A Change on the Horizon for Top Level Domains

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There’s some good news and bad news.  If you haven’t heard, top level web addresses are in for a change.  From USA Today:

The familiar .com, .net, .org and 18 other suffixes — officially “generic top-level domains” — could be joined by a seemingly endless stream of new ones next year under a landmark change approved last summer by the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, the entity that oversees the Web’s address system.

Tourists might find information about the Liberty Bell, for example, at a site ending in .philly. A rapper might apply for a Web address ending in .hiphop.

The possibilities are endless, as are the possibilities for turning a profit.  As every obscure .com address has seemingly been bought up, this like getting in on the ground floor of a whole new form of web-address investment.  For example, you could buy up Coke.sux – Coke might buy you out because they don’t want that web address floating out there.  The rules are still being ironed out and ICANN needs to figure out how to protect brand names.  But even something like basketball.rox or .rules or .isgreat – the number of possibilities is pretty mind boggling and will allow website owners a whole new way to brand.

What’s this mean for SEO?  Again, TBD.  Right now an edu domain can gain page rank faster because it is harder to set up an edu domain than any old .com.  How will Google rank the many millions of sites using the new top level domain?  Really, this will create a revolution in people buying up new domains, selling them to bidders, and marketers trying to find new ways to gain attention.  The model for promoting websites in the present seems downright simple and antiquated in comparison.

I’ve felt for a while that one day we’ll look back and gawk at the symbol http:// and how it was visible to everyday users.  It’s such a technical piece of code that most people don’t understand – what it stands for or what it does.  Of course, now you can type the word “Coke” into the browser window and browsers are smart enough to find coca-cola.com, but still the whole notion of typing in a long inscrutable web address is fairly cumbersome.  It makes sense for web addresses to evolve in this way, even if it’s going to cause a whole lot of institutional headaches with companies trying to protect their brands and possibly needing to set up entirely new web entities.  It may mean the end to names like Digg and Mixx because people won’t have to dig so hard to find a unique name.

This could wreak some serious havoc on search engine optimization as it will create new linking opportunities from these new domains and Google (and others) will have to figure out how much these domains are worth.  For instance, .info domains aren’t worth as much as .coms, what’s a .sux going to worth?  Right now .com is the key domain for branding – people just trust a .com domain more, nevermind search engine spiders.  So what this change will do to people’s long-term perception of the web will be a fascinating thing to watch.

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