Search engine optimization (SEO) is always evolving in response to changes in user behavior and the algorithms that users rely upon to find their way around the Internet. Apps and social media have also become dominant players into SEO strategy as we learn how users interact with our brands via mobile devices and within social networks.
For brands who own their own gTLD (generic top-level domain), also known as a dot brand, it’s time to really rethink your whole SEO strategy. This is not just because gTLDs will ultimately change how people search and navigate the Internet, but also because brands have a whole new blank slate and a platform to create something that’s better than what you had before. Consider, for example, if American Express promoted Travel.Amex instead of one of the many live sites we found: [www.americanexpress.com/travel/home], [www.amexglobalbusinesstravel.com], [www.222.295.americanexpress.com/travel-insurance.home], [www.americanexpresstravelresources.com], or the many other variations of live Web pages out there that appear to be American Express travel pages. Which ones are real or not is sometimes hard to tell. Not only is Travel.Amex easy to remember, so much so that a user might just type it into the browser, but it’s also clearly authentically the real American Express, which will give it a boost in organic search.
Brand TLDs Signal the Algorithm That It’s Legitimate
The number one most important factor for brands with gTLDs to consider is that if they build out a website or digital space in their new top-level domain, the top-level domain becomes a signal to the algorithm that it’s legitimate, authentic, and actually that brand. Whether it’s a financial institution like Dot JPMorgan or a retailer like Dot Macys, the top-level domain is completely owned by the brand, meaning only they can issue domain names in their space, assuring authenticity. For car dealers, that means having a Dot BMW address could translate into real economic value.
Take a look at what Matt Cutts of Google has said: “There will be a transition period where we have to learn or find out different ways of what the valid TLDs are and if there is any way we can find out what the domains on that top-level domain are. It’s definitely been that case that we always wanted to return the best results to users and so we try to figure that out whether it’s on a .com, .de, or .whatever.”
Once the algorithm learns that a brand TLD is valid, to use Matt Cutts’ word, then it will recognize everything to the left of that as valid. It becomes a signal. This is exactly what happened when Dot CO went from meaning a country code to meaning Company. “There have been enough people using Dot CO (the country code TLD for Columbia) around the world, that we are not treating it as if it is specific to Columbia,” said Cutts.
This is really huge for brands with a TLD because it means they can rethink everything about SEO strategy and really start to consider how they build out new spaces to generate better results with a powerful new tool – their Dot Brand.
Combine the TLD With Content Strategies – a Winning Formula
Consider other algorithm changes in the last 10 years. It has spurred a movement toward microsites or more narrowly defined and tailored information related to what the searcher is seeking. If your microsite is tailored to a specific user and experience with good quality content, then it is likely to perform better in organic search.
Combine these two high-level SEO strategies and you have a winning formula. If you’re a brand, having a digital address in your own branded space not only signals to the consumer that it’s legitimate and authentic or more secure, but it signals to the algorithm the same message. If your website is then messaged properly to what the searcher is seeking with good quality content, then all the pieces should come together for you.
Beyond the Dot Brand space, a similar strategy can apply. The new gTLDs will start to create categories on the Internet. If your digital space is about dogs and in .dogs or about bikes and in .bike, then that should help. If it’s not, however, then you could be penalized for being off message.
Redirecting Could Be a Mistake
Dot Brands are also facing a key SEO question: do they redirect domain names from their new TLD to their existing .com pages or vice versa? Based upon my team’s research, we recommend to build new digital addresses and spaces instead of redirecting. If you are going to redirect, though, we have a few tips.
Use 301 redirects from your existing space to the new TLD because this shows search engines that you are permanently moving from one domain to another. A 302 redirect is a signal that you are temporarily moving from one domain to another. If you are redirecting into a new gTLD, use a 301 redirect because 302 redirects can sometimes be ignored by certain search engines. Additionally, new gTLDs are not yet widely understood and redirecting on a temporary basis early will likely have a negative impact on the usability of your website. When new gTLDs are understood by algorithms, they will be ranked higher because they are 100 percent authentic and labeled as Not Spam. Redirecting early instead of building out new spaces may minimize this benefit. When you do decide to redirect, do it slowly and strategically. Start with one section of the website at a time and measure results as you go. Ultimately, you will want your digital world in your TLD so redirecting without a clear plan will backfire. While many will likely debate the results of search in new gTLDs until the tipping point is reached, brands with gTLDs can stop and re-assess if their SEO strategy is on target and leverage one of their most powerful digital assets – a platform at the root zone of the Internet.
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