Google and others acquire new general TLDs – how will this affect search?

“This massive expansion (of Top Level Domains) represents one of the greatest changes to the Internet since its inception.” said Akram Atallah, President of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, the group behind the release of multiple new Top Level Domains.

What is a TLD definition TLD

Why are these new TLDs being released?

The release of these new top level domains is supposedly to give more choice, greater freedom to brands and open up an already saturated market of highly fought after domains.

Ultimately there are two sorts of TLDs:

  • Branded TLDs – such as .apple or .samsung
  • General TLDs (gTLDs) – such as .eat .baby and .mail

The General TLDs will be bought by companies and then they will (in most cases) monetise that purchase by offering you and me the chance to buy a URL on that domain. For example, samsplace.eat . The branded TLDs will be used by the companies in question to offer different elements of their business eg: phones.samsung or tablet.samsung or galaxy.samsung (as an example only).

So far we have a selection of low competitive general TLDs released and given to their new owners. These include .LUXURY .TATOO, .LINK and .GUITARS all owned by a mixture of holding companies dotted around the world with several registered in Caribbean tax havens.

In theory this all seems sound – more choice is great for any market. The new TLDs will definitely offer new opportunities to businesses of all sizes, but they will almost certainly affect search, branding and user behaviour in the long run. This therefore will be a subject to discuss in marketing meetings across the country in the months to come.

“Should we buy our restaurant’s brand name on the .EAT tld, which is owned by Google or the .London tld? Or the .England tld? Or all three? Which one’s better in search? Which one is easier for customers to remember? How should we redirect the sites? Should we buy the hyphenated URLs too…..”

However you dress it up it feels a bit like the Cherokee strip land-run or even the break up of Soviet industries; a handful of well placed people could gain an awful lot of power and assets out of it.

The convoluted and expensive TLD Application Process

How much does a new TLD cost?: To take part in the TLD application is $185K and then $25K annual fee for each TLD. If certain General TLDs are contested by other companies (such as .APP or .HOME which are currently being fought over by Google and Amazon amongst others), then that fee could significantly increase in an auction showdown.

There are a handful of companies bidding for the majority of lucrative TLDs. Those handful of companies are Google, Amazon and a plethora of Domain holding companies. The most popular gTLDs are .APP, ART, HOME, SHOP, BLOG, INC and MUSIC. Google (under Charleston Registry) has applied for 7 of these. Furthermore, Google already states that it is offering 19 new TLDs including: .EAT, .ING and .HERE.

New Google TLDs 2014

Here is a list of a selection of further General TLDs that Google has applied for under the name Charleston Registry.

Google is Charleston Registry, a selection of gTLDs they have applied for

Google is Charleston Registry, a selection of gTLDs they have applied for

Monetising the General TLDs

If a company hits gold and acquires an extremely sought after TLD this could be very big business. Already companies such as Sedo and GoDaddy, domain name marketplaces enjoy over $1m worth of sales each in any given week on new domain purchases alone. Go Daddy’s revenue is over $1bn per annum, so it’s no wonder that other companies want in on this type of marketplace and to own the TLD assets.

ICM Registry, the group behind the registration of .XXX, predicted in 2011 that it is expected to make over $200m a year with 3-5million domain registrations.

Defence Purchasing of TLDs and Protecting a Brand

ICANN, the body behind the release of the TLDs has vigorously stated to US Congress that it will protect businesses’ intellectual property, which is surely fine for recognised companies such as Tesco or Samsung, but what about the small businesses in all this? Or what about companies that have successfully created a brand out of a more general term such as cheap-flights? Does that mean cheap-flights.travel or cheap flights.voyage will be available to anyone?

Making sure that your target audience is in no doubt that they have clicked on your company site (instead of a competitor or even spammer) may be the biggest mission for marketers in the future. Think if you bought Agency.London but then a competitor bought London.agency. No one would ever remember which one was which.

Imagine if you owned a new luxury restaurant in London. You’d now feel compelled to purchase the .LONDON .FOOD .LUXURY and .MENU. Then perhaps you suddenly heard that Google’s .EAT was being launched by the search engine, what happens if they release a dedicated search engine for restaurants using that TLD? You would certainly feel obliged to be involved in that. Then to protect your copyright of the domain you’ll probably have to buy all the hyphenated domains too. When do you stop?

Will new TLDs give incumbents (Google and Amazon) greater dominance?

One concern is how the companies that have bought these TLDs will gain dominance in their sectors. It’s no surprise that Google and Amazon have shown interest in several generic TLDs. Imagine if Amazon bought .MUSIC (one of the most contested TLDs). In due course they could in theory and quite legitimately set up a catalogue within their site to promote musicians who use that general TLD with a direct link to purchase the music on their ecommerce platform. Musician would indeed benefit from this, but it would also have a major impact on the industry and indeed other suppliers of music.

How new TLDs Affects Search Marketing and SEO

Another concern is how Google will treat the new TLDs. Hopefully there will be no affect at all and each site will be taken on face value. We have all seen fads come and go in how Google deals with different types of domains such as keyword specific domains, foreign TLDs and subdomains. With these new TLDs there will be a huge influx of spam sites and keyword rich domain sites. Hopefully Google will handle all these new TLDs in a similar way to how it handles current TLDs and scoring the site on numerous other elements. In branding terms, we instinctively know that if we were making a recommendation on a new domain purchase we’d almost always plump for a .com or .co.uk, you’d rather have a ‘lesser’ name on a .co.uk TLD than a ‘better’ name on a .biz TLD.

In time we may see new general TLDs gain traction and emerge as the one to be on for certain sectors, we will also see others disappear. Until that happens, companies therefore have the choice of holding off and biding their time or to join the bun fight and pile in for registration. As there will be so many TLDs available it is probably advised to stick closely to your brand name when purchasing a new domain. This is because it is easier to protect the brand name rather than the keyword rich domain, which could have numerous permutations across multiple TLDs.

All in all I would recommend that you don’t throw away your .com or .co.uk domain for some time yet.

On a personal point, I will definitely be looking at the market and seeing what’s available and for what price. And no doubt, I will probably join the bun fight along with everyone else.

Sam Silverwood-Cope is Founder and Director at Natural Search and Data company Intelligent Positioning