How branded top level domains (bTLDs) can build brand visibility and consumer awareness

Adam Salak

Head of Natural Search

The concept of branded top level domain names (bTLDs) - ‘dot brand’ domain names – burst onto our screens in 2012.   

While 1,930 generic TLD applications have been made, according to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), it is only now that some of the world’s biggest brands such as Barclays and BMW are starting to use these branded top level domain names.

Why do brands adopt a bTLD?

For the most part brands launching bTLDs are global companies with distinct products, services or brands. A bTLD can reinforce the relationship between the group brand and their sub-brands. For example if Unilever were to launch a bTLD, the connection between Unilever and its sub-brand Dove would be clear right from the off:




This approach gives companies greater control over their domain eco-system (logical organisation and shorter naming conventions) as well as greater protection against trademark abuse and IT security issues. It also gives consumers a framework with which to discover sub-brands and creates an opportunity to innovate around ‘parent’ brands.

How can a bTLD build brand visibility through natural search (SEO)?

The impact a well-executed bTLD can have on a brand’s natural search performance is not to be ignored as there are significant performance risks at play.

When migrating an existing site to a bTLD, brands put the majority of their non-brand and brand natural search traffic at risk. If you launch a new bTLD site (which is the more common route) it will invariably take longer for both your non-brand and brand traffic to develop. And this is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

There is still an unknown risk with the performance of bTLDs. There are likely to be unpredictable knock-on effects because Google’s algorithm is not yet set up to properly handle bTLDs, despite their claim that “Brand TLDs will be treated the same as other gTLDs”.

However, the overall impact a move will have on SEO really depends on how valuable the SEO channel is for the existing website and how important the channel will be in the future for a new website. The greater the importance, the greater the potential impact.

Recommendations for launching a bTLD

If you’re considering entering the world of bTLDs there are two key areas to consider.

Naming conventions

The most important criteria is to plan a naming convention that is future proofed and covers all your brands, markets and potential uses of the bTLD environment. We recommend using keyword research data as one of the main inputs in defining the naming conventions. Using a lean second level domain structure and prioritising subfolders for the depth will also help. For example:

  • Market1.brand/product1

  • Market1.brand/product2

The specifics vary from brand to brand as some brands may want to prioritise ‘product’:

  • Product1.brand/market1

  • Product1.brand/market2


Migrate or launch a couple of microsites that are not commercially sensitive and analyse their performance. Once you have optimised the approach and performance is stable you should then plan to migrate the main site(s). It is essential to liaise with search engines, and have PPC standing by to ensure a smooth migration, and to defend traffic while natural search traffic builds up post migration.

There is enormous opportunity and risk attached to bTLDs and we would be delighted to talk to you about iCrossing can help understand these.  To find out how iCrossing can help contact results@icrossing.co.uk

You can find out more about site migration best practice here:

Site migration roadmap and milestones to SEO success

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