Google swears no search leg up for new dot-word sites: We drill into claims

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Google has reiterated its claim that there is no inherent advantage to new top-level domains – such as .london or .book – when it comes to topping search rankings.

The position, posted on Google+ by the web giant's trends analyst John Mueller, more or less restates what Google SEO head honcho Matt Cutts insisted more than a couple of years ago.

"It feels like it's time to reshare this again. There still is no inherent ranking advantage to using the new TLDs," says Mueller, referring to a number of studies that have suggested new top-level domains seem to be doing rather well in Google's search results.

Mueller continues: "They [new gTLDs] can perform well in search, just like any other TLD can perform well in search. They give you an opportunity to pick a name that better matches your web-presence. If you see posts claiming that early data suggests they're doing well, keep in mind that's this is not due to any artificial advantage in search: you can make a fantastic website that performs well in search on any TLD."

His post appears to have been taken at face value by the SEO community, and surveys that point to search advantages in using the new dot-words have been put down to small datasets or poor analysis.

As we noted in October, German SEO specialists Searchmetrics looked at the impact of .Berlin domains in searches for stuff in the German capital city. Searchmetrics found dot-Berlin domains consistently did better than the same domains under the German dot-de top-level domain, or the ubiquitous dot-com: in fact, 1.18 positions higher on average. However it did admit that it needed to look at a larger sample to make a firm conclusion about the impact of the young gTLD.

Mueller pours additional cold water over those findings in a comment under his post, noting "there's no automatic geotargeting for TLDs that look like city or regional names," adding that he doesn't seen that happening "anytime soon."

A second study, by SEO specialists Total Websites, reached a similar conclusion but with broader, global searches. It concluded that Google is using the ending of a domain as a key component in assessing its value.

And then in a Reddit interview, SEO expert Bill Hartzer of Globerunner said he'd seen improvements: "Based on the new gTLD versus dot-com research that I did, Google tends to prefer the new gTLDs versus the dot-com, at least in Google AdWords… and new gTLDs convert just as well as a traditional .com domain."

There is also anecdotal data about how individual names – including the recently auctioned – are rocketing up the rankings.

Not clear cut

Google clearly hopes the G+ post will be taken as a blanket statement regarding its search algorithms: it makes no difference whether you have a new gTLD or not for your website.

But the careful wording about "no inherent ranking advantage" and "no artificial advantage" may hide a different truth.

The Total Websites study noted that Google was including the gTLD within its search term. So the search giant can argue that there is no inherent advantage in, say, using a .hotel, while at the same time giving a higher ranking to "California.hotel" over "" if someone types in the search phrase "California hotel".

In that sense the post is a little obtuse. Google seems to be responding to a suggestion that isn't really being made: that it sees some top-level domains as inherently better or more worthy of higher rankings.

That may end up being the case in the future when TLDs such as .bank come online, and you can be pretty much guaranteed that every .bank domain points to a real, verified bank. But no one is making that argument right now.

What people are arguing is that Google appears to be accounting for the content of the full domain – to the right as well as to the left of the dot – as one of the factors in its search algorithm.

That is huge news for those looking at the value of new top-level domains mostly because it means that they aren't being penalized by Google for being new, and because it means that their vertical market targeting may end up beating out dot-coms when it comes to specific searches.

It's worth noting as well that Google's line "you can make a fantastic website that performs well in search on any TLD" is also a little disingenuous. The reason that "" jumped up the rankings despite being a very new domain is not because of how good its website is - it's because there are dozens of reputable websites pointing to it because it was a news story.

As ever with Google search, it is a complex mix of reality, guesswork and careful manipulation. ®


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