The Domain (and SEO) Industry Are Forever Changed
ICANN has formally accepted a proposal that will allow companies to purchase new top-level domain names (TLD's) ending in virtually any extension they choose. Readers, this is the biggest news in the domain name industry in a long, long time.
Instead of being restricted to sites ending in .com or .org (or the myriad other TLD extensions such as .net, .biz, .us, etc.), Microsoft could have a site that ends in .microsoft, or Chicago could end its website address with .chicago (individual countries are expected to keep their extensions the same).
Think of these new domains as custom domains for which the privilege to use will be commodotized and quite expensive. ICANN will likely set a high price for the new names - many domain industry insiders estimate these extensions could range anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 U.S. ICANN plans to give companies with trademarked names priority for those names, while others will be forced to show ICANN a business plan and technical capacity for the privilege of using the extensions.
So how does this affect you... the Web Professional?
Many trademark holders have already invested heavily in buying as many of the domains related to their brands as possible. The introduction of these new custom top-level domains changes everything and will mean that they have to purchase many more if they wish to protect their brand. With the costs to acquire a new top-level domain expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the effort to secure brand-related domains could prove an expensive task and eliminate many smaller enterprises altogether.
There are also many search engine optimization challenges with the new TLDs from ICANN. Websites trying to increase their profile in the search results pages by purchasing virtual property in a relevant and reputably good TLD will be seriously affected as will search engines trying to determine which TLDs contain sites of high quality. I expect many algorithmic changes to the crawling and indexing process will surface over the next year to take into new issues into consideration.
One such issue is the geotargeting of a TLD. Many search engines depend on TLDs and signals from the website to determine the relevant geographical targeting of a website. Now with TLDs opening up, geotargeting will be much harder to infer, with more weight placed on signals within the build or the content of the site, or perhaps the engines will follow Google's footsteps, placing a geotargeting option within their webmasters consoles.
This is a significant change to the organization of the net. ICANN has stated that they are working to accept applications in the second quarter of 2009. - when the rules of domaining (and SEO) change forever.