The global domain name market hardly resembles what it used to be ten years ago. From the initial .com, .org and .net, the number of possible domain name extensions reached 735 in October 2014.
This massive list now includes brand-specific domains such as .AOL, geographically defined ones such as .NYC, as well as other generic nouns such as .home, .me, etc.
Although the idea behind this is to provide more options for website owners, many internet users find the current state of the TLDs confusing. This especially relates to webmasters and marketers who have to take a strategic approach to choosing a perfect domain name.
A domain name, along with the chosen extension represents a website’s ID and as such affects most aspects of online presence expansion. Of course, the multiplicity of options available not always makes this task much easier.
On the contrary, since the latest addition of new TLD sets, there have been many discussions about the exact ways they could affect search optimisation, online marketing campaigns and websites’ growth in general.
The state of TLDs: now and then
TLD or a Top Level Domain refers to the extension of a website URL, which is supposed to be the first indicator of what your website is about. Few years ago, this would mostly come down to denoting commercial websites with .com extensions and organisations with .org.
Today, the abovementioned brand-specific and unsponsored extensions, along with the country codes, expand the opportunities for new websites, especially in the business realm. However, not everything is that bright about this choice and many website owners are uncertain about the right extension they should choose when the desired .com is unavailable (which is certainly the case with most generic names).
In fact, as some recent surveys suggest, the constant introductions of new TLDs contribute to creating confusion among both web veterans and users themselves.
Perceived value of new TLDs
While the general intention of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is to enable businesses to market their services more efficiently using a specific TLD, many webmasters fear such a state may pose some difficulties for their marketing efforts.
This view was confirmed in a 2013 survey by Sedo, which inquired about potential effects new specific TLDs would have on the digital industry. Not quite surprisingly, a large number of respondents (40%) said the greatest impediment to adopting new TLDs is potential marketplace confusion. On the other hand, many respondents did express positive attitudes, believing that most consumers would easily understand what the new TLDs are about.
Despite the positive predictions, another recent survey confirms that a great level of confusion still exists. This is evident in the fact that 41% of the 1150 people surveyed said they weren’t even aware of the fact new TLDs have launched, while 19% said it sounded familiar but they didn’t know much about it.
Even though 40% of respondents demonstrated the awareness of the current trends, the number of those who didn’t is alarmingly high. Therefore, it seems reasonable to doubt whether their introduction would indeed have a positive effect on the expansion of all the websites.
Opportunities for businesses
Certainly, the growing variety of TLDs has both positive and negative sides. The most obvious disadvantage lies in the fact it is getting more and more difficult to find a company whose name you’re familiar with. On the other hand, even though it might take some time for everybody to get used to the new environment, most businesses are likely to see benefits from using new TLDs in their future campaigns.
This is especially true for retail businesses that can now choose from the extensions such as .food, .bike, .shop, .store, depending on their area of business. Another important benefit may come in the form of local targeting through the extensions such as .NYC and .London for example, which would perfectly suit websites limited to a particular city or a region.
Search engine potential
Ever since the introduction of new TLDs has started, search marketers wondered about their possible effect on website rankings. The head of Google’s spam team Matt Cutts was quick to respond these doubts saying they won’t matter to the engine. However, some recent studies show the opposite.
Namely, a study by US-based SEO company Total Websites showed that TLDs actually do boost rankings for most businesses that have them. According to their study, Google perceives generic extensions as a part of the exact match domain (EMDs) and favors it among the similar ones. Even though Google recently announced they no longer look as positively at EMDs, this study certainly raises some questions about it.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that one should choose a particular TLD for the sake of search engines only, but it neither excludes the possibility of better rankings. After all, the domain name is still one of the important elements of on-site optimisation.
TLDs in Australia
Confusing as it may be, the new world of TLDs quite certainly brings new possibilities for future digital marketing efforts. This is especially important in relation to codes such as .uk or .au, which can significantly boost a local business whose target market is limited to a particular country.
In fact, as opposed to most US and UK-based respondents, most other countries look at these trends positively. For example, country codes gained support among Australian businesses, which see them as a way to distinguish from global competitors and impose their services or products as better solutions for the Australian audiences.
In the international study by Domain Name Association, Australian respondents were among those who preferred new gTLDs and ccTLDs over the generic codes, believing this gives them a significant space for achieving competitive advantage. In terms of country’s economy, of course, this means a significant potential, especially in the rapidly growing web hosting and online marketing industries.
The turbulences in the web world certainly matter to both users and companies striving to build their online identities. Clearly, this task is no longer as simple as it used to be and it takes more time and creativity to do this than ever before.
However, given the fact that a significant portion of web users is still not familiar with the latest TLDs, it might be important to spread awareness of them in order to create a domain name market that benefits all.