2014 Is the Year of the Pigeon for Google’s Search Algorithm: Will 2015 Be the Year of the gTLD Cat?
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 10th September 2014 in ClickZ

Thousands of new gTLDs will be launched in the next two years. Will Google’s algorithm take this into account?

Google’s big algorithm change was released in July, causing many digital marketers to scramble to respond. Aptly named, Pigeon was focused on improving local results and map-related search tied to contextual intelligence, commonly referred to as Knowledge Graphing. For some using old-school SEO tactics, it may have had a penalizing effect. As the search algorithms become smarter, utilizing contextual and artificial intelligence, capturing data signals about the searcher from all facets of their digital life, the old-school SEO game is all but dead. Emerging in its place are digital masters who can develop clear quality versus gaming strategies, tapping into big data to optimize not just your website, but your entire digital world. With Google’s plans to launch nearly 100 new gTLDs in 2015 and 2016, will 2015 be the year of the Cat for categorizing the Internet with thousands new gTLDs?

If your Web presence was penalized by Pigeon, you are likely scrambling to fix the problem. But, before jumping to conclusions, consider the history of Google’s algorithm changes and the likely impact of gTLDs in 2015 and 2016.
Since 2003, Google has announced big theme changes to its search algorithm annually.


In the early days of the Internet, there weren’t as many pages to crawl and there were nowhere near the number of points of data or signals about the searcher which are now available. The algorithm changes were largely focused on integrating the expanding number of Web pages to crawl while cracking down on spammers or people trying to game the system with backlinks, metatags, or keyword stuffing. Now, the algorithm can know more about when, where, and how you search and what you do, not just on mobile, but in social spaces as well. Increasingly, the big algorithm changes are demanding more of digital marketers, expecting them to invest in quality over quantity.

Panda was released in 2011, which was a big crackdown on content farms. Penguin was released in 2012 and focused on links farms or keyword schemes and a greater focus on localization. Last year, Hummingbird was fully focused on high-quality dynamic content incorporating more contextual intelligence into the algorithm. This year Pigeon addressed a need identified by Google to help people searching on a local basis. There’s a common thread: “If you keep the mental model of ‘What is Google trying to do?’ – trying to return great search results for users – then that helps you try to align yourself with those goals. If you are aligned with those goals, then we are trying to return the high-quality pages that you are making. If you aren’t aligned with those goals, you are always going to be working in opposition to the algorithms and you’re always going to be working in opposition to regular users and what they want to see,” says Matt Cutts of Google.

Will next year be the year of the gTLDs? Here’s why it could be. By mid-2015, nearly all of the 1,400-plus new gTLDs in the 2012 ICANN program will be under contract with ICANN. While there are already more than a half million new domain names sold in new gTLDs, there is consensus that until big brands start to put marketing power behind the idea of these new digital addresses, that it won’t get a lot of traction with consumers or reach a tipping point. Big brands are likely to start promoting these new digital addresses sometime in 2015. Google has a portfolio of nearly 100 new gTLDs. Amazon will have nearly 76 new gTLDs. Half the world’s’ top brands applied for a gTLD. With so many new spaces emerging in 2015-16, the need to categorize the Internet could drive Google to create the Cat algorithm to help make sense of all of this for consumers.

Regardless of Google’s stake in the gTLD ground, there will be thousands of new gTLDs hitting the Internet over the next two years. The algorithms have to take it into account one way or another. So, the first question becomes, how will the algorithms change as a result? Let’s look at a few indicators from the top experts at Google and Bing: “There will be a transition period where we have to learn or find out different ways of what the valid TLDs are and if there is any way we can find out what the domains on that top level domain are. It’s definitely been that case that we always wanted to return the best results to users and so we try to figure that out whether it’s on a .com, .de, or .whatever,” says Cutts. The key word here being to “validate” the TLDs. Do you think Google’s algorithm will “validate” its own TLDs?

From Bing, Duane Forrester says, “What will be important, today and moving forward, is embracing the mix, getting the mix right, and repeating that success using these newer tactics. For a business to really achieve success, they have to look beyond the search engine and set their sights firmly on impressing the customer.”

The bigger question: what does this mean? The short answer is, it means every brand, whether you have a gTLD or not, needs to re-think how you architect the online experience to meet these changing dynamics. The domain name or digital address is just one piece to the puzzle, but should not be overlooked, particularly for those with their own gTLD. At its most basic level, a brand gTLD offers guaranteed authenticity that it’s not spam and is the real true brand owner. Once the algorithms recognize that, everything you build in that space should be authenticated and not penalized. What you do from there, though, will make a big difference in how people find you and experience your brand.

More to come next month on how changing signals and patterns in Web navigation will change the home page for brand gTLDs.