In a post on Google’s Webmaster Central blog a couple of days ago, there were several questions asked and answered about Google’s treatment of websites that use new gTLD domain name extensions. I had already understood how Google treats new gTLD extensions, but I wasn’t really sure about how Google would treat .brand domain names, such as .Google or .Barclays domain names.
In the aforementioned blog post, a question about .brand domain names was posed and answered:
Q: Will a .BRAND TLD be given any more or less weight than a .com?
A: No. Those TLDs will be treated the same as a other gTLDs. They will require the same geotargeting settings and configuration, and they won’t have more weight or influence in the way we crawl, index, or rank URLs.
If a .brand domain name doesn’t have any more weight than any other TLD, what is the advantage of using it? I would imagine there could be added trust with a .brand domain name because a consumer should know that the brand operates the extension and it’s less likely to be a phishing site or a site offering counterfeit goods. However, at least at this point in time, I don’t think consumers would know enough about the new extensions to understand this yet.
With that being said, I think there are quite a few disadvantages for a brand to use a new gTLD extension:
1) If the brand decides to shift from a .com to a new gTLD extension, it runs the risk of causing search engine issues if the transition isn’t handled correctly. It’s not an easy process to change urls, and if a mistake or mistakes are made, it could harm search engine rankings.
2) If the brand keeps its high ranking .com (or .whatever) url and builds websites on its .brand domain names, it needs to have sufficiently different content on each website to avoid a duplicate content penalty.
3) If a brand keeps its legacy domain names and adds new .brand urls with different content and the .com (or .whatever) continues to rank highly, what is the point of using .brand domain names at all?
4) The brand could risk confusing consumers if it tells them to look at the extension and be sure it’s a .brand because their other non-.brand domain names should then look suspicious to consumers who see this message.
5) It is costly for a .brand to apply for and manage a .brand extension, especially if there isn’t a risk that another brand could take it and make it their own.
All of this said, there certainly is a possibility that Google could change how it ranks .brand domain names in the future like it could change other ranking factors. I wouldn’t bank on this and I wouldn’t make decisions based on this.
In my opinion, if Google were to treat .brand domain names with a higher level of trust, switiching urls would be a less risky proposition. For example, if Google would automatically rank .Barclays domain names above Barclays’ .com domain names for the same content, the above risks would be mitigated greatly. However, since Google says it doesn’t treat them differently, I think the risk appears to outweigh the advantage, especially in the short term when web visitors aren’t all that familiar with the new extensions.
I am very interested in hearing what you have to say about this, especially from people who are proponents of .brand domain extensions. What am I missing?