As ICANN considers Google’s applications for gTLDs, I’d like to talk about how their existing policies on ccTLDs need changing, in light of this change in status.
This is a technical article, folks. But, it matters to how people use search engines… just, at a technical level.
Some definitions, for those who are not aware. TLD – Top Level Domain. Things like .com, .net, .tv, .uk. ccTLD – Country Specific TLD. Things like .uk, .tv, .gs, .us. gTLD – Generic Top Level Domain. Things like .app, .bing, and .xxx.
I’ll get straight to the problem. Now that the Google is in the business of purchasing/controlling gTLDs at ICANN, they’ve created a (potential) conflict of interest by only allowing some ccTLDs to be declared not-country-specific.
For example, my startup owns deals.gs – a domain we considered using at one point. It was the last TLD available for the word deals. All the new ones are now snapped up by insiders during the landrush period.
But, we realized we would get penalized in the search results for using it – because .gs is a ccTLD that Google does not allow you to designate as targeting US customers inside of Webmaster Tools. One might argue that the single-word value is enough to just say go for it… we decided ultimately not to.
There’s no way for us to know how much TLD offsets PageRank, because Google treats it as a trade secret.
Today Google only recognizes certain ccTLDs as ones that webmasters can designate the country-of-targeting with the search engine. Those include .tv, .io, .ly, and other domains that have potential English-specific designations aside from their ccTLD country-specific designation.
Google was playing favorites by only allowing certain ccTLDs to do this – but at least they could claim previously they didn’t have a horse in the race. Now they do.
See, now that Google is applying to ICANN for certain gTLDs, they can increase the value of these gTLD domain names by barring other ccTLDs from having the ability to target domestic U.S. search traffic. Videogam.er has less value if it can’t target a US audience, especially if Google allows for a domain like Videogamer.app to target a US audience.
The fix is simple. Google needs to allow all ccTLDs to have the option of self-designating which country they target in the search engine’s settings. This removes the conflict of interest, and allows for Google to quash claims of monopolistic behavior when their ICANN filings come up for review.
I like Google, my startup relies on Google’s technologies to operate daily. Same for Microsoft. But, I have attempted to raise this concern and haven’t even been able to get the right people at Google on the horn. It’s utterly depressing that I have to turn to the airwaves to broadcast this one… but I feel it important if we’re going to go all gTLD crazy in the coming 18-24 months.
The point of this post was not to give anti-gTLD opposition new points to file with ICANN. They probably already know this objection, anyways. The point was to just get Google to fix something that has been a problem for years, and now has created a conflict of interest.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t call out Microsoft, it’s because Bing fixed this problem years ago. Users can declare both targeted region and language in the meta tags for a page, and their Webmaster panel allows all ccTLDs to self-declare what country they are targeting; both by domain and by subdirectory.