Will Google Penalize Your Fancy New Top Level Domain?

Once upon a time, you only had a few choices for a generic top level domain (gTLD) – the little string of letters appended after the last “dot” on your domain, like .com, .org, .net. But the past couple of years have seen a glut of new gTLDs, which means a lot more choice. From .academy to .zone, your website’s domain can be something-dot-almost-anything nowadays.

But the introduction of these new gTLDs also threw a wrench in some existing web standards, with applications and browsers sometimes failing to recognize a URL with a new gTLD as a legitimate link.

With the troubles that the gTLDs were creating, some SEO companies began to worry. After all, more choices are great, but they can also mean more opportunities to get it wrong. Cue a lot of rampant speculation among SEOs on the subject of what to do with these new gTLDs – do they help you? Hurt you? Matter at all? Google recently decided to put an end to these concerns by responding with some definitive answers on how it handles top level domains.

In Search, New gTLDs Are Treated the Same as the Old

In its post, Google came right out and said that it handles the new gTLDs (like .guru, .how, or .BRAND) the same way that it handles the old ones (like .com and .org). Using a new gTLD won’t give you any advantage or disadvantage in terms of search visibility.

Keywords in a TLD have no bearing on search – having “seo.agency” would not make you rank for “agency” any more than having “seo.com” would make you rank for “com,” nor will having your brand name in a TLD be treated differently than another gTLD (for example, if we were to relaunch our site as “agency.seoworks”). This contradicts some early predictions and analyses which suggested that a TLD could have an impact.

There’s one interesting caveat to mention. For now, region specific gTLDs like “.sydney” will have the same influence as other gTLDs, but Google has stated that they may someday treat those with some weight in local search depending on how they are used.

Internationalized Domain Name TLDs (Non-ISO Basic Latin Alphabet Scripts)

This won’t be a concern for most webmasters, but Google will also crawl the internationalized domain name TLDs if your website uses them. Google can recognize a Punycode version of a hostname as being the same as the unencoded one, so you won’t have to set up any special redirects or canonical tags.

Does That Mean ccTLDs No Longer Signal Local Relevance?

As before this announcement, Google still treats ccTLDs (Country Code Top Level Domains) as an indicator of local relevance to the country in the domain (.au, .uk, etc.) – so the rules haven’t changed on this front.

What Does That Mean for My Website?

If you’ve got a domain with brand recognition that you love and works well for your website, there should be no reason to change domains – getting that new gTLD isn’t going to give you an advantage.

If you’ve got a clumsy domain that you had to settle for because of a lack of options, or a simply because of poor choice in the early days of the Internet (www.buyagreatwebsitedomain-now.net), the new gTLDs can be a great opportunity to make the jump to something more memorable and marketable for your business.

If you’ve decided to switch to a domain that uses a new gTLD, the process is the same as any domain name switch and should be handled with care, but the good news is that these new gTLDs open the door to some great options for a more concise and user-friendly domain name. While some users are still learning that the new gTLDs are legitimate domains, I predict that user understanding of them will take off as more and more websites begin using them.