Of course, Google has categorically denied that there would be any rankings benefit from using the new domain extensions.
And this seems to align with its strategy of reducing the impact of keywords in domain names which was very clearly demonstrated with the roll out of the EMD algorithm update in October 2012 (this downgraded the positive impact on rankings of having domain names which included keywords that exactly matched search queries when the site itself did not provide quality relevant content).
But it is still intriguing to speculate whether the new gTLDs might provide a ranking benefit.
After all, doesn’t it make sense to show domains ending with .hotel higher up in searches relating to hotels? Or for city specific searches (eg ‘hotels in Berlin’) to place hotel sites with the .Berlin extension above others?
To investigate, we analysed the rankings of .Berlin domains both in the local (Location: Berlin) area and in non-local Google searches.
We used a specific keyword set and compared the outcomes with the equivalent search results for .de and .com domains.
The analysis shows that .Berlin domains perform better in local searches than in non-local searches in 42% of cases. For comparison, websites using the .de national domain ending perform better locally in only about 28% of cases.
In fact we found that domains with the .Berlin extension are ranked 1.18x higher on average in local searches than .com and .de domains (in many cases it was as much as four positions higher).
So back to the original question: can the new gTLDs become a ranking factor that has a positive impact?
The early evidence from our study indicates that there obviously is a difference and gTLDs rank better, at least for local searches.
It should be noted that this was a rather limited ad hoc analysis; partly because the number of.Berlin domains is still relatively small and because very few of the new gTLDs are currently represented in search results.
But there is at least the beginning of a trend which can be investigated by further analysis.
In general, I think Google will treat the new gTLDs less as a keyword and more as a category. In recent years, Google has tended towards favouring pages in search results that cover the topics relevant to search queries in a comprehensive, holistic way with unique added value information.
So it remains to be seen whether Google will make an exception and convey rankings benefits to specific TLDs.