March 19, 2012, 4:44 PM

ICANN has nearly 300 registrants for its top-level domain program

But those new web addresses likely won't help search rankings, Google warns.

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, says it has approved 290 registrants for new generic top-level domain names. A registrant can apply for up to 50 new top-level domains.

A top-level domain is the term that follows the final period in a web address, such as .com, .org and .gov; 22 such domains exist, along with about 250 country-specific domains. ICANN is working to expand available domains by enabling retailers and other entities to create or buy domains that describe their work. For instance, a camera company could use the .camera domain, or a subdomain that includes .camera. A company could use its own name as a domain, as in clothing.Macys.

A successful registrants is one that has cleared the legal review process for a domain application and submitted a $5,000 deposit—in essence, a registrant has filed an expression of interest for a new top-level domain application, not the application itself. ICANN says that it will accept applications until April 12, though an expression of interest must be lodged by March 29.

The fee to apply for a top-level domain name is $185,000. Retailers registering subdomains would likely pay a much lower cost, experts say, though costs could add up for companies that aim to control many web addresses. ICANN plans to reveal the domains for which registrants have applied on May 1, and for the new domains to begin operation in January 2013.

“It appears that most companies have decided not to participate in this first round of applications,” reads a recent report from Chicago law firm Marshall, Gerstein & Borun, which works on intellectual property issues. “Many have expressly stated that the cost and complexity of the application process, the need to form long-term service provider relationships, and the uncertain benefits from registration have led them to delay registration.”

ICANN will decide about a second round after seeing how many registrants take part in the first round, says Steve Crocker, ICANN chairman. A  large first round—Crocker gave no number—will mean a longer time for review, delaying a possible second round. “A second factor is, we’ve also committed to  take a pause and examine how well the system is working in every way,” he adds, giving no specific schedule except to say the process will take a “small number of years.”

In related news, Google engineer Matt Cutts has clarified that the new top-level domains, or TLDs, will not automatically lead to higher search rankings for organizations using those new web addresses. On his Google + page, Cutts advises against buying a new domain in hopes of boosting search profiles.

“Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don't expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn't bet on that happening in the long-term either,” Cutts writes.  “If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that's your choice, but you shouldn't register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you'll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.”

At the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012, Danielle Leitch, executive vice president, MoreVisibility,  and Amanda Watlington, owner, Searching for Profit, will speak in a session entitled “Live SEO reviews: Are you doing everything you can to show up high in search rankings?” The IRCE $200 early-bird discount expires March 31.

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