New ICANN Domains: The Birth Of The Search-Optimized gTLD Registry

This post first appeared on MediaPost Search Insider on July 20, 2011.

Back in 2008, I wrote a couple of columns for Search Insider about ICANN’s new vanity generic top-level domains (gTLDs), where a person or business could now register “.anything” for the purpose of creating an open registry, or reserving it for primary brand sites (see “Anythinggoes? The Impact Of New ICANN Vanity Top-Level Domains,” and “The Search And Brand Impact Of Vanity Generic Top Level Domains”).

There have been many stories promoting this new development as a boon to one’s natural search presence, but I beg to differ on a number of those points. One thing is clear, though: Marketers using new gTLDs will not only have to manage their sites for search and social visibility, but will also have to manage the entire gTLD for natural search. We are entering what I believe is a new frontier in search marketing, in terms of managing an entire gTLD for search visibility at a global domain level.

First of all, the claims made in other articles that new gTLDs will inherently create visibility for highly competitive terms are incorrect propositions at best. The history of other gTLDs like .travel, .museum, .info, .asia, .jobs, etc., have already proven that having the exact keyword to “the right of the dot” alone does not provide any more benefit than having an exact keyword to the “left of the dot.” Some of these domains have been around for almost 10 years, so there is no need to prognosticate on the benefits of keyword-based TLDs, because the proof is already there.

The birth of the search-optimized TLD

I do believe, however, that we have entered a new era of the “search-optimized” TLD, in the sense that the way the operator manages the registry will be a key influence on how well that TLD performs in search as a whole. Well-managed TLDs that discourage spam, or that may be proprietary, but with significant content resources and utilities, may perform well. For example, .mil and .gov are generally highly trusted TLDs with the search engines, because they are carefully managed, and contain authoritative content, with little or no possibly for spam to gain visibility. In another example, .info was not managed very well for search, and at one point the registry gave away hundreds of thousands of free domains. These domains were snapped up mostly by spammers and abused in many ways with the engines, and thus the signal for the .info gTLD as a whole was weakened greatly, to the point that may be somewhat of a search liability to build a new site on this extension.

There has to be a solid content play behind the URL, with a significant amount of external signals for it to perform well in search across a wide variety of terms, if not to overcome some of their spammy neighbors on the .info TLD. Even recently, Google banned an entire subdomain on a country-code TLD (ccTLD) and freehost from its search index, because most of the content at the domain level was considered too spammy and malicious for the index.

A warning about site migration

One of the biggest challenges in enterprise site redesign is transitioning and maintaining natural search equity from one design to the next, even when the old and new reside on the same .com address. As some brands may choose to move their primary brand presence from .com to .brand or .keyword, they have to be careful for the sake of their search program. At stake are millions to billions of dollars in revenue, backlinks, traffic itself, and years of positive search history.

But there are interesting opportunities from a branding, marketing, and utility perspective. Imagine using a URL like “” to go directly to a Google search, or having a well-managed .music gTLD that was able to help users navigate to the music they desire.

Overall, marketers should tread very carefully if they decide to move their primary presence from a .com to a .brand or .generic, and approach SEO in the same way they would approach it for a complete site overhaul. And they should also be very careful about optimizing their brand gTLD for search channels as a whole. For right now, though, I’m advising most clients to potentially acquire and reserve a gTLD, but wait on actually developing it, if they do anything with it at all, short of a 301 redirect to the

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Optimizing for Local Search – featured at April 22, 2009 DFW SEM meeting

The next DFW SEM meeting will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in Richardson, Texas.  The program features a presentation on local search optimization.  Visit the DFWSEM site for more details.

DFW SEM meeting w/ Brett Tabke was a great one

Just want to drop a word here about Brett Tabke’s presentation at the last DFW SEM Assoc. meeting.  The group is picking up momentum in terms of attendance, diversity of attendees and organizations, and content, and is because of the great volunteers in the organization, and also presentations like Brett’s.  Brett gave an overview of his insight of *all* presentations given at the Las Vegas WebmasterWorld, and the result was a very interesting view of the big picture of search and social, along with some incredible details about where the algos are going.  It doesn’t hurt that he brought swag for all the attendees either.

