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Will unique top level domains change the SEO playing field?

For years we’ve been told that .com is the best top level domain on the net. Wars have been waged to secure domains with mysitename.com as opposed to my-site-name.com or mysitename.co.za, or mysitename.net. Well, maybe not wars, but hundreds of dollars have been spent to grab the best URL for search purposes. Now we’re being told that .com is not the last word in web addresses. Instead we’re being presented with the opportunity to purchase unique top level domains (TLDs), which is supposed to be heaven for brands.

Basically, McDonalds can purchase bigmac.com and an on-the-ball digital marketer can purchase .seo.

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) believes that the move has the potential to revolutionise the web. Which could be true, except for one very important detail: purchasing such a domain will set you back $185,000. Actually, the application fee is $185,000, the annual fee is $25,000 and it’s been suggested that ICANN won’t hesitate to charge additional fees as and when it sees fit.

According to Mashable, the announcement comes with a 352-page guidebook to help companies navigate the application process, which sounds as excessive as $185,000.

The price tag places the new and improved top level domains out of reach of most of the websites on the net. Mammoth brands such as Coke and enormously wealthy companies such as Google can afford them, they can even afford a couple of variations, but local companies trying to reach local markets are well out of it.

The move also makes a bit of a mockery of the boom in local search and highly-specified geotargeting; the buzzwords in mobile and social search.

The internet is supposed to be the great leveller. It’s a place where mom-and-pop stores can compete with the big boys. But by adding what amounts to another keyword in the URL ICANN is giving behemoths the edge.

Or is it?

URLS and top level domains play are among Google’s ranking factors, but their role is by no means huge. A branded TLD is unlikely to be a game changer or game breaker.

Granted, a search for cars is likely to deliver results that end in .cars, but web-savvy second-hand dealerships will still be able to rank among the likes of Nissan and Toyota – whichever gets the .cars domain first.

Which brings us to supply and demand. Once an application for a particular top level domain has been processed, that’s it. No one else can have it. So if Nissan nabs .cars, Toyota, BMW and Hyundai all miss out. Will Nissan have an unfair advantage over its competitors? It’s unlikely.

Using a brand name in the top level domain should only really be beneficial in brand searches.

Of course generic terms are also up for sale, but the playing field should remain more or less even.

Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of ICANN, says, “ICANN has opened the Internet’s addressing system to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination. No one can predict where this historic decision will take us.”

But a lot of people on the web believe that the only thing it will bring for certain is more money for ICANN.

Read Mashable’s break down of the new top level domains for more information.

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