Kevin Valade / Digital Strategy / February 5th, 2014

Are New Top-Level Domains the End of the Dotcom Era? (Probably Not.)

Last week, the Internet was hit with the release of seven new top-level domains (TLD) – the first batch of hundreds of new domains to be released within the next year. Each new batch of domains will go through a 60-day sunrise period, and you can track URLs to see when they become available. The new TLD releases have a long time coming, but now they’re here, it’s time to talk about what this means for marketers and business owners.

For those unfamiliar with the term, top-level domains refer to the portion of the URL following the “dot.” We’ve gotten used to .com, .org, .net and all the other classics that we already don’t use too often – no matter how badly we coveted a .gov- or .edu-level backlink.

But as of this week we can break away from our boring .coms and use exciting new suffixes such as .plumbing, .ventures, .singles, .bike, .clothing, .guru and .holdings. And in the beginning of February we’ll add even more to the list with .lighting, .photography, .graphics, .estate, .gallery, .equipment, and .camera – I know, I know. Try to contain your excitement, folks.

How .holdings beat out .swag for a spot in the first cut is still beyond me – .disappointing.

One day, this website could be yours. You monster.
One day, this website could be yours. You monster.

But before webmasters get too excited and start buying up a bunch of new domains, let’s take a step back and think about the effects a new TLD could have on your site, and, perhaps, some ways you can get the best use out of these new options.

Searchability

The jury is still out on whether or not new TLDs will help users find and connect to brands online – although we do know that for now Google will not be giving any extra weight to new domains, and it won’t be awarding any special keyword relevance in search. Some argue it will make websites easier for consumers to find, while others say it will make no difference or even hurt businesses and their sites.

Sure, it would be nice to find Jim’s Plumbing online by going to jims.plumbing rather than jimsplumbing.com – and perhaps when buying his domain, jimsplumbing.com was unavailable, forcing Jim to get a less obvious domain, such as jimsawesomeplumbing.com.

But a couple of problems arise if Jim gets excited and decides that he’s going to jump on jims.plumbing and switches over his site to the new domain.

From an SEO standpoint, a new domain basically means you’re starting from scratch. Any work you may have done in the past to build your authority in the eyes of Google is essentially thrown out the window – unless you’re able to implement the proper redirects for all of your pages. Redirecting away from old pages plays another important role in avoiding duplicate content, an obvious penalty waiting to happen.

And most likely, these domains are just going to confuse your users. Trying to figure out when to go to jims.plumbing vs. jimsplumbing.com is simply adding another barrier to how searchers find our sites – especially if the two domains don’t redirect to each other. The customer may not know if he’s actually found the site he was looking for, and it could ultimately take away from your business.

Honestly, if a site has a .net extension, it’s fairly likely that I’m never going to be able to directly find that website. If you throw a .guru at me, well, all bets are off.

You remember how important this was.
You remember how important this was.

So, What Good Are They?

While it may not be wise to jump on the bandwagon and switch your entire site to a new TLD, that’s not to say the use of them is a bad idea – you just need to get creative with it.

Digital marketers now have the opportunity to spice up landing pages for a campaign by purchasing a custom URL. These custom URLs work nicely for a campaign in that they have the potential to be much more shareable and social media friendly. And they allow you to carry over your creativity into the URL, not just the content on the page – just make sure to redirect back to your primary domain.

Business owners can safely launch a new venture or a microsite with a new domain, but you’ll want to balance the novelty of an oddball domain name with its usability.

Many web experts and marketers are talking about ensuring brand protection using these new URLs, and while that may make sense if you’re grabbing .Apple or .Amazon URLs, it is frankly an unrealistic exercise for most businesses. More than 1,300 new domains are scheduled for release – and they’re not exactly cheap. It may be good to grab a few more likely TLDs like .web or .store (maybe .wtf?), but the cost of grabbing every URL related to your business will be astronomical.

Looking Ahead

Time will tell if these top-level domains will create an entirely new breed of websites and change the way we search for brands on the Internet, or if they will fall by the wayside and join the long list of Internet fads. But used effectively and creatively, marketers just may have a powerful new tool in their arsenal.