New top-level domains (TLDs) are currently on everyone’s minds. Many webmasters and companies are already using .travel or .business domain endings for their online marketing strategies. But are there any differences in how these new domains are handled in search engines compared to old domains (.com, .net., etc.)?
Sven Naumann (Google Search Quality Team) published a Q & A article in the Google Webmaster Central Blog where he summarized posts by John Müller about the handling of the new top-level domains.
He explained that, according to Google, there is usually no difference in how the new TLDs are treated and evaluated compared to the older TLDs. This means that no advantages or disadvantages result in terms of the ranking in the search results if you use domain.travel instead of domain.com.
Even internationalized top-level domains, such as .みんな, are handled by Google in the same way as any other new or existing, generic top-level domains. According to Google, the Punycode version of a host name has the same significance as the non-coded version. Punycode is an encoding method of converting Unicode strings. It can be used to correctly present domains such as .みんな or umlaut domains. The important thing is that you use UTF-8 for the path and query string of the URL if it contains non-ASCII characters.
The new top-level domains, such as domain.travel or domain.business are not any different from the older generic domains. The two main advantages of the new domain endings are that most of the already assigned domain names can be registered again. This means that many companies now have new brand development opportunities.
For example, the Vienna Tourist association uses wien.travel for marketing purposes and then redirects users to its other webpage, wien.info. Many other tourism associations and organizations are also using such domain endings to actively strengthen their brand.
Several companies are also using the new top-level domains for their online marketing strategy. An example is Booking.com who have registered ".travel" domains for almost all their destinations and redirect these to the hotel overview of these destinations.
Figure 1: Google search results for austria.travel
One frequently asked question in this context is whether the domain ending has an effect on the keyword use in the domain. The reason for this question is the highlighting of the domain ending for a perfectly matching search such as in the above example with austria.travel. If you search for "Austria Travelling", both "Austria" and "Travel" will be highlighted in bold in the domain.
Figure 2: Google search results for austria.travel with keyword search
Even if the domain ending contains a keyword, it will hardly affect the ranking in search results since keywords in domains have generally lost their significance as a ranking factor. This means that the ending will, just like the keyword, indeed be highlighted in the domain name but will still not have any effect on the ranking. Nonetheless, it still catches the eye of the user.
The fact that hardly anyone outside the online marketing scene is aware of the new top-level domains and hence no one really perceives them as such makes it difficult to use endings such as .wien or .travel on print ads or other offline marketing measures. Unlike new domains, such as austria.travel, domains with recognized endings are easily identified as such, even without providing any hints that these are internet domains.
In search engine results, the new top-level domains for different regions, such as .bavaria or .wien, are handled in the same way as .eu, .asia, or other top-level domains and are not automatically associated with the regions of the domain endings. The geographical orientation must be set in the Google Search Console, even for these domains. According to Google, this regional orientation of the TLDs might change in the future.
Figure 3: Specification of the geographical orientation in the Search Console
Google explains that a ccTLD, i.e. a top-level domain that is marked with a country code (e.g., .uk for the United Kingdom) also does not have any direct advantage in the ranking compared to generic domain ending. However, the ending .uk is usually a hint to search engines that this domain is probably more relevant in the United Kingdom compared to a general .com or .net domain.
For this reason, domain endings that have a country code might have an advantage in the search results for the respective country. For example, if your website is oriented to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, there are two options how you can optimally align it geographically:
If you use the appropriate ccTLD for each country and language version, the respective webpages will automatically be aligned to the respective geographical regions in the search results.
This has the advantage that the respective target countries in the search results are automatically taken by Google, ensuring that the correct version is ranked for every country. However, integration of a tracking software, such as Google Analytics, is a bit more complicated when using multiple top-level domains than when you only have single domain. Here, it is recommended that you use the cross-domain tracking in Google Analytics.
In order to orient the various webpages to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, you can also use a .com domain or a different gTLD and then use the different directories to specify the geographical orientation.
Here, all inbound links are cumulated and help strengthen the entire domain. Nonetheless, the geographical orientation must be set manually in the Google Search Console.
In both examples, it is important that you use the correct hreflang attributes. The use of the hreflang tag shows Google that the different ccTLDs or directories of a TLD belong together and are interrelated.
Another interesting question in the Google Q & A refers to the domain transfer of a website from .com to a new TLD. How do I move my website without losing my current ranking position?
Here as well, Google asserts that there is no difference between a domain transfer from .com to any other TLD. Google provides detailed assistance for such a process in order to help you avoid errors that might result when transferring domains or websites. As always, it may take some time before the relocated domain completely re-establishes itself in the search results.
The new top-level domains are neither favored nor disfavored by Google. They are treated just like any other generic top-level domains. With the new domain endings, previously assigned domain names can now be registered again. In addition, companies and organizations now have new opportunities to enhance their brands, such as using .travel for tourist associations. Nevertheless, domains like hotel.berlin do not have any direct ranking advantage in local search results. ccTLDs, such as .de or .at, still continue to enjoy the automatic geographical orientation. However, Google adds that this can change in the future, enabling other domains to benefit more from their local orientation.
Don't forget: When using new domain endings, you must specify the geographical orientation of the domain in the Google Search Console in order to correctly address the desired target market.
Published on 06/17/2016 by Daniel Herndler.
Daniel works as senior SEO manager at Get On Top GmbH in Salzburg. His favorite topics are conversational and semantic search. Daniel also admits to being a true TV series junkie – as a huge “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” fan, he is already plotting his move to the Seven Kingdoms.