SEO

The SEO Impact of ICANN’s New Top-Level Domains

Not everyone likes the Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers (ICANN’s) new Top-Level Domain (gTLD) initiative, but they are coming in 2012 and could potentially play a big role in your SEO strategy for years to come.  SEO professionals for companies of all sizes should learn the basics of gTLD and take note on the opportunities and risk for brands.

…[gTLD’s] impact on rank will eventually depend on how search engines decide to treat new gTLDs in the algorithms based on the value to searchers. Keep in mind that Vint Cerf (VP and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google) was Chairman of the ICANN board until 2007.

If you haven’t heard of ICANN or their new gTLD initiatives then don’t worry -it was only recently that a date for launch (January 12th 2012) was announced. If you have heard of ICANN and the new gTLD, then you’ve probably not heard anything good about them. Recent press releases from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) focus on the potential costs or legal fees brand owners might incur from the risk of “cyber squatting” in new gTLDs. In case your CEO asks you what’s going on, here are a few nuggets of information to keep at your side:

  • ICANN was formed in 1998. It is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world dedicated to keeping the internet secure, stable and interoperable. It promotes competition and develops policy on the internet’s unique identifiers.
  • ICANN intends to open up the domain name space beyond the current number of gTLDs (e.g. “.com”) within the coming year to create increased diversity, choice and greater security for internet users.
  • Applications to become a domain name registry will begin in January 2012, and the evaluation process will likely last 4-6 months. Each application comes with a $185,000 price tag.
  • Applicants will have to pass a set of technical, financial and regulatory tests before being awarded a contract to run a new gTLD. The Domain Applicant Guide Book (DAG) outlines this, but it’s over 300 pages long.
  • There are five categories of new gTLDs that will be introduced into the domain name system:
    1. Dot Brand Top-Level Domains (e.g. therealthing.coke)
    2. Generic Top-Level Domains (e.g. Nike.sport)
    3. Community Top-Level Domains (e.g. prius.eco)
    4. IDN Top-Level Domains (e.g. 乖哦了阜成路北. 吃哦买)
    5. Geographic Top-Level Domains (e.g. jets.nyc)

Brand owners will have the opportunity to participate in the new gTLD program either as a domain name registry (extension owner) or as registrants. Against the popular belief, the likelihood of “cyber squatting” a gTLD or domain level is low because:

  • ICANNs DAG process outlines multiple opportunities and tools available to brand owners to challenge potentially fraudulent applications.
  • The considerable costs to apply for an extension and the above will discourage most ideas of infringement.
  • Cybersquatters ROI is low, as the adoption of new TLDs will be a slow incline. Therefore, they are likely to focus on existing incumbents (e.g. “.com”)
  • All prospective registries will provide opportunities for brand owners to secure their rights prior to any general open registration period.
  • All prospective registries will have some form of take down/DRP service available to brand owners to regain their rights.
  • Monitoring tools will mitigate the lifespan of infringements.

gTLD Impact on Your SEO Strategy

The jury is still out on how new gTLD will impact rank on your search marketing strategies. Search experts like Danny Sullivan believe there will be little to no impact on SEO from new gTLD. However, their impact on rank will eventually depend on how search engines decide to treat new gTLDs in the algorithms based on the value to searchers.  Keep in mind that Vint Cerf -VP and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google- was Chairman of the ICANN board until 2007.

Moving Forward with gTLDs in Your Company

The possibilities for new gTLDs are endless and if the idea of owning your own “Dot Brand TLD” sounds attractive to your CEO, below are some final things to consider:

  1. Be realistic – If you are not one of the top global or country brands, step away from the “Dot Brand” idea. You’re probably doing great things with existing digital marketing efforts like SEO and there is plenty to keep you occupied. However, if you are visionary and small it might just be worth it.
  2. Brand recognition starts at home – It is fundamental to the success of your Dot Brand that your organization (and not just legal & marketing) is behind you in this. You need your team to believe, and the first way to do that is to educate them and expose them to the idea. Move this conversation away from legal and to marketing for ultimate success.
  3. Collaborate internally & externally – I cannot stress how important it is that all those involved in existing marketing, technology and protection avenues are involved in this effort. Bring in experts that can facilitate both education and leadership across the business to get it done.
  4. Keep your integrity – You’ve built strong brand recognition and trust within consumers and the market using SEO and other digital marketing methods. Don’t throw it away with careless management of your new gTLDs.
  5. Be in it for the long haul – This is not a fad. The adoption curve will be long and there will be pitfalls along the away. Your existing team members and potential new ones may not initially understand the change, but in the long run it will create fulfilling engagements between you and consumers.

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