What could the new ICANN domain names mean for online marketers?

Marketing/SEO

What could the new ICANN domain names mean for online marketers?

The Board of ICANN made two major announcements yesterday:

  1. They work on weekends and holidays.
  2. They are expanding the Top Level Domains (TLDs) available.

What that means is, if you have at least $185K you’ll be able to get a domain like .travel or .toyota or whatever your heart desires. But what does that mean for online marketers?

TLD Infographic
Courtesy of Melbourne IT DBS

SEO

As Danny Sullivan has already said, the use of a TLD like “bank” probably won’t affect your actual rankings. But what about click-through rate?

Put yourself in the eyes of your average search engine user (i.e., someone who isn’t an online marketer). If you saw a search result that had the TLD that matched your search, in addition to a solid title and description, would you be more inclined to click on that result? After all, it adds authority to your result that most of the others probably won’t have. Before you even get to a site you can tell whether or not it is on topic to your search based on that TLD.

Couldn’t it also confuse users, too? We’re all trained to go to .com or .org—will not seeing one of the traditional TLDs associated with the domain make it seem spammy? After more details are released about the new TLDs, it would be interesting to conduct a survey of what the average search engine user will think when they see a branded TLD.

This all, of course, assumes they even look at TLDs to begin with. They could very well care less about them.

PPC

While I don’t profess to be a PPC expert, I have to imagine including a brand-specific TLD could help improve your click-throughs. That’s what I asked Kate Morris of Distilled who speaks often about PPC:

No, I actually don’t. No more than they do now. I think they might over time, but that’s if the brands play along and the public is educated about what they are. This is going to be a small thing for some time, but it ultimately might mean more trust. I am not sure this is the best thing for good small businesses. It’ll really just free up three characters.

Who could benefit?

The new TLDs that will be created as a result of yesterday’s announcement seem poised to have an impact a few years from now. They actually won’t even be fielding applications until the beginning of next year. However, it does create a cool way to create branded domains for the big spenders out there. Think of the cool marketing opportunities that’ll be created—both online and offline. Picture a magazine ad for a new Toyota car that has a domain like “rav4.toyota” on it.

At this point, I could see it benefiting the tech-friendly brands the most. Even for Raven it could be a great way to hand out promo URLs. Say we have a special offer at a conference we are sponsoring, we could use a domain like “pubcon.raven” on our promo materials. I would imagine that would be much easier to remember than a subdomain. (Though it might still confuse the hell out of the average user.) But as I mentioned, I want to know if it has any impact on click-throughs for both SEO and PPC before making any changes.

One final area it will be interesting to keep an eye on is around new business ventures created off of the generic TLDs that will become available. While this release is more geared towards brands, the opportunity to create an social-network type site is on the table. Say if you bought the TLD “.family”, you could then turn around and sell domains off of it where people could connect with their family members (like pratt.family).

You could do the same thing with a TLD like “.news” and sell of domains like tech.news to various tech news sites like Technorati or Gawker Media.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my time in this industry, it’s that it is full of some very smart and innovative people. What new business ventures that come with these new TLDs will be a perfect example of that.

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