ICANN has just delayed the launch of their new Top Level Domain (TLD) extension program, which lets businesses apply for custom extensions such as .shoes, .flowers and .texas. They have cited technical, economic, legal, and policy issues that still need to be resolved. There’s one issue ICANN are unlikely to consider though; how these domains will work in the search engines.
For example, ICANN has already launched regional extensions, such as .eu and .asia. Unfortunately these domains have not been supported by Google. There is no Google.eu or Google.asia portal. That has left these domains with little advantage over other available TLDs such as .com, .net or .org.
At the moment Google ties domains, subdomains or site sections to one particular country. This is done with key indicators such as extension, hosting location, link profile, webmaster portal settings or language. While you can search in Google.it for Italian language pages you can not determine if those sites are geographically based within Europe. The SERPs include Italian language pages from businesses around the world or those from within Italy. This reality for .eu seems to run contrary to the branding on the EuroID site, as seen here on the right. An .eu domain does not give access to all European countries anymore than a .com would.
As a European address is required for .eu registration the searcher could find regional businesses by adding the site:*.eu parameter to their query, but this is unlikely to enter mainstream use. But again, without the search space being supported by the search engines there will be less movement towards the .eu in the first place. Orders now are largely due to cheap .eu prices compared to local country extensions or defensive registrations against cyber-squatting.
There are good reasons for searchers to shop by region, rather than ordering internationally. Europeans don’t have to pay import tax on their items and would benefit from the European Union’s consumer protections laws. There are environmental benefits in reducing transit times. In fact, launching creating a virtual search engine based limited by .eu domains may have been a better brand idea for the Europeans than their dubious Quaero project.
You can see the conflict between Google and ICANN again on the matter of .us domains. ICANN envisioned General Top Level Domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .org and .net to be a shared space for all countries. However Americans have adopted .com as their own extension. This no doubt has an effect on the sales of the lesser branded .us domain. Google has certainly had their hand in this development by refusing to support the .us extension with its own portal (Google.us).
The question is, will Google support any of the new TLDs that ICANN is planning to launch on the market? Will we see Google.hotel or Google.shoes in the future? Without a search space, these extensions have less chance of becoming viable businesses. On the bright side, these new TLDs create exciting opportunities for virtual search. Hopefully ICANN and the companies backing these new domains will start taking these points into consideration.