Google has made its name synonymous with the Internet by transforming the way we use and understand the web. We don’t just search – we Google. The big question is – what’s next for the tech giant?
Clues to answer this may lie in the company’s increasing interest in new Top-Level Domains (TLDs). TLDs are the suffix of a web address, such as .com, .net and the newly introduced .sydney and .melbourne.
Just recently Google outbid 12 other companies to win the sought-after .app TLD.
The price tag? $25 million.
The sale was the highest the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has registered since it first agreed to expand the number of generic TLDs back in 2011.
Since then, a number of companies have thrown themselves into a bidding war for generic TLDs. Tech journalist Paul Sloan described the bidding war as “the greatest Internet landgrab in history.”
Amazon bought .buy for $4.6 million, Johnson & Johnson spent $3 million to bid for .baby and the Canadian Real Estate Association paid $3.4 million for .mls.
But no brand has applied for more TLDs than Google. The company applied for 101 TLDs, spending over $18.7 million in application fees in the process. In addition to the $25 million .app, Google has bought .how, .soy (meaning ‘I am’ in Spanish) and .みんな (pronounced ‘minna’, the Japanese equivalent to the English term, ‘everyone’). It also applied for .dad, .new, .rsvp and .prof. But why? What is Google’s game plan?
There are various ideas on what the search engine could be up to. One view suggests the buy-up is connected to Google’s new domain name registrar – Google Domains. Just a few months out of beta mode, Google Domains now allows users to register domain names and host websites with Google. This marks a huge shift away from the company’s core business of search and ads. But in many ways it is a logical step. Tech journalist Greg Kumparak describes it as the “missing puzzle piece” to Google’s suite of analytic and email services. A piece that no doubt will prove very profitable.
As Sam Silverwood-Cope, Founder and Director at Natural Search and Data company Intelligent Positioning explains in his blog, “If a company hits gold and acquires an extremely sought after TLD this could be very big business. Already companies such as Sedo and GoDaddy, domain name marketplaces enjoy over $1m worth of sales each in any given week on new domain purchases alone.”
But wait – there’s more. According to domain consultant Michael Berkens, Google Domains is already the top ranked result for Google searches of ‘domain’. Sound suspicious? The jury is out on whether this is an anti-competitive ploy to control the industry or simply Google’s SEO majesty at work.
What this will mean for other TLDs is also in doubt. Jim Stewart, founder of SEO agency Stewart Media, explains, “More broadly, I know Google is already using the TLD as part of their ranking signals… Does it add value to the ranking value? My answer would be yes but it’s always about who are you up against… The one with more ranking signals and more relevance is always going to win the ranking war and the TLD will be part of that.”
The other thought is that the .app domain will be used to create an app-specific online marketplace. By taking control of the .app domain, tech experts believe Google will increase its influence in the app development industry. It’s not an unlikely suggestion, particularly given the success of other TLDs.
In Australia, for instance, the geographic-specific TLDs .sydney and .melbourne have been snapped up by key local officials and tourism bodies, including Luna Park, Destination Melbourne and the City of Sydney. If Google’s .app TLD replicates the same level of interest with app developers, it is easy to see how it will profit from the $25 million investment (especially since it plans to test search ads on Google Play).
So, is it the app business it’s after? Or does Google want to be the top dog of domains? Or, is it simply, in the words of Google evangelist Vint Cerf, about creating “more diverse—and perhaps shorter—signposts in cyberspace”?
It’s still unclear what is in the works. What is clear is that it’s likely to be big – both for Google and for the future of how we all navigate the Internet.