ICANN’s latest announcement regarding the long-awaited and highly criticized expansion of the generic top-level domain, or gTLD, came earlier this week. ICANN announced that for a cool $185,000 any company or major brand alike can apply to have their very own “.insertyourcompanysname” gTLD.

“GTL-WHAT?” you say.

Basically, gTLD’s are what we now know as .com, .net and .org. Up until this point websites have been limited to a group of 22 generic top-level domains, along with a large number of country-code TLDs. Country-code TLDs, or ccTLD’s, were originally intended to help organize sites by the geographic region they are relevant to; however, clever site owners and marketers alike have used ccTLDs regardless of geographic relevance as a means to make their URL’s memorable. Think .us for del.icio.us, or .ly for bit.ly.

While owning “.IsAwesome” may seem like a, well, awesome idea, it won’t earn websites any points in the search engines. Bottom line, “the new names will almost certainly mean nothing special to search engines,” warns Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. “They won’t have any super ranking powers.”

With these new top-level domains rounding in at $185k (and incurring annual fees thereafter) and providing just about no immediate SEO ranking value, this news has some wondering why anyone would bother?

Well, you see, once a company or organization has control over one of these new top-level domains, they are free to moderate who can register on them — this means Chiquita can lock down “.banana” and cut Dole out. Why does this matter? Keyword-rich URLs.

There is a strong correlation between keyword-rich URLs and how a site ranks in the search engines. This is to say, Google won’t necessarily read “.banana” and automatically rank sites registered on that TLD higher for the query “banana”. It probably won’t even register the TLD relevant to “˜banana’. But it WILL read the domain name and possibly rank sites like “dole.bananas” higher for the query “dole”.*

While these new top-level domains won’t have “super ranking powers,” as Danny Sullivan puts it, keyword-rich URLs are still an attribute found among the highest-ranking sites for various keywords. So why is this important? If Chiquita doesn’t allow Dole to register sites on its shiny new “.banana” top-level domain, it’s essentially cutting out competition from being able to own more of the search market.

That in itself, could prove its worth — long after the $185K sting.

*ICANN is taking special measures in its application review process to ensure no trademark squatting occurs on these top-level domains and names. Sadly, trying to take “.google” for ransom won’t get you far…

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