Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Search Insider: Anythinggoes? The Impact Of New ICANN Vanity Top-Level Domains

Anythinggoes? The Impact Of New ICANN Vanity Top-Level Domains

AS IF MARKETING ON our little Worldwide-Interweb / Series of Tubes wasn't already wild enough, the governing body over all Internet domain names just held a vote to ensure that things will get a little wilder. Or at least a bit more confusing for users, IT departments, marketing departments, enterprise natural search marketers and trademark interests.  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN) voted at its June  meeting in Paris to open up root level generic Top-Level Domains  to private entities.  In addition to commonly known extensions -- such as .com, .net, and .org -- individuals, corporations and non-profits may apply for .anything, or literally any word or phrase not taken that contains three or more characters.  This decision will allow major corporations to own and host their Web presence off their own root level domain, such as .google, .apple, .search, and also control sub-domains (,,  bob.smith, etc.).  Applicants would have their choice of running a hosted sited on the Top Level Domain (TLD), or opening up the TLD for registrations. 

Though it will likely be 18 months before we see the first rollout of a vanity TLD, there will be many implications for marketers and consumers, particularly with the threat to natural search engine presence that accompanies moving a legacy domain name.  It also appears to be yet another headache for brand and trademark monitoring, except these defensive registrations come at a much higher price tag. 

The lure of a vanity TLD is great for some marketers, so over the next two columns I will discuss some of the challenges that the new TLDs might bring, covering fees and registration process, and the search implications of maintaining a top level domain.

A few examples of the possibilities

So what does the concept of a vanity TLD mean to marketers and major corporations?  Fundamentally, it means the following domains could exist as a location for a corporate Web presence:






Or these generics:

From here, you can let your imagination run wild.  The possibilities have left many corporate marketers and IT professionals chomping at the bit to get in line for the application process. 

The problem with maintaining positive search equity in a gTLD move

Moving a Web site from a .com or other legacy TLD to a new extension such as www.Domain.Brand has many implications from a natural search optimization standpoint. Many of the same rules for moving between secondary domains (ex. to apply to moving from a secondary domain to a managed vanity TLD (ex. to home.mediapost).  Accrued search indexing history, domain age (with a live Web site running), and the legacy inbound back links pointing to the existing domain are just a few considerations for maintaining positive search equity. 

Major brands with a positive search legacy on their are at a great advantage over direct and indirect competitors in natural search, based on the authority that search engines have granted to their domains.  While newer or less authoritative sites may take months or years to obtain a ranking or any significant flow of traffic from search engines, a legacy domain can obtain competitive rankings within days, or sometimes hours or minutes, simply by deploying keyword-themed content.

If you are considering moving to a new .Brand or .Generic TLD, there is potentially a great risk to search history and positive natural search engine optimization performance.  If you are considering creating a new architecture on many different secondary domains banked on a vanity TLD, ask yourself the same questions as if you were considering re-architecting a site on all sub-domains (for example, see subdomains).

There is much at stake with concern to the amount of traffic derived from natural search, and also the amount of revenue driven through a site.  I would highly encourage a review of a few of my past columns on the topic of search engine equity, as it relates to a domain or TLD move:

A Site That's Worth A Search Fortune

Natural Born Search Killers (PT I)

Natural Born Search Killers (PT II)

I am not trying to say that a vanity TLD is completely out of the question, just that there are major implications for natural search. But I think there will be many interesting and innovative uses of vanity TLDs, and in those cases it will be important to weigh what you are getting when moving a name, in order to preserve as much as you can.  For a Fortune 500, the dollars generated from natural search are not chump change.  We are talking tens of millions, to hundreds of millions. that may be flowing in from natural search.  Some companies are aware of their return; many others are not.

Applying for a vanity TLD is not as simple to do from an application, or a technical and cost perspective.  In my next column, I will review some of these issues, and also dig deeper into the impact of vanity TLDs in natural search results.

Rob Garner is strategy director for digital marketing company iCrossing and writes for Great Finds, the iCrossing blog. He is president-elect of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association. Contact him via email at

Search Insider for Wednesday, July 16, 2008:

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