There is a lot of ambiguity on whether the type of gTLD (generic Top Level Domain) a website has truly influences its position in search and whether they are beneficial for branding at all. In the past few years just under 1,000 new gTLDs have been released for use among consumers and businesses.
For a long time domains like EMDs (Exact Match Domains) along with trusted gTLDs like .com’s, .org’s and .edu’s were thought to have more authority in search. Despite a mountain of data to the contrary, there is still the myth that .Attorney domain names are somehow superior to their counterparts when it comes to ranking well in search results.
Do .attorney domains rank better than .com domains?
Even though a gTLD may not contain a keyword, it targets a category of business (in this case lawyers). To understand why having a .attorney or .lawyer extension may not have an impact on your SEO, we can look at the EMDs that SEOs were so crazy about. Back in 2011, Google’s Matt Cutts addressed the concept of EMDs as a topic in the company’s series of videos that answered user questions about SEO.
In the video he talks about the considerations to make when choosing a domain name as it relates to SEO. At the time people were curious as to how powerful it was to use a domain name that had their target keyword phrase in it over something else that was more brandable. Cutts uses brandable examples like Google, Twitter, Digg and Reddit in the video compared with EMDs like buycheapviagra.com.
Toward the end of the video, Cutts talks about Google “turning down” the ability for those keyword-laden domains to rank well in search because of users complaining. Although he doesn’t say it specifically, those complaints were probably from people finding low quality websites trying (and probably succeeding) to rank well for keyword phrases in large part due to their keyword rich domains.
That Webmaster Video marked the start of the decline of EMDs in search and things came to a head when Cutts announced an algorithm change that would devalue EMDs with low-quality content.
The only benefit related to using keywords in a domain name is that someone linking to it may use that same phrase as anchor text (hinting at the fact that anchor text in links plays a role in how well a page ranks for that phrase). Brandable domains however may have more of an issue generating good links because they are not that broadly utilized.
Google Says All Domains are Created Equal
In response to a lot of questions that the company got about new gTLDs, Google published a post on the webmaster blog about the topic. John Mueller (a webmaster trends analyst at Google) does a Q and A for the post about how Google will handle new gTLDs.
The first question asks about gTLDs broadly and how they will be handled. This includes ones like .how, .store, .online as well as country-specific gTLDs.
If that weren’t proof enough that having a .attorney domain name is not going to improve your chances of ranking well in search, the third answer should.
So there you have it right from the horse’s mouth. A gTLD that is related to your profession is not going to help your website rank any better in search (at least at this point in time). Aside from the non-value for SEO, there are other important considerations when it comes to switching to a .Brand gTLD.
Technical Difficulties of New gTLDs
Despite the fact that new attorney gTLDs won’t improve a site’s ranking in search results an argument could still be made for branding or setting ones’ self apart from competition. Even in that arena lawyers should be very careful about switching a branded domain name.
The .Attorney and .Lawyer TLDs are very new and many common directories are not setup to handle them. The problem revolves around validation of form fields. In other words fields are typically programmed to recognize the www.example.com format. When they get the .attorney or .lawyer format, it can potentially throw an error. This means that lawyers may be excluded from a swath of really great directories on the web until the time comes when those directories think it is worth the time and effort to change their systems to handle new gTLDs. This same issue also happens with link submission services.
Other Factors Influencing Where Pages Rank
We recently helped EricBrockLaw.com move their site to Jacksonville.attorney in an experimental effort to increase rankings. In a post detailed on Search Engine Land, ranking data on Eric Brock Law’s domain definitely increases after the change over from the .com to the branded gTLD however there are a few caveats.
In tandem with the move we also performed some other SEO related tasks on the site. One was link building and the other was a lot of onsite SEO improvements. Links are a core part of Google’s algorithm for ranking websites. Onsite factors also play a critical role in where a site ranks. Regardless of what had more influence over the positioning of EricBrockLaw.com, it cannot be definitively said that changing the domain to a .attorney branded gTLD was what did it because that was not the only SEO work done to the site at the time. Any experiment on the impact of a domain name change should control for other factors especially when they involve influential SEO work like link building.
Trust and Recognition
People already trust .com’s, .org’s, .net’s and some of the other most popular TLDs. When it comes to .lawyer and .attorney domain names, there just isn’t that much recognition on the internet. Trust is a big thing online. Numerous studies on aesthetic and cognitive judgments of websites have been performed over the years. People are known to generate opinions of trust very quickly (within seconds) on whether or not they trust a website. In Google search results where there are many choices to pick from, users may opt for domains they already trust over those they may not have seen that much or at all.
So at this point it’s safe to say that a gTLD of any kind does not give an attorney website a leg up in search. It can also be said that a change of any kind should be carefully considered because there are implications beyond search that could be positive or negative for lawyers.