There is a great deal of interest and debate surrounding the question of how the new, upcoming gTLDs will affect search engine optimization (SEO). With quite a bit of help from some of my new colleagues at Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services I’ve looked into this question, specifically in regard to gTLDs that are in the control of the organizations who are using them (as opposed to new community domains like .bank). I am confident that properly used TLDs represent an opportunity to improve search engine performance.
First the caveats:
All SEO techniques are just tools, and they need to be used well to yield good results.
No SEO technique is a miracle worker. Some ambitions will be outside your grasp no matter what you do. Nobody but Apple Corporation will be ranking first on the term ipod any time soon.
Results may vary. Some people will get better results than others. That’s how it goes in SEO-land.
SEO takes time. Results are never instant, so you have to be patient and determined.
SEO is a subtle and elusive practice. You’ll have to get your hands on your own SEO program with your own content and your own target keywords to optimize it for your needs. There is no other way.
Google keeps mum on its search algorithms for very good reason, but we can draw some sensible conclusions based on our reasoning and behaviors we can observe in Google search.
For starters consider these facts: Google is in the business of using all available information to offer the most accurate relevancy possible in its results. TLDs have the potential to be giant screaming indicators of a site’s content. Therefore it’s hard to imagine that the rocket scientists in Mountain View will categorically ignore this indicator without at least checking it out to see if it makes results better.
We have good evidence that Google is using TLD information to influence search results today. For example, you can easily find a myriad of instances in which preference appears to be given to .gov and .edu sites for appropriate search terms.
Search on texas. The top result is the state of Texas’s site at www.texas.gov. Second is Wikipedia’s entry on Texas. Now, there’s no way that the state of Texas has optimized its site to the level where it can go toe to SEO toe with Wikipedia. What’s happening here? Google is giving great weight to the fact that this site has a .gov domain. (Note that texas.com doesn’t show up until #30.)
If you believe that in Texas maybe civil servants are SEO savants, then I’ll point out that the same happens for new york city, memphis, phoenix, dade county florida and many, many other place names. The common thread? Place names and .gov.
Search on harvard and you see the same exact thing with .edu. This time Wikipedia is #5, behind four .edus (and with more .edus below). Again, we see the same for princeton, ucla, johns hopkins, and lots of other educational institutions. Again, it’s the .edu addresses.
I consider that pretty compelling empirical evidence that Google is prepared to use TLD information to influence search results when it feels they improve the results’ accuracy. But on top of that Google has, in fact, applied for a patent on using TLDs as a contributor to search relevancy. Patent application 12/468,195, filed by Google Corporation on June 17, 2009 states in part,
These pages can be differentiated and identified by, for example, a list of domain names; top level domain extensions, such as .biz, .com, .org, .edu; or web sites.
These two pieces together tell us that Google explicitly has considered how TLDs enter into determining search ranking and that the search engine uses this information today.
Now, how do we know what Google will do with any individual TLD? We don’t. But returning to the earlier point, we know the search engine’s mission is to index and present all available information in the manner that’s most useful to searchers. If the entity that controls a certain domain space uses it well, we should expect in the long run that this TLD will become a useful indicator. Likewise, if the entity floods it with useless content, then that TLD may actually be punished by Google. For companies that control their own gTLDs that’s good news since they can ensure that this domain space is filled with relevant, useful content. In fact, the content they would include even without SEO considerations is very likely to fit that description.
In my next post I’ll explain other opportunities to improve search engine performance using your own TLD.