Choose wisely

Stuart Fuller

If you were launching a major brand online today, what Top Level Domain would you use? With over 500 TLDs to choose from, a new brand has never had so much choice to grab a relevant, keyword-rich domain name. Yet, few organizations look further than a traditional dotCom or a country code TLD related to their market. As a passionate fan of the new generic Top Level Domain (new gTLD) program, I'm often amazed at the use of ‘traditional’ domain names over a new gTLD − especially one that has direct relevance to a product, brand or marketing campaign.

Search engine optimization experts tell us that a domain name plays a part, albeit a small one, in the complex algorithm used to determine search ranking. Whilst Google has been very consistent in its messaging about the importance of the TLD (the ‘right of the dot’) − particularly since the launch of the new gTLDs − the fact that the keyword(s) used in a domain name (the ‘left of the dot’ or SLD) should be relevant to the content on a website does have an impact on search. Furthermore, Google and other major search engines will penalize websites in terms of search ranking for the use of a domain name that has a less-than-salubrious history, such as a domain name that has been used for spam or hosting nefarious content in the past. So, using a ‘new’ domain name doesn’t carry any of the sins of its fathers.

There’s been little evidence yet of the power of an Exact Match Domain (EMD) in search ranking over one that doesn't feature keywords on both side of the dot. But, likewise, there have been examples of where the use of a new gTLD in combination with relevant keywords to the left of the dot has given an organizations almost immediate advantages in search. Custom sports car manufacturer Lucra adopted a dotCars TLD, and has seen its website (www.lucra.cars) top natural search rankings for relevant queries. Similarly, The Smokehouse pub in London has gained a clear advantage in using www.smokehouse.pub; choosing a new gTLD to launch its brand online.

Whilst some brands may be very focused on costs in the start-up phase, the power of owning a relevant, memorable and meaningful domain name that may cost a few pounds more per annum will soon be worth the investment. The new gTLD program gives brand holders a genuine choice as to what TLD to use. One of the key drivers behind the launch of the program was to bring the element of choice back into the hands of the domain buyer rather than the domain owner. With virtually every two-, three- and four-character dotCom domain name registered, registrants of memorable domains called the shots and dictated the market price. New gTLDs opened up a huge new opportunity for registrants at significantly lower cost − in a similar way to the impact the low-cost airlines had when the traditional flag carriers had to open up some of their routes.

The launch of dotShop further underlines how using a relevant keyword to the right of the dot could be beneficial. Within a few hours of General Availability for the new gTLD opening in late September, over 40,000 domain names were registered. Obviously, some of these will be for defensive purposes, but many will be used by brands to create a readable, memorable and meaningful domain name string for an online shop. Time will tell whether the gTLD will provide a search advantage, but I’d wager a bet that it does.

For any organization preparing to launch a new product, brand or marketing campaign, there are few reasons why using a new gTLD isn’t a viable and practical part of a digital strategy. Good things come to those who wait − and that applies to domain names within search as much as any other aspect of life.