On 26th June, ICANN, the Internet domain authority, announced that a new format for domain names would be made available, ending the 25 year long reliance on established TLD (top level domains) such as .com and .uk
The change will enable brands to register their own name as a top level domain, so we may in future see domains such as http://autions.ebay or http://books.amazon. The move is long awaited, with ICANN petitioning to bring this into place since its inception in 1998.
The ICANN board must approve the final version of the implementation plan, expected in early 2009, so the impact on search won’t be immediate.
But here are some of the main considerations:
Google and the landrush
Google loves keyword based domain names and considers exact keywords found in domains to be a strong signal of a website’s relevance to a query.
An established website with a newly acquired generic domain and a good SEO strategy, could find itself ranking among the top stops for competitive terms relatively quickly. Of course, links trump domain names when it comes to gaming Google, but a good domain can go a long way.
Domains such as http://car.insurance (switch “car” for any other kind of insurance you could imagine to get an idea of the scale) will be hugely attractive for branding benefits alone, not to mention the SEO potential.
Owners of such generic TLDs will have an interesting choice; resell domains under the TLD, or use them to dominate their niche.
ICANN says it intends to recoup costs incurred in bringing this into place by establishing a six figure charge for registering these new domains.
This may put off some smaller operators, however domain names are big business these days. Generic .com’s have long been commanding million dollar fees, and the record price paid for .co.uk’s has been broken at least twice in the last year with ASAP Ventures purchase of recycle.co.uk (£150,000) and more recently cruises.co.uk going for £560,000.
Some have dubbed the suggested pricing nothing but crude money-grabbing from ICANN, knowing that businesses fearing reputation management issues and astute domainers will readily pay. There hasn’t to my knowledge been any indication of whether the prices will fall to a more accessible level once the costs have been recouped.
Large businesses will be keen to protect their brand online and prepared to stump up the costs for their brand name TLD. Significant risk may be presented by generic TLD owners reselling subdomains.
Lawyers have already issued warnings of the “potential for utter chaos" and the possibility that concerned brands “will be forced to register their name at .shop, .buy and .london to stop anyone else getting it".
Local search implications
One idea that has been banded about following the announcement is TLDs for cities such as London (.ldn). Such a move could help pave the way for greater local search targeting capability.
That said, many businesses struggle today with their international search and domain strategies, with engines using combinations of TLD, server location, opt-in tools (Google Webmaster Central) and link analysis to determine geo-relevance.
Greater granularity of domain TLDs may only help to confuse matters here. The implied local relevance of the CentralNic domains was never recognised by search engines, so what is to say they would recognise city level TLDs?
The end of the address bar?
And let’s not forget the user experience. Levels of adoption of the new formats will dictate how long it takes users to understand they no longer need a .com (and the like) at the end of their URL.
Navigational search will increase further, continuing the trend. Confusion abounds, but undoubtedly a new wave of opportunity for those first through the door.
Adam Crawford is the Head of Search at propellernet .