Top-level domains could become an important factor in ranking and online brand visibility

Today, the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), the thousands of new domain extensions such as ".photography", ".london" etc., that will be flooding into the market over the next few months, took a step forward and entered a new phase where they are open to applications from anyone.

So are the new gTLDs set to shake-up the way businesses pick names for their websites and when it comes to their online presence and being visible to Google searches, are there any benefits to be had?

What do gTLDs mean for SEO?

As  yet, there are no particular SEO benefits from the TLD. Search engines don't read the domain extension as having any keyword relevance (yet).  The only thing they use the extension for is to work out regional relevance. In any other respect there as yet has been no indication that search engines will treat generic extensions any differently to a normal extension.

Furthermore, there would be drawbacks from moving to a new gTLD domain just like any other migration. For example it will have no links or history, which among other things aids in building online visibility and ranking in the search engine results.

Even migrating correctly would entail a temporary period of suppressed ranks of up to six weeks. In addition, a permanent loss of 10-15% of link value lost in the 301 redirect "hop"

gTLDs open up the possibility that the TLD could be an important ranking factor in the future

However, the new gTLDs open up the possibility that the TLD could be an important ranking factor in the future, particularly for the truly "generic" gTLDs (i.e. not brand gTLDs).

For example, you can imagine that sites on a .london domain could conceivably be rewarded and rank better for queries containing "london" and also queries identified as being about London or having regional relevance to London.  The fact that the application process is controlled so you must be a business actually based in London, makes it more likely that search engines will consider this.

For this to happen, the gTLDs will have to become a broadly used and widely available 'standard' for companies operating in a certain sector or location, administered by impartial companies, organisations or associations.  For this reason, the search engines will understandably want to see how gTLDs play out in the next year or so before making a decision either way.

If Google does use the TLD as a ranking factor, this will most likely be used to categorise the topic of a site.

What has Google said on the matter?

Not a lot so far. This is about the extent of what Google's strategic partnerships director, Hal Bailey, has said with regards to how Google's search engine will deal with .brand gTLDs, a common focus for brand owners:

"We look for signals for what is the most important search query."

  Bailey added that simply having a .brand does not mean it will automatically go to the top of Google's ranking for relevant searches.

Speaking about .brands, Bailey said: "We dont see an immediate impact ... but it might become a relevant signal."

So what are the next steps for businesses?

Now we are starting to get to the point of actually being able to buy domains on the new TLDs, it's important for businesses to  consider potential domain names they may want to grab.  The "land grab" so far for TLDs has been pretty tame compared to the one that will be coming in the next few months for actual domains on those TLDs.

Alongside appraising reputation and management issues when mapping out TLD variations, Greenlight advises businesses to consider getting at least brand variations of the TLDs on the expectation they could be valuable in future and are important to have to avoid domain name squatters holding brands to ransom for obviously relevant extensions.

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