a local business with a limited service area this may be a good option for you. The Google jury is still out on general top-level domains as they, too, scramble with ranking issues around this relatively new (two years or so now) approach to digital marketing. Nobody will know for sure the long-term effects of this ‘digital land grab’ – but it’s best to cover your bases now.