Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) are an alternative to standard domain name extensions. Existing domains such as .com, .net and country specific domains such as .co.uk and .fr are now supplemented by word-based domains such as .recipes, .london, .scot and .maps.
A Brand TLD is an innovative type of top level domain name (TLD) that is made possible through the implementation of ICANN’s new gTLD Program. A Brand TLD provides the opportunity for branded corporations to use their corporate name as their website’s top-level identifier instead of using a more traditional .com or .biz domain space. [Source: Wiki]
Big brand names can consider securing the Brand TLD, eg .bigbrand, in order to have a single site setup on this gTLD for its various industry categories (examples: accountancy.bigbrand or venturecapital.bigbrand). Here are the top pros and cons (implications and opportunities) that brands should consider as they look at moving their digital real estate and changing their top-level domain names.
Pros & Cons
- Improves brand awareness and can help provide an association between the domain address and the service the brand is trying to provide.
- Could potentially improve click-through rates from users in search results if users see an association between a trusted brand domain and a service they are searching for.
- Can be used to map the domain to a number of sectors and entities, e.g. bigbrand, investors.bigbrand, corporate.bigbrand, manufacturing.bigbrand, industry.bigbrand or health.bigbrand etc. to name a few.
- Companies can have domain names that are shorter and easy to remember.
- It will generate brand awareness among potential consumers and assist them in accessing information regarding the products and services a company provides.
- It lets companies create second-level domains for disparate products and services. Current examples are limited to domains like .nhs.uk and .police.uk.
- Increased security against the abuse of trademark and brand protection.
- If a brand hasn’t made the switch to using HTTPS (for security reasons) it may be the perfect time to do all these migrations in one go.
- New opportunities for website marketing campaigns and digital strategy.
- Requires a complex domain migration (with all the accompanying risks).
- All new branded gTLDs will begin with zero Domain Authority (search engine authority) and zero trust.
- Risk of splitting the Domain Authority across a variety of domains, thereby diminishing the current search equity of the website.
- Transfer of authority and trust from existing site to these new gTLDs can take a very long time.
- Existing TLDs such as .com and country level domains still perform strongly in search engine results and are likely do so as they constitute the majority of internet setup and organisation.
- Very few Financial Directors have any idea of the financial ramifications that these changes will make to their potential sales figures or bottom-line profits.
- In essence, risks could be higher than rewards.
Brands & Companies have differing opinions on Brand TLDs.
Companies and organizations have differing opinions about brand TLDs. Some see this opportunity as a way of increasing the effectiveness and convenience of its communication process and a vehicle to enhance their SEO activity. Others see the costs, uncertainty and ambiguity of the outcomes as an unwelcome risk that may bring more harm than good.
Applying for a brand TLD can be expensive; what is clear is that brands need a strategy to take this opportunity forward and a clear reason why they are considering this change and what the outcomes of this strategy should be.
The top strategic reasons why brands are considering the change are:
- To Increase Profit – Some companies and brands can see the benefits of splitting out their digital real estate to help them penetrate or clarify their positions within specific sectors.
- To Protect the Brand – Brand Protection could stop goods being sold fraudulently and stop advertising platforms and search engines making money from displaying adverts from unauthorized sources or providers of fake goods. This could potentially reinforce Corporate Social Responsibility.
- Not to Miss Out! – It’s hardly a strategic reason, but companies and brands don’t want to be left out. There are a good number of companies that are unsure what to do next, but are afraid of not buying up their branded or generic TLD space.
What has Google been saying about the new TLDs?
Google is looking to the future and watching how the new TLDs will be used. They know that authoritative trust and great citations are key to ensuring that the right websites on the right domains get the most relevant results for the most competitive terms. They have also learned from their mistakes in the past, where domains and subdomains were handed authoritative status without any credible reason why. And so it is a well-known fact that exact-match domains are no longer as powerful without other signals to back them up, and it’s possible that Google may lower the volume on some of the new TLDs or treat them more like sub-domains in terms of ranking power. In other words, they’ll probably have some value, but we are not expecting anything significant coming out of them in terms of SEO benefits.
That said, there might be indirect SEO benefits; for example, owning oilandgas.BP may translate to people linking you with the phrase “BP Oil and Gas“, and since that would now be a brand/domain, it’s more likely to be considered as natural. There may not have been any Multi-Variate Tests ran with published results in this new arena of branding and domain association, but a domain name that is memorable could help us move from the standard country defined TLDs that we’ve used for the past two decades.
What is Google doing with gTLDs?
Google haven’t shied away from registering gTLDs like .youtube and .gmail, as well as applying for more generic names such as .music and .movie. Given this digital land grab, it seems likely that Google is prepared to treat gTLDs as equal to other pre-existing domain extensions irrespective of the comments made by its Spam Team that may suggest otherwise. However, Google can afford to change its mind more than most other organisations.
The major SEO impact from moving to a gTLD from a .com is that gTLDs will start from a position of no authority from a domain and in-bound linking point of view. This can be mitigated by re-directing the “old” TLD into the new gTLD; however, domain migrations will pose challenges in transferring over the full value of the old domain, especially in the short term.
Early Days for gTLDs
As discussed above, it’s still early days for gTLDs. While the limited number of case studies have implied that using gTLDs do provide a positive impact, it’s worth bearing in mind what Google has also said above. I think you should also remind yourself that there is more misinformation and headlines for ‘content’s’ sake than there is proof that this works and will continue to work. The internet is still nothing more than a fledgling industry that is slowly evolving as it matures into something that makes sense for users, businesses, brands and browsers. Money and reputations will be made and lost on route; that much we can guarantee at this stage.
Options to Consider
Brand awareness is still the key factor for retaining business. Currently the traditional Top Level Domain (.com / .co.uk) works best, but this may not always be the case in the future.
The main domain options available for big brands are:
- Don’t Migrate: retain the existing domain structure and use .bigbrand for marketing purposes (redirecting URLs into appropriate pages on the existing sites).
- Consider Migration: move the main domains (or some of them) to .bigbrand. This will involve both investment, time and resource.
- Localised Structure: Move to a fully localised domain structure based on IP detection. This would mirror the existing country-based domain structure but would serve content based on the user’s location and device.
- For Brand Awareness Only: Use .bigbrand as a vanity domain that can be used for general marketing and messaging; these gTLD domains get redirected permanently (using 301 redirects) to their actual top landing-page counterparts. For example, bigbrand permanently redirects to the actual landing page for Big Brands accountancy services
Option 1) – This is clearly the most straightforward and requires the least disruption to the company’s existing website traffic and search engine visibility.
Option 2) – If moving to .bigbrand is to be considered, we would strongly recommend conducting an in-depth analysis of the process required, risks and potential gains.
Option 3) – This should also be considered, as it represents the domain strategy that provides the most future-proofing for the brand’s audience strategy.
Option 4) – This looks to be the most ideal step forward; the brand gets the best of both worlds by first acquiring the respective gTLDs and keeping the current structure of the site intact, meaning the search authority is retained by redirecting the respective gTLDs to their generic sections of the current website.
These options should spark more conversations and discussions within the company’s key stakeholder groups so that an informed decision based on the swiftly evolving issue of brand TLDs can be made in the future.
Ambergreen are working with a handful of clients and partners that are currently addressing these opportunities. If you feel that you may benefit from having a chat with our team, please don’t hesitate to get in contact.