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SEO and New gTLDs – Friends or Foes?

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The Internet is entering a new era: hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) launched in 2014. Web extensions now go beyond .COM or .NET and include such TLDs as .RED and .ORGANIC, and hundreds more coming this year. Marketers are no longer confined to a smaller number of domains; instead, they can now get their web address on a domain that best represents their brand or business. The title of this video says it all: “New gTLDs – the Dot has new friends!

Building a new site or migrating an existing one to a new web address is never a simple matter, especially with search engine optimization (SEO). Marketers will likely ask these SEO questions as they start exploring the new gTLDs:

  1. Will Google crawl new gTLDs?
  2. Will new gTLDs automatically score higher in Google’s search algorithms?
  3. What are the SEO best practices for migrating a site to a new gTLD?
  4. Should brands REALLY get on new gTLDs and give up the status quo?

Roland LaPlante, Chief Marketing Officer of Afilias (the second-largest domain registry in the world) has first-hand experience with the launch of new gTLDs. He shares his thoughts on all of the above questions here, in a piece we’ve reproduced below:

1. Will Google crawl new gTLDs?

The answer is simple: YES. Rumors were going around a while ago that a new site (on a new domain) may not get ranked as well as a site that has been registered on a domain, say, for three or more years. Google’s staff explained clearly in this video that Google will crawl new sites and determine the search ranking based on the relevance of the site content, not the age of the domain the site is on.

2. Will new gTLDs automatically score higher in Google’s search algorithms?

While Google’s staff has said no (it’s all about site content relevance and not the domain name), the fact that gTLDs are often exact matches to search keywords does help. For instance, if someone searches for “organic domain.” the search results page will show relevant sites’ URL and description with the search keywords highlighted – including the domain name itself if it has any of the keywords. See example below:

Google search for organic domain

As many new gTLDs are in fact common search keywords, it is only natural that sites on these domains will have an advantage in search results (as they are “exact match domains” or EMDs).  A SEO agency, Total Websites, did further research and concluded:

“After gathering and analyzing the data… it’s clear to see that new gTLD domains DO boost SEO rankings; and EMDs, even in the new gTLDs, are still favored in the search engines.”

Additional examples where sites on new gTLDs outrank legacy domains are being reported, such as coffee.CLUB being ranked on the first page of search results a week after launch.

Finally, do not underestimate the relevancy-power of restricted gTLDs , where verification is required. Let’s use the “.organic” example again: for the new .ORGANIC TLD, only certified organic products or entities that otherwise meet stringent eligibility criteria are allowed to use this web address.  Sites on .ORGANIC are therefore almost guaranteed to have highly relevant content – they will be about organic products. Major brands such as Stonyfield, Applegate, Rodale Institute and many more have already signed up and are generating significant traffic. Since Google is all about content relevance, the company will automatically value the added relevance in their search algorithms.

3. What are the SEO best practices for migrating a site to a new gTLD?

There are established best practices for site migration that you may wish to follow. For instance, always use 301 redirects initially – any other kind connotes a temporary change. Handle redirects at the server level – don’t attempt to manage them via your CMS. And construct a friendly and informative 404 page for your visitors – even in the best planned migrations, a few odd pages won’t get addressed. Check out Google’s tips on the use of Change of Address Tool as well.

You may also consider migrating sections of your current site to the new gTLD, i.e., building a site on the new gTLD with specific, highly relevant content to that gTLD. For instance, if you are a mega food company and you have a specific organic product line, you may want to build out a new site on the .ORGANIC domain that focuses JUST on your organic products. This way, your .ORGANIC site will be all about organic products and should score well from keyword search to content relevance. You can cross-link between your main and .ORGANIC sites so your customers always have access to your complete portfolio.

4. Should brands REALLY get on new gTLDs and give up the status quo?

In the face of ever-increasing data on the Internet, even Google struggles to index and reflect relevance accurately. There have been repeated changes to Google’s search algorithm – Panda, Penguin and hundreds more small tweaks that don’t warrant an official title. Google also hasn’t been shy about benefiting its own properties via search, as in when the company promoted Google+ content above other social media properties. And Google has started tailoring search results based on analysis of email traffic sent while the user is logged into Google services. This should benefit new gTLDs, since those with an intense interest in a topic will likely seek out sites with corresponding TLD domain.

New gTLDs are a revolutionary way to organize an ever-growing and often chaotic cyberspace.  Google and other search companies are now including them in their analysis. Google itself has applied to operate over 100 new gTLDs, investing millions of dollars and playing a prominent role in new gTLD implementation. The company clearly sees the potential power and ability of a wider range of gTLDs to change the game online.

With a mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Google is quickly changing to adapt to the new global addressing and organizational structure. Google knows the new gTLDs have changed online marketing – so should you! Now is the time to re-evaluate your online marketing strategies and start leveraging the gTLD that best represents your business and brand!

PHOTO: Gareth Simpson