You may have noticed on TV and in the press over the last few months, adverts from Internet service provider 1&1 offering new web domain extensions like .ltd, .london, .wales, .shop etc.
These are actually called “Generic Top Level Domain” (gTLD for short) names and are additions to the current .com, .co.uk, .biz, .net, .org etc that you are used to seeing. 700 are initially being released to the market worldwide from the end of 2013 with more to follow in 2014 taking the total up to around 1000 new domain extensions at that time.
This is probably one of the biggest changes introduced to the web in a long time and the industry recognises that it has the potential to significantly change search and on-line marketing as we know it in time.
Large corporations like IBM, Google, and Amazon were quick to take the opportunity to apply to run new domain extensions because of the obvious potential to reflect their brand e.g. the possibility for all IBM sites worldwide to use an instantly recognisable .ibm extension. You can see the attraction, searching for a topic which includes a suffix of “.ibm” instantly extracts only IBM results and potentially removes all their competitors.
Lower down the food chain, there are still benefits, e.g. searching for “.wedding” could strip out only wedding related websites in the search results. You would still have a lot of results though as this could potentially return all results worldwide although with the continual development of local search, it could still work well to return only local relevant results (we will have to wait and see).
The problem is, search engines currently don’t really make much use of the domain extension in their algorithms other than perhaps to determine your general location (e.g. having a .co.uk extension might be a reasonable indication that a site is probably UK based although it is probably a better indication to the person searching rather than the search engine). This means that initially, there won’t really be much benefit of having such gTLDs for most businesses.
The search companies (Google, Bing etc) are not really saying much at present and the feeling in the web industry is that they are not likely to do anything significant to change their algorithms until things have had time to run for a while and have had time to develop.
Other possibly more useful extensions are location based ones like .london, .paris etc. Clearly if you are a local based business and want to market your products and services locally these could be very helpful.
No one disputes that descriptive names often have the potential to make a company stand out in search results. Personally, at this stage, I wonder if broader terms like .trade might not be so useful perhaps as, although it would search out trades, there are a lot of different trades that would be included still. Perhaps more specific extensions such as .electrician or .plumber might work better but I guess we will need to wait and see if anyone wants to invest in running these. Perhaps once the system develops we will see more specific categories being added.
So what should you do ?
The important thing for businesses at this stage is to understand what is happening and to think about the future potential of having suitable extensions.
If you are creating a new website or blog, then it probably makes sense to go for the most meaningful and relevant domain name you can get. However if you change your current name, would it potentially work better for you in the long term ? For example, would changing your existing domain from my www.mybusiness.co.uk to www.mybusiness.ltd be a benefit ? Perhaps a better example might be changing www.myhotel.co.uk to www.myhotel.room or www.myhotel.london.
The main thing to realise is that for the new domain name to work best, you would need it to replace your current main domain so this would take time and effort to move everything over to it and to try and protect any current SEO benefits you have accrued on the current domain.
Inevitably, particularly if you have had a domain name for a long time, there would almost certainly be some losses from a search engine history, ranking and trust point of view so you would most likely see a dip in performance although hopefully you could recover most of this in time.
It is early days yet but, in true boy scout tradition, you need to be prepared and try and keep ahead of your competitors. If you want to grab a domain that you think will be useful to you or is specific to your brand, you need to act quickly. You shouldn’t ignore it.
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Hope you find it useful.