Study provides little more than anecdotal evidence.
You’re going to see some headlines today about an SEO study commissioned by The Domain Name Association (DNA). Some of these headlines might suggest that new top level domain names get some sort of search engine boost over .com domains. It’s not quite that simple.
Here’s the deal: DNA commissioned a search engine optimization study (pdf) about new top level domain names. It cherry picked a few niches that it felt would have a good mix of websites built on new top level domain names. It further highlighted four domain names built on non-.com domain names that are ranking exceptionally well.
And although the group was careful to not fall into the same trap Rightside did when Google debunked its headline SEO takeaways, its official headline still reads:
“SEO Expert Research Reveals Search Advantages of Relevant Domain Name Extension”
What the research did find was that the so-called “domain authority” of some of the ranked new top level domain names was much lower than .com domain names ranked for the same terms. This would suggest that it’s easier to rank a site on a new TLD than on .com.
What you won’t see in the material is that the sample size was quite small–about 300 “newer” domains (about 2,000 total).
The report admits:
Since the .com websites had by nature more competitors over time, it makes sense that the domains with those TLDs would have to have a higher domain authority to beat out other websites on the same TLD across a sample where only 10 keywords can rank per page of results.
I’m not disputing the work that the SEO experts did to gather the data. I just don’t think people should swallow the headline and pitch as it is.
There was some bias in how the study was set up. And, had the study shown the opposite, you can bet it wouldn’t have seen the light of day.
Now, could new top level domain names with relevant extensions rank well in Google? Could they actually get some sort of boost? I have no doubt that having a domain name with relevant words in it can provide a search engine boost. There’s some debate about whether this includes the keyword in the domain extension. But it’s plausible, especially when people include it in the anchor text they use to link to the site.
I’ve thought about how you could devise a fair study about search engine rankings across top level domain names. It would be rather hard. You’d need to pick a bunch of sets of two domain names (one .com, one non-.com) and get the same backlinks for them. Both would need to have similar keywords in them, so perhaps somekeywords.com and some.keywords. You’d also need the same content on each domain name…but then you’d run into duplicate content issues with Google.
If someone has a suggestion on how to do this, I’m all ears.
Update: Elliot Silver asked Google’s John Mu about the study’s infographic. Here’s what he said:
@DInvesting That looks misleading. New TLDs can rank well, of course: all TLDs can! Also, Google doesn't use DA for ranking.
— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) April 25, 2017
Of course, the idea behind “domain authority” is that it encapsulates some of the factors in Google’s algorithm.