To kick off his talk, Brett described how the WW crew recorded and videotaped *every* presentation, and how he went back and watched *every* one of them, kind of like a coach reviewing game film.  His presentation to DFW SEM featured some of the big picture trends that evolved out of the show, and I must say it was very compelling from many different angles – broad scope, sentiment around engines, and even some tactical revelations.

All feedback I’ve heard from attendees was highly positive, and there is no doubt that the Austin Pubcon in early March is one you won’t want to miss.  I would dare say – and my DFW SEM board colleagues agree – that it may very well be the best SEM event for the price anywhere in the US.


Forrester Names iCrossing best in both SEO and Paid Search

Forrester Research has issued their 2009 Search Wave report, which assesses top search engine marketing agencies on their full-service SEM capabilities, using the standard industry definition of both paid search, and natural search engine optimization.

iCrossing came in at #1 for not just one component, but for both paid search and search engine optimization, beating out all other agencies in the comparison.

Here is a quote from the 2009 Forrester Research Wave Report:

“iProspect, iCrossing, and 360i lead the pack… In fact, iCrossing bests the others in both paid search and SEO because of its open bid management platform, its use of market mix models to aid enterprises in paid search planning, and its heritage of optimizing dynamic sites for natural search results.”

iCrossing has made the full report available online – click the link below to read the full evaluation:

Forrester Research Names iCrossing Best in Both Paid and Natural Search

As a search channel strategy director for iCrossing, I can say that we are very proud of this distinction.  Congrats to the iCrossing team – well deserved!

iProspect, 360i, IMPAQT, Razorfish, Reprise Media, and OneUpWeb were also among the firms evaluated in this research report.

Impact of Vanity Generic Top Level Domains Part 2 – Search Insider

Here is the first half of my current column at MediaPost’s Search Insider.  This is great story, and it is very exciting to see another piece of Internet history happening before us.

Originally published in Search Insider:


In my last column, I discussed some of the challenges of moving an existing website to a new vanity generic top-level domain (gTLD).  In this installment, I will provide a review of several existing gTLDs, and discuss the branding and search impact, and also the process of applying for a gTLD.

For a quick recap, ICANN, the governing and administrating body over all Internet addresses, voted in late June of this year to allow individuals and corporations to apply for .anything, or literally any word or phrase exceeding three characters not taken. A new top level domain can be used as a registry, or for one’s own Web presence.  Under the new policy, the following names are true possibilities as a home for an online Web presence:

Let your imagination run wild. But first, let’s take a look at other existing generic TLDs.

The branding of a TLD – why .com will always be king

If the marketing novelty of the vanity gTLD seems to outweigh all other considerations, it may be a good exercise to first analyze the current landscape.  Ever heard of .Museum?  Yes, it’s a real working gTLD (see this redirected URL for; their main URL is, though the average Internet user is wholly unaware of its existence.  .Travel has been in existence for almost two years, but very few travel sites have adopted it as their primary address on the Web.  More commonly, major travel and hospitality brands have reserved these names and pointed them at “” as a matter of driving traffic, and for brand and trademark defense. Other extensions such as .Jobs and .Pro have yet to gain mainstream appeal, even though their categories have wide potential within their respective theme-space.  Another highly anticipated extension, .Mobi, has also failed to gain mainstream adoption as the default address of the mobile Web, with most major brands choosing to host their mobile presence on their legacy or subdomain (ex., targeted to mobile devices. 

Your own awareness of these gTLDs (or lack thereof) is a direct reflection of how well that TLD was branded. Enterprise marketers will face the same challenge if/when they change over their existing .com presence to a new extension.  Hosting your Web presence on .com benefits from a TLD brand that everyone has helped build. The .Com  domain had no brand until U.S. advertisers got behind it, and a valid question to ask is whether or not your new gTLD is ready to compete against this level of awareness and trust.  The answer is really simple – no single advertiser has the budget to match up to the amount of collective ad dollars that have promoted .com – it is synonymous with the Internet, more so than any other domain brand.  This may be obvious to most readers, but marketers should keep this fact in mind as discussions around changing to gTLDs progress in their respective organizations. 

The birth of the search-optimized Top Level Domain

Shifting gears a little bit, let’s pick back up on the natural search aspect of gTLDs.  Having a generic keyword theme in a vanity gTLD also doesn’t guarantee natural search success or authority.  Just like a new domain, the Top Level Domain still earns its authoritativeness in the search engines.  It has long been recognized by SEOs that engines have shown bias and trust towards content and links on …..

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.Anything – Thoughts on new ICANN gTLDs

My latest column is posted at MediaPost Search Insider, the first of a two-part series on the impact of new vanity ICANN generic top level domains (gTLDs).  The title accidentally got hacked off – it should say “.anythinggoes”, so it looks a little out of context in its current state.

Also, here some additional columns I wrote for MediaPost that discuss the importance of a domain move, and the importance of planning for search:

Five Tips For Assessing the Value of Natural Search

The Unfolding Search Story of

Seven Challenges of SEM Planning and Execution

Solutions to Seven Challenges of SEM Planning and Execution


Natural-Born Search Killers, Part 2

This column originally appeared in Search Insider on August 2, Rob Garner 


In my Aug. 2, column, “Natural-Born Search Killers,” I discussed how not having a URL strategy could kill a search presence, detailing four key elements that contribute to the value of site domains and URLs.  (The elements included link equity, positive search engine equity, bookmark equity and search investment.)  In this article, I will discuss a few additional elements of URL equity: 

1)       The consequences of redesigning without a URL strategy

2)       Questions every marketer and developer should ask before a redesign

3)       How to assess the value of existing URLs

4)       How to transition existing URL equity


The consequences of redesigning without a URL strategy

Redesigning a Web site without paying attention to the inherent value of URLs can have a tremendously negative impact on search visibility.  Here are a few common issues that you should watch for during your site relaunch:

Indexed pages drop out of the search engines.

New site pages are not found by crawlers.

Backlink history is lost.

Navigation becomes difficult, and visitors cannot find what they are looking for.

Bookmarks are rendered useless, leading to “not found” error pages.

Server bandwidth is wasted.

Valuable site traffic is lost.

Lost conversions and sales

Calling out these issues should emphasize the importance of paying attention to URL strategy and structure. Here are three key questions every marketer or Web designer should ask before planning and redesigning a Web site:

1. Is search-engine based URL architecture included in the site’s business and technical requirements?

Getting URL structure and search optimization established as business and technical requirements before starting a redesign goes 90 percent of the way to maintaining positive search equity.  Trying to tackle complex search issues in the middle or end of redesign is a losing battle that nobody wins.

2. How much URL equity is established in the current site structure?

URL equity should be based on several factors, including the number of backlinks, the quality of those backlinks, the previous investment in search, the age of the domain and URL structure, and positive search engine equity.

3. How can the existing URL structure be preserved?

If you have a sustainable URL structure, in order to preserve positive equity it is a search best practice to maintain that structure when going from one site design to another.   While you can’t always avoid changes in URL structure (possibly because of user experience changes or technical issues), making every attempt to maintain consistent structure will provide better long-term benefits for search.

Assessing URL Equity

Once Web site stakeholders understand the value in preserving URL structures in a redesign, there are many considerations for assessing the quality of existing link structures.  To assess the value of a URL prior to the redesign, consider the following:


Quality of inbound home page and deep site links–Time should be spent reviewing hundreds, or even thousands, of links through a manual backlink check in a major search engine;  key links should be identified and prioritized in order of importance.


Age and history of domain and URLs–The age of a domain and internal URL structure can also have a major positive impact on a site’s search visibility. 

Log file history–Based on incoming search engine referrals and link traffic, reading log files can provide a good indication of which internal site pages are performing well. 

Liabilities–URLs can also have a negative history that could reduce the search performance of a Web site.  If a site has ever engaged in tactics that search engines don’t approve, or if the URLs have been banned at any time, you should consider a change of domain.


Transitioning URL equity

No matter how much you prepare for a smooth transition, some URLs will inevitably change, and some documents will be removed.  In this event, proper redirection techniques are essential in preserving positive search engine visibility.  In most cases, 301 permanent redirects are the best solution for using multiple domains and for the pages that have moved to a new location.

301 redirects vs. 302 redirects: When a page is permanently moved to a new location, a 301 status will tell the search engine to remove the previous page from the index, and will start crawling the new location from that point forward. 

Pointing multiple domains: Pointing multiple domains is acceptable to search engines, as long as 301 redirects are used.  When 302 or 200 status redirects are used, you may encounter  duplicate content issues.  In a worst-case scenario, duplicate content issues can result in the total ban of pages or an entire site, and will often decrease the overall search engine performance of a Web site (though most duplicate content is removed without any site penalty). 

URL rewriting:  If URLs must change, one solution is to rewrite the new URLs in the same format as the old structure, or create a new search-friendly structure entirely.  URL rewriting will give you more freedom to change platforms and file names, while maintaining a consistent naming convention.

Holistic Search Campaign Management–Measuring Conversions Against The Lift

This column originally appeared in the online version of Media Post’s Search Insider, July, 19, 2006.

In my natural and paid search campaign management experience over the past several years, I have often heard a common misperception about holistic search, mostly from clients who were new to the medium. It goes like this: “If we’re ranking in natural (or paid), then we don’t need the other one.”

Digging deeper into one client’s reasoning behind this assertion, I found that the company would not consider engaging in paid search because of the perceived erosive effect on natural clicks, which in effect caused them to pay for clicks that were otherwise “free.” Breaking down the logic of the latter perception reveals some intriguing reasons not only to engage in holistic search management, but also measure holistically against conversions, rather than simply pit search against itself.

Click Erosion, or Click Elevation from Holistic Search?

Case studies published by Nielsen and SEO-PR report that when a listing is highly placed in both the natural and paid areas of a search engine results page, there is a click lift ranging between 32 percent and 300 percent. In the SEO-PR study, conversions increased by 300 percent as well. I also see similar spikes in my own campaigns, with clicks and conversions vaulting as high as 100 percent.

Once click and conversion lift is achieved through holistic search, there is one additional factor that sheds a greater light on the value of holistic management.

Adding “Free” Search into Holistic Conversion Metrics

One weakness of the erosion argument is the notion that clicks in natural search are “free.” Natural search is not truly free, because costs are incurred either by hiring a professional agency or consultant, or by doing it in-house. Even reporting and analytics for “free” results have a time, dollar, and resource cost attached.
By acknowledging natural resource costs and adding them to overall metrics, CPC gaps between paid and natural become more realistic. While these costs inevitably increase average CPCs, most search marketers find that natural optimization has a consistently decreasing CPC over time, which effectively lowers the average holistic CPC as well.

When conversion value is measured against lift using an average CPC metric, a new picture of the search campaign emerges, particularly in measuring a positive or negative impact. This does not discount the dynamic interplay between paid and natural search, but does provide a more objective view of the overall search campaign.

Here are a few other interesting factors of holistic search management that support the theory and measurement of increased clicks:

There are two basic opportunities to capture visibility on a search engine results page.
As obvious as this may sound, it is worth repeating. Marketers have at least one opportunity to appear in natural results, and one opportunity to appear in paid search. One of the basic premises behind holistic lift is that when page visibility is increased, clicks and conversions also increase.

If holistic search creates additional clicks, then not operating holistically drives those additional clicks somewhere else.
Whether you engage in holistic search management or not, the search frequency will remain constant. Not engaging holistically means abandoning additional clicks and conversions that could have been derived from the lift. These searchers may be driven to other sites (including competitors), or a search may be aborted when intent is not met with satisfactory results.

Some searchers are predetermined to click on paid or natural based on the greatest likelihood that one or the other will deliver on search intent.
As Gord Hotchkiss reported in a recent “Search Insider” column, certain visitors are pre-mapped to go to “the area of greatest promise” on the SERP, based on their search intention. Hotchkiss posits that our potential visitors have two general views of the search engine results page, that of the paid promise, and of the natural promise. For the marketer, this means being visible in both throughout all search stages until satisfaction is met.

The real story about a holistic search campaign is told in the lift and return on ad spend, not just the erosion measurement or the paid media budget. If you are not engaging holistically, then maybe now is the time to test it and see how your conversions are affected.