The Google Question

FairWinds Partners —  August 7, 2012

It has remained a mystery, an object of sometimes intense speculation, basically since new gTLDs first entered into conversations about digital strategy. “Talk all you want about their potential for online branding,” many digital marketers would say. “I want to know how Google is going to treat these new domains.”

Some have argued that Google and other search engines will have no choice but to rank sites hosted on new gTLD domains above those hosted on traditional domains because of the principle of domain name parity. One of the 11 secret herbs and spices (just kidding – there are way more than 11) that make up Google’s algorithm is the parity, or similarity, between a domain and a search term. That’s one of the things that help generic .COM domain names rank so well; for example, Shoes.com is the first organic result that appears when a user searches “shoes” in Google.

The logic behind the argument that new gTLD domains will achieve higher rankings is that now, there will be substantive terms on both sides of the dot in domains, as opposed to just the left side. But what this argument fails to understand, largely because Google keeps its algorithms tightly under wraps, is the degree to which domain parity impacts search results. Opponents of this viewpoint argue that this is only a very small piece of the larger search engine pie.

So what does Google have to say about all this? The company’s SEO guru, Matt Cutts, offered some insight in a YouTube video as part of Google’s Webmaster Help series. Check it out here:

Lest you go lambasting Matt for what seems like a non-answer to this burning question, his response is actually pretty informative, if not directly so. He’s basically saying that new gTLDs are not a silver bullet to rank highly in search, but that if the sites on new gTLD domains are properly developed and become authoritative sources for the information that users seek, then Google will reward them with higher rankings accordingly. Basically, if you build it, Google rankings will come.

More importantly, his answer buys the search giant some time to figure out its plan for dealing with new gTLDs, which is smart. It will take time for new gTLDs to gain their footing, and there is no need for Google to commit to a sweeping, permanent decision now.