Matt Cutts, Google’s king of web spam prevention, and marathon running, recently responded to some gTLD assertions from Adrian Kinderis of ARI Registry Services, arguing that ownership or use of a gTLD would not bestow any special advantage in SEO:
Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either. If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that’s your choice, but you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings
This attracted my attention, since Google is one of the biggest participants in gTLD registration, with over 100 new domains applied for. Why would Google invest so heavily in gTLDs if they have no intention of providing any ranking benefit in their own search engine?
The plot thickened with another more recent announcement from Matt Cutts, this time a YouTube video explaining a policy change for Google ranking of results from the same domain. The upshot is that Google will penalise ‘domain clustering’ – you will in future see no more than about 4 results from a single domain. Justin Brigs has posted a nice summary here.
Although it seems that the main intent of this change is to limit the appearance of multiple results from domains like Yelp.com, there is some relevance to the gTLD initiative.
There are many sellers of third level domains, supporting businesses and use cases that might otherwise be served by secondary domains under a new gTLD. For example, CentralNIC has an active program to sell country branded 3rd level domains, intended “to provide an alternative to the existing Top Level Domains (TLDs) and Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs), allowing the creation of a simultaneously local and global Internet Identity.” There are many local, geographic and business entities also promoting 3rd level domain.
All these 3rd level domain businesses will compete with new gTLD registry operators, and Google has just severely constrained their potential SEO performance, thus providing a de-facto boost to the gTLD camp.
Maybe Adrian Kinderis was right all along.