Should You Use .TEL Top Level Domains (TLDs)?

.TEL domainsPeriodically, someone will launch a new, specialized Top Level Domain (“TLD”), claiming it’s the next big thing on the net. As we’ve seen time and again (such as with the .MOBI TLD), most of these efforts are never going to achieve the same level of recognition or adoption as the .COM and .NET standards, and businesses which muck about with them are likely to expend valuable resources resulting in zero ROI.

Such is likely to be the case with the .TEL top level domain which launched in March. .TEL, operated by Telnic Limited, is intended to be a sort of domain-based authoritative location for contact information – a sort of grand new evolution of phone directories, white pages, and yellow pages. When you obtain a .TEL domain, you don’t manage it on the servers of your choice, but instead it will generate a site hosted on the Telnic service. Justin Hayward, Communications Director for Telnic, is quoted as saying:

“We consider .tel to be the first global live contact site directory. Once contact details are populated in a .tel, anyone can type a known .tel address into any browser or use keywords that describe the person or business they want to find. Keywords are free so the more keywords that are used and the more descriptive they are, the easier it is to be discoverable.”

On the surface, this all sounds good, but the first problem I see with it is one of adoption: if people know to look for you, they will not be likely to type in a .TEL domain name — everyone looks for .COM. Even if you specifically tell someone about your .TEL URL, you’ll expend extra time explaining that, yes, .TEL *is* a type of web URL, and even then they’re just as likely to type it in as “something.tel.com”, which is operated by Tokyo Electron company, and not the proper Telnic page URL.

This is the exact same issue with .MOBI, which was intended to be used as an authoritative URL for the mobile-friendly versions of websites. Most people don’t know/understand the protocol, so they won’t be naturally typing it in when out and about with their mobile devices (and, .Mobi has the additional downside of creating one-letter-longer URLs, which make it that much more tiresome for someone on a wireless device to type in).

From a marketing perspective, .TEL domains have additional downsides. You don’t appear to be able to control the UI or look-and-feel of the generated contact pages, and slapping on yet another domain can split the effectiveness of your natural search engine optimization work. Links pointing at that additional URL will dribble away portions of the PageRank you could be sending or keeping for your primary domain.

And, how will search engines treat it? As with many of the lesser top-level-domains, they’re likely to be more mistrustful. I see zero toolbar PageRank values for the top-ranking .TEL pages, though this may be due to the domains only getting launched recently. But, their public statements touting keywords (“…Keywords are free so the more keywords that are used…the easier it is to be discoverable…”) and the fact that domainers seem to be excited by having another channel to potentially exploit makes the TLD concerning in terms of potential search engine performance.

Bucking standards in favor of creating your own proprietary one, and flying in the face of established adoption rates in terms of internet consumer behavior are not a good formula for success.

In a very self-serving blog post by Telnic CTO, Henri Asseily, