Brand TLDs vs .com (part two): How can brands benefit from a .brand domain?

In part one a few weeks ago, we discussed what brand TLDs (top level domains) are, which brands have applied for them, and why they might be important.

Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at the potential benefits for brands, and explore the challenges brand TLDs could help solve.

Content produced in association with Neustar.

Recap: what brands are doing

Tech powerhouse Google has brought together content from more than 19 existing blogs under one roof at www.blog.google, and this site is now Google’s corporate blog. It has also rolled out www.environment.google, which hosts information about the company’s environmental and sustainability work, as well as its future goals.

Financial services brands have followed suit, with the homepage of UK bank Barclays, for example, now found at www.home.barclays instead of the historically used barclays.com URL. Statistically, more than half of all brand TLDs fall into either financial or technology verticals.

Other recognizable brands including Canon have also made the transition. Perhaps seeking to further separate its global and regional brand propositions, Canon has shifted its global homepage canon.com/global to global.canon.

Brand TLDs are generally popular among large multinational companies – more than 40% of brand TLDs have been applied for by Fortune 500 companies, including BMW, which now displays its vision for the next 100 years at www.next100.bmw. Other companies using TLDs include Dell, Deloitte, Nike, NFL, Chanel, Microsoft, Audi and many more.

.brand: the benefits

When generic TLDs (gTLDs) like .guru, and .ninja were authorised by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers (ICANN), there was much debate over the potential SEO benefits. One notable and much-publicized example was www.coffee.club, which ranked on page one of US SERPs for ‘Coffee Club’ just a week after launching.

However, Google was quick to quash speculation of gTLD favouritism in its rankings. In July 2015, webmaster trends analyst John Mueller published a post to Google’s Webmaster Central Blog entitled ‘Google’s handling of new top level domains’, to clear up misconceptions surrounding gTLDs. He did so in two short sentences: “Our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org). Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.”

In other words, second-guessing Google’s search algorithms has become a fool’s errand. So why have so many major brands got on board? Well, a .brand TLD has several other benefits that make it an attractive prospect.

1. Web usability

Shorter, simpler URLs are more memorable and easier to understand. Removing the .com means the new URL contains more salient information in a smaller space, and front loads the URL with the most important information first.

This makes the link’s destination clearer, requiring the reader to expend less effort to understand it. For example, when navigating to the Microsoft website, a user is likely to already know which brand or product they’re after.

So the most important piece information is the part of the website you’re on. The new URL www.surface.microsoft delivers this information more efficiently and more intuitively than, say, www.microsoft.com/surface.

This may seem trivial, but when it comes to web usability, these tiny differences are crucial. Google itself has weighed in with its number one piece of advice for URL structure: keep it as simple as possible.

Semantically meaningful URLs are just as important as simple ones – both make URLs more user-friendly. Having a short, meaningful URL can improve click-through rates from link sharing. By comparison, complicated, meaningless URLs are off-putting to users as they don’t clearly indicate their destination.

Another benefit of .brand URLs is simply reducing the length of the URL. Greater creativity ‘before the dot’ means less detail is required with multiple slashes and long paths following the Top-Level Domain. Shorter URLs often go hand in hand with higher rankings, although there are other factors at play. Rand Fishkin, head of SEO website Moz, explains URL structure best practice in this Quora answer:

“We’ve done a bunch of analysis on this and shorter URLs are certainly more correlated with higher rankings. In our rank modeling, it appears to be a small input, but things like dynamic strings (the use of the ‘?’ character) appear to be surprisingly negative. My advice would be to worry less about length and more about making them static, using keywords intelligently (but not in a spammy fashion) and ensuring that they’re also usable and sharable.”

2. Brand differentiation

Brands are always looking for ways to stand out from their competitors. Generic TLDs like .info and .cafe achieve this to some extent, but a .brand TLD allows a company to really own its web presence, and helps to create a unique experience for customers using their brand each and every time.

What’s more, the limited availability of .brand TLDs will temporarily help brands differentiate themselves from those that failed to acquire them. With only around 600 brands signed up and a second application round not expected for another few years, owning a .brand TLD has become something of a badge of honour and a potential competitive advantage.

3. Microsites

Finally, .brand TLDs are perfect for creating microsites for individual products, services or events. Compartmentalizing in this way gives brands greater scope to optimize and personalize the experience of users landing on the site.

A speculative example would be the next iPhone launch, which will likely have its own dedicated microsite. This resource allows Apple to tightly control how they roll out their product online, and gives them a unique, information-heavy, and shareable URL – which could be something like www.iphone8.apple. Those taking care of Apple’s intellectual property and domain names will be relieved not having to worry about the availability of domains in the future or keeping product names silent for fear of losing out or expensive buy backs.

4. Safety and security

For large brands, copycat websites are a serious concern. A negative experience on a fake version of a brand’s website can damage the original’s reputation, despite the brand having no hand in creating it.

A .brand URL safeguards that brand’s supply chain by offering a guarantee to customers that they’re on an authentic website. As the brand manages all second-level domains, only the brand itself can use their TLD. This is good news for brands that rely heavily on consumer trust, such as those in the financial services and technology industries. It’s no surprise, then, that more than half of all brand TLDs fall into these verticals – .sony, .google and .dell are just a few examples.

Going forward…

The road is long for .brand TLDs, but there certainly seems to be significant benefits for brands and consumers.

To learn more, join our webinar hosted by ClickZ Intelligence, Neustar and featuring other industry experts from Major League Baseball and VaynerMedia on February 28 at 2pm EST / 11am PT. We’ll cover everything you need to know about branded TLDs, exploring their history, benefits, limitations, implications and everything in between. Click here to register your interest.

 

This content has been produced in association with Neustar. Click here to read our collaborative content guidelines. Views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ClickZ.

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