This week, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the company that controls domain name registrations, announced that the normal domain name rules as we know them will end in 18 months.

Here’s what’s changing: When a company registers a domain, instead of the 22 approved suffixes like.com, .org, and .biz, it’ll have the chance to use its own brand as a domain suffix. Think .nike, .disney, .wsop … you get the idea

At first, only big brands will be able to afford the anticipated investment of almost $200,000 these new customized domains will cost. But those companies that can afford it (and let’s face it, there are many) will be able to completely overhaul their website structure and marketing plans, as well as ensure unchallenged dominance of their own brand name in searches.

The SEO angle
Actually, how this change will affect search marketing is the real story here. While a change of this magnitude will take a while to trickle down to smaller-scale affiliates and online marketers, it certainly hints at a future internet where companies like bwin.party or Caesar’s Entertainment don’t play by the same SEO rules as we do. Instead, they literally buy their own rules.

Realistically, the SEO effects aren’t likely to upend your marketing plans any time soon. Rather, the change indicates a trend that may mean an end to the level playing field the internet and search marketing is known for, in favor of a marketplace where companies can simply market their own brand as an ICANN-approved domain suffix.

Where does Google fit in?
“How Google reacts to the new domain suffix ruling in their algorithm will either create new barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, a $185,000 barrier, or just merely add a new wrinkle in the SEO work being done currently,” muses Chad Pollitt at Business2Community.com.

“The weight Google attaches to the new suffixes has the potential of changing the Internet forever by slowly eliminating the ‘little guy’ online by virtually eradicating the .com, .biz, .org, etc. from its SERPs.”

Google’s Matt Cutts has said that he’d like to see Google “dial down” the significance of keyword-rich domains in preference, it’s assumed, to brand power. As a result, many online marketers worry that they’ll lose SEO power for keywords based on other brands.  (This has even been the source of lawsuits against Google in Europe.)

The evolution, then, won’t be ICANN’s move to change domain registries. It’ll be how Google decides to rank those new domains. The decision could put a lot of webmasters and domain name speculators out of business for good.


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