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New dot-brand domains will not affect mobile search, claims exec

Domain issuer ICANN’s controversial decision to allow applications for suffixes based on brands and categories has already stirred the pot and caused major concern across organizations and marketers.

At issue is the perception that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ move is more geared to raising funds – it costs $185,000 to maintain a .brand domain per year – rather than improving the Internet experience on computers and mobile devices. A senior executive from multichannel commerce specialist CrossView is convinced that such non-country domains – better known as generic top-level domains – will not much affect mobile search.

“Mobile search does have different use cases than does desktop search — context tends to be more important for mobile search, as the user might be at home, on the go or standing in a store — but the potential for new gTLDs to affect mobile search is equally limited,” said Brian Hess, Fort Worth, TX-based senior marketing strategist at CrossView.

In this interview, Mr. Hess discusses the effect of ICANN’s decision to release new domains that up marketers’ intellectual property, marketing and IT budgets, how search across devices will function pursuant to the release of these domains – such as .soda or dot.coke – and the role of search engines. Please read on.

Does ICANN’s new vanity Web domain process where brands can have suffixes with their own names have any potential to affect search marketing?
Considering how top-level domains (TLDs) are treated currently, it seems unlikely ICANN’s new gTLD (generic top-level domain) initiative will impact search marketing in any significant way.

Today, a TLD like .com isn’t given preference over another TLD like .net for the purposes of search ranking.

Most important to search engines is the content of the sites they index, and while the presence of keywords in the URL has been shown to impact ranking, the TLD has not.

Search engines do use links to gauge the popularity of a site – that is, links from one site to another on the Web can serve to be an indicator that the linked page has topical authority if authoritative sites link to it.

And this is an area where TLD can make a difference, as .gov and .edu domains tend to have more authority.

But if there’s a proliferation of new gTLDs, the burden will be on the search engines to determine the importance or authority of these new domains.

Do you think vanity addresses will have an edge over domains ending with .com, .net and .org, among others? After all, .com still accounts for nine out of 10 domains registered, doesn’t it?
Vanity addresses are unlikely to have an edge over the current set of TLDs in the same way that gTLDs like .biz, .mobi or .info introduced in the last 10-12 years haven’t been shown to have any advantage over the more traditional set of TLDs.

Consumers are increasingly shifting their work, play and life tasks on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Add to that the growing role of mobile applications. How will vanity Web addresses play in that emerging scenario?
More than 90 percent of Web users utilize search engines to find content online, and there’s no indication the majority of users on mobile devices are any different in their search habits when compared to desktop users.

If anything, alternate devices are a reason not to invest in less traditional domains, but instead to standardize on a readily-guessable domain name ending in .com or .net.

So the question is, how do vanity Web addresses affect mobile search? Google and Bing better get their algorithms right.
Mobile search does have different use cases than does desktop search — context tends to be more important for mobile search, as the user might be at home, on the go or standing in a store — but the potential for new gTLDs to affect mobile search is equally limited.

Even the mobile specific domain (.mobi) and subdomain (m.) have proven to get in the way of the customer’s experience, which is why Google, Bing and most user experience experts advise against their use.

Does ICANN’s move really benefit marketers, or is it muddying the waters? It seems like it’s a huge revenue-generating exercise for ICANN, forcing copyright owners to protect their intellectual property at great expense.
The move certainly muddies the waters more than it benefits anyone except ICANN, which stands to realize $185,000 for each domain name application.

Marketers want a focused brand message and related assets, and certainly don’t need more URLs to include on packaging, signing and marketing collateral.

The search engines stand to benefit, too.

If consumers’ desired destinations are fragmented across new TLDs, it’s likely search engines will be an even more common destination — if I don’t know what domain Nike is at, I’m just going to type “Nike” into Google.

What’s the risk of sitting this one out – a brand not registering its own .brand domain?
Domain names in use today are deeply entrenched in the minds of shoppers and, perhaps just as importantly, the search engines.

And because most users rely on search engines or social media services like Twitter and Facebook to reach a domain, it’s unlikely a brand or retailer will realize new traffic to a Web site simply by having a .brand domain.

Brands and retailers would be better served by investing their time, energy and mobile budgets in finding new, context-appropriate ways to engage with shoppers, like improving local search ranking or developing fully-native mobile Web sites versus third-party proxy mobile sites.