SEO and new gTLDs

The worlds of search engine optimisation (SEO) and domain endings are changing. There is a greater choice than ever when choosing a domain ending and, as we’ll see, brands are able to truly own their online space in a way previously not possible. And SEO is constantly in flux, with website owners never quite knowing what is right and what is wrong in the eyes of the big search engines. This guide aims to address both worlds, explaining how they overlap and giving answers to the questions we most frequently get asked.

To help you navigate through this guide and to allow you to jump ahead if you already have background knowledge in this subject, we have linked to each section below:

  1. A beginner’s guide to top-level domains
  2. The introduction of new gTLDs
  3. What is a .brand?
  4. How do search engines treat the new gTLDs?
  5. SEO tips for effectively utilising a .brand

A beginner’s guide to top-level domains

The series of letters you type in your browser’s address bar to reach a website is what we call a domain name. For example, Nominet’s domain name is nominet.uk.

A top-level domain (or TLD) is the bit of the domain name that appears after the dot (“.”). Using our previous example, nominet.uk, the TLD is .uk. You might also hear TLDs referred to as domain extensions. .uk is amongst the most common TLDs used by websites, along with .com, .org, .net, and .de.

TLDs can serve as a simple way of understanding what a website is used for or whereabouts in the world it’s based. For example, the .uk in nominet.uk tells you that Nominet is a company based in the United Kingdom. Or if you see a website using a .gov TLD, you’ll know it’s related to government.

There are a number of different types of TLD available and most belong to two groups: country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) and generic TLDs (gTLDs).

ccTLDs are two-letter top-level domains that are reserved for countries, sovereign states, or dependent territories. Examples include .uk for the United Kingdom, .cn for China, .de for Germany, and .ru for Russia. In the case of .co.uk and .org.uk, the extra letters before the ccTLD signify the type of entity the extension is intended for (.co.uk is intended for businesses and .org.uk is intended for non-profit organisations).

In contrast to ccTLDs, gTLDs such as .com, .net, or .blog, are not tied to a specific country and are usually available for anyone to register as general purpose domain extensions. Some gTLDs are restricted and can only be registered by certain people or entities; .law, for instance, is restricted to legal professionals.

The introduction of new gTLDs

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, launched the New gTLD Program in 2011, allowing organisations to apply to set up their own gTLDs. Nearly 2,000 applications were received. We have seen a range of types of gTLDs, such as:

  • Geographic gTLDs aimed at serving different regions, e.g. .london, .bayern, .wales, .paris
  • .brand gTLDs, where brands own their own TLD, e.g. .bentley, .bbc, bradesco ,gucci, .barclays
  • Professional gTLDs, catering for different professions, e.g. .marketing, .lawyer, .accountant, .photography

These are just a tiny cross-section of the range of new gTLDs that have emerged. We produced a map of the new TLDs to help you get a better and bigger picture:

What is a .brand?

For us, the big story within this emergence of new gTLDs is .brands.

Organisations are now able to own branded TLDs, bringing:

  • Increased brand awareness
  • Additional security for customers online
  • Speed and flexibility in the marketing of products, services and campaigns
  • Streamlined domain portfolios

Why should organisations own their .brand?

A .brand provides incredible flexibility. By owning a .brand, an organisation controls an entire branded corner of the internet, their own digital ecosystem. This allows them to register any domain name they like, to use in any way they like, and infuse more innovation, creativity, and security into their domain names and digital strategy.

More valuably, operating from a .brand makes it more difficult for criminals to execute phishing scams and makes it easier for customers to spot, and avoid, emails from fake accounts. It also reassures customers of the authenticity of the site they are visiting.

“There are many strings to having a .brand. It’s definitely the security element and peace of mind for brand reputation that is the key selling point,” Zack D’Arcy Willett, co-founder and managing director of h2o creative, a global marketing agency and Nominet Affiliate Agency

How do search engines treat the new gTLDs?

Google’s position on the new gTLDs came in the form of a blog on its official Webmaster Central Blog, with John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst, posting answers to the common questions.

Search Engine Land neatly summarised Google’s stance: “…there are no TLDs that Google finds preferential to others; they are all treated equally in rankings. There are some geo-specific TLDs that Google will default to a specific country and use that as an indicator that the website is more important in a specific geographic region. But all TLDs are treated equally.”

Our key takeaways are:

  • Google’s systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (e.g. .com or .org)
  • Keywords in a TLD do not give a search advantage
  • .brand TLDs are given the same weight as other gTLDs
  • GEO TLDs, like .bayern or .london, are also treated like other gTLDs and are not given preference in location-based searches. However, this might change in the future as usage habits change.

We haven’t referenced other search engines, such as Bing, however, Google has the highest market share (85% in the UK as of January 2018) and typically, Google’s approach to things is mirrored elsewhere. Additionally, other search engines haven’t been as explicit with their approach as Google has been.

SEO tips for effectively utilising a .brand

Whilst search engines treat new gTLDs in the same way it does older gTLDs, there are still best practices to follow. Often, with SEO, there is no one right way to do things, so the following should be taken as recommendations rather than rules.

  • Treat your .brand how you would any other gTLD – no special SEO rules apply.
  • When choosing a domain name on your .brand (the bit before the dot), make sure it is easy to say, memorable, and clearly reflects what the website is used for.
  • When using a .brand across a single website, think carefully before you split it up with separate domain names (e.g. home.brand, about.brand, contact.brand). Search engines will treat each domain as separate meaning SEO value you’ve built up on one won’t be mirrored on the rest.
  • Use different domain names on your .brand when different domain names would have been effective regardless of the TLD – for example: for landing pages or microsites (particularly where SEO traffic isn’t a big factor because the main source of traffic is from advertising or referrals); for websites with clearly differentiated audiences (e.g. corporate vs consumer).
  • If you are targeting visitors in specific locations, use Search Console’s geotargeting settings. If you are targeting multiple locations, use separate domains on your .brand per location.
  • If you are moving from your old domain name to a .brand, retain your search rankings by following the best practices for domain migration.
  • Use a .brand as a powerful extension of your overall brand strategy; your online brand is front and centre in a way it wasn’t before.

We hope this guide has helped you understand the SEO implications of new gTLDs and has given you some steer on how you can effectively utilise a .brand. If you have any further questions or wish to talk to us further about .brands, please get in via the details below.

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