Rarely has there been a domain name issue that has two high profile contrasting viewpoints in such as short period of time as the matter of how Google will treat the new gTLDs in terms of search engine ranking. In some ways it shows how reliant brands (and everyone) are on one company to make or break them in an online sense. Google are today without a doubt the most influential Internet organisation of all time. When one of their people speaks, people today listen and take those words as gospel. With so much of the way search rankings world cloaked in secrecy it was inevitable that a single sentence from Google changes the way we see the world.
The week started with AusRegistry International Chief Executive Officer Adrian Kinderis being quoted in marketingmag.co.au on the issue of search rankings of the new gTLDs. He posed the question:-
“Will a new TLD web address automatically be favoured by Google over a .com equivalent?”
His answer was - “Quite simply, yes it will”. He believed that the new gTLD programme would provide the purest search ranking relevancy there could be. A person looking for Apple should see an .apple domain name at the top of their search results (we have no idea if apple have applied for a new gTLD by the way) rather than apple.com or apple.net.
I can see the logic in this argument and when this information was released at ICANN 43 in Costa Rica a murmur of approval swept around the room, and those organisations who have so far invested in an application for a new TLD they must have had a wry little smile.
But then came an almost immediate hammer below from Google’s public face of search, Matt Cutts. Matt is the man with almost every answer about what matters in terms of search and rankings. If anyone knows the mysteries behind the curtain in the Google Indexing system it is Matt.
“Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either. If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that’s your choice, but you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.”
A pretty damning statement if ever there was one, but over time will the situation change? That is dependent on a number of factors, but it is inconceivable that Google will not change their ranking algorithm at some point to favour new gTLDs – after all their mantra is all about creating a more relevant search experience for everyone, and you cannot get more relevant than someone using a .brand domain name.
It is naive to think that from day one a new gTLD will jump straight to the top of the rankings. After all, most brands will have invested massive sums of money in their online brand, search engine optimisation and PPC. Big brands will have influential content and links around the internet and so you cannot simply swap out your main domain name overnight and retain your ranking. Apple.apple will not replace apple.com any time soon simply because of the other aspects that make up search rankings away from the domain name.
One aspect Google has not yet commented on is the effect the new gTLDs will have on security and authenticity of search. Whilst they are committed to the “most relevant search experience” for consumers, what about the security aspect? Knowing that the results you are served is bona fide authentic must be worth something? A .brand will deliver those results from day one. So that surely must count for something.
Google make around 500 changes to their search ranking calculations every year, with only the top two or three releases making the headlines so it must be something that is on the drawing board at some point. Until then, brands will have to devote marketing spend into a duel online strategy to ensure that both their new brand is getting the focus it needs, whilst their existing domain names are not neglected.
Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications Group NBT
NetNames is a part of Group NBT Limited