In 2014, the new Top Level Domains (TLDs) were introduced to much fanfare from the press and tech bloggers. New web address endings were touted as a land rush on the internet and a game changer for marketing strategies. Despite such pronouncements, new TLDs were largely ignored in 2014, leaving some to expect an explosion in activity in 2015. However, before business owners run off to build new sites with fancy new names, it's important to separate fact from fiction regarding TLDs and to ask the question, "Will the new TLDs matter to marketers and consumers in 2015?".
As a brief primer, Top Level Domains are the endings to websites such as .com, .edu, .gov, etc. In the past, these were all handled by the ICANN, but in 2014, the door was opened for entrepreneurs to create their own TLDs that they can control on their own. So now, there are essentially an endless amount of TLDs. Business owners could pay to can have their site end with things like .xyz, .toys, .soy, .wed, and more. Nearly 4 million web sites around the world use one of the newly created TLD.
There have been many different Top Level Domains for website owners to choose from before the introduction of the new TLDs and research has shown that they work in a general sense. People know that the various country TLDs can be used to find information from a certain region of the world. Consumers generally know that .fr is for pages in France and that .ca is for Canada. However, it's not perfect, a study from Moz suggests that nearly 25 percent of Americans can be tricked into thinking that .ca is for California; so they knew that the TLD was for a region, but guessed the wrong region.
Similarly, people know that a .tv site will be about a television show, .edu is for schools, that .org pages tend to be for non-profits. The .edu and .org are the two TLDs that carry the most meaning for consumers. Searchers know that .edu resources will be more reliable since they are from schools and not from businesses. And people associate .org with organizations, groups or non profits with goals other than profit. Many people don't realize that .com itself is short for "commercial" which was chosen in the early days of the internet to identify the sites that weren't the traditional school or government based web pages that first populated the nascent world wide web.
The challenge for these new TLDs is that though people can use them to quickly understand the purpose of a site, consumers don't inherently trust sites with unusual TLDs more than ones with more traditional endings. In fact, having a vanity TLD immediately indicates that this a new site which puts the site at a disadvantage when compared to sites that have been serving customers from a .com web address for years. This is why older alternative TLDs like .biz or .info never really took off.
When NPR followed up with some of the creators of the new TLDs at the end of 2014, they found that adoption has been incredibly slow. The TLD that is doing the best so far is .xyz and even that is based on a large buy from a third party that gave a free year of .xyz registration to their clients or from people who bought .xyz domains to squat on them. A better indicator will come at the end of 2015 when we see how many people who squatted or received their new TLD domain for free decide its worth it to continue paying for it.
The international study from Moz asked users if, based solely on the domain name, they were more likely to trust an insurance quote from a website ending in .insurance. 62 percent of Americans, 53 percent of Australians, and 67 percent of marketers said they were unlikely to trust the quote based on the domain alone.
And despite what people who are trying to sell TLDs may say, when it comes to TLDs and SEO, TLDs offer no intrinsic value to improve SEO. The algorithms for search engines don't include these new TLDs as a ranking factor. These domains will show up in a generic search for a keyword and people can search by TLD extension if they want to. If TLDs become more popular, they may become ranking factors in the future (though Google says they doubt it), but for now, they are treated no differently.
Google's John Mueller recently reposted comments the company made earlier in 2014 to reiterate their position on TLD and search.
"It feels like it's time to reshare this again. There still is no inherent ranking advantage to using the new TLDs," Mueller wrote on Google+ before sharing a postfrom Matt Cutts on the subject. "They can perform well in search, just like any other TLD can perform well in search. They give you an opportunity to pick a name that better matches your web-presence. If you see posts claiming that early data suggests they're doing well, keep in mind that this is not due to any artificial advantage in search: you can make a fantastic website that performs well in search on any TLD."
The sheer amount of TLDs available also undermines one of the reasons some thought they would be so popular. When there so many TLDs to choose from, it's not as effective for squatters to try and wrap of domains with the intent of selling them later. It's not the same as in the early days of the internet. Back then, if someone had the .com you wanted, there was nothing you can do but pay them or get a different name. Now, marketers can just move to a different TLD. The introduction of these new TLDs have created so much internet real estate, it's impractical for one person to try to lock up domains they don't intend to use.
There are a lot of good reasons why business owners may want to create a site using one of the new TLDs, but it's important to be clear about what the benefits are and what is just hype. It's undeniable that business can get domain names using the new TLDs that are unavailable for older extensions. Some states are introducing TLDs for businesses in their state. So BillsGarage.com may be taken, but BillsGarage.NYC may be up for grabs.
However, other than the benefit of giving marketers more options when deciding on domain names, TLDs don't offer any intrinsic benefit to business. As the research from Moz and comments from experts at Google have shown, TLDs have no advantage over .com when it comes to customer trust and SEO visibility.
Given the challenges facing TLD adoption, it's unlikely that TLDs will make a huge marketing impact in 2015 unless there is some sort of game changing development. If you want to use one of the new TLDs to build a site with an easy-to-remember name, you won't be disappointed, but don't expect new domain endings to perform some kind of marketing magic in the coming year.