As Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond announced plans for an independence referendum in 2014 the odds of Scotland becoming an independent nation may have increased. But how is national identity reflected on the Internet?
Top Level Domains (TLDs) such as .com, .org and .net are International, although some Americans believe they belong to the USA as they invented the Internet; in much the same way that we in Britain don’t have to put our country on postage stamps as we invented them.
There are also geographic-specific or Country Code TLDS, known as ccTLDs.
People have been campaigning for Scotland’s own ccTLD for over 10 years, and a Dot Scot Registry was established as long ago as September 2009. The group, which is backed by the Scottish Government, believes that .scot should be permitted as a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD). They are appealing for .scot to take the place of Scotland’s current .co.uk domain. The use of .scot could see these websites being given an SEO boost in Scotland.
Some businesses in Northern Ireland use the Republic of Ireland domain .ie, but using national domains such as .ie and .scot, can be controversial. In Northern Ireland the choice of .ie or .co.uk can be viewed as a political issue. The approval of .scot could lead to a similar divide. Businesses targeting Scottish audiences could find that the decision between .scot or .co.uk defines their customers politically – and that can be very challenging for marketing.
What about ICANN?
The assigning of TLDs is the responsibility of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in California. If Scotland achieves independence it is more likely that ICANN will approve .scot, although ICANN’s recent, more relaxed stance means it is now likely to be cleared anyway.
TLDs for Brands?
ICANN have begun accepting applications for any TLD, including brands, communities and geographies. Online brand establishment and Internet marketing may be set to change dramatically. For example the current www.coca-cola.com website could now become www.home.cocacola, www.coca.cola or even www.drink.coke.
In 2004 .asia, .cat, .jobs, .mobi, .tel and .travel were granted generic top level status by ICANN. Last March .xxx was also permitted, and could be in use as the Internet’s red light district by the end of this year. However, many businesses and homes will automatically block the .xxx, so domain providers may find they do better by remaining in .com.
Domain names are a finite resource
ICANN’s relaxation of their rules can be seen as productive of either domain name scarcity or simple economics. Website owners are often forced to consider alternative domain names when www.desired-domain-name.co.uk and www.desired-domain-name.com have been taken. Over 4 billion domain names have been taken in the last 40 years, and more TLDs means more available domains and fewer compromises having to be made.
Buying a TLD, however, is still not for everybody. ICANN might be allowing a wider range of applications, but it costs $185,000 for them to evaluate a proposed domain. Equally, a vanity Brand TLD could just confuse customers.
Domain TLD matters for SEO
Registering a domain in the most appropriate TLD is important for SEO. Businesses may find it more difficult to rank in search engine results pages without a domain in an appropriate TLD, and KPI often advise clients on domain name selection.
Should I change my domain?
Changing an established website’s domain name has to be handled carefully to avoid a detrimental effect on ranking, but changing to a domain in a more relevant or regionally specific TLD can be an important way to target a website’s audience. For example, businesses marketing to a UK audience should generally choose .co.uk, whereas businesses targeting international customers may find it beneficial to use a .com address.
What about .biz and ,info?
As far as non-geographic TLDs are concerned, website owners with domains such as .net, .org, .name and.biz may well find that their addresses are less memorable than if they used .com or .co.uk. Theoretically .net and .org are intended for internet businesses and not-for-profit-organisations respectively, but other websites often choose these addresses if their desired address isn’t available on a better TLD. .name and .biz are sometimes associated with spam sites and websites using these TLDs can find it harder to achieve good rankings. Choosing any of these TLDs, perhaps because a preferred address is not available on .com or .co.uk, can lead to sites missing their target audience.
Can I register a .gov domain and will it help my search results?
Limited domains, such as .gov, .edu, .gov.uk and .ac.uk, are for governmental and educational content and restricted by each country-specific domain authority. Many people believe that websites using these domains have more authority in Google because of this, but it is likely to be because these sites often have better quality content.
It’s not just the domain’s TLD that matters
Choosing a website’s domain is important for SEO and memorability and a poorly-chosen domain can have a detrimental effect on website traffic. We’ll be talking about choosing a good domain name on the blog in the future.
Contact KPI for advice on choosing domain names for SEO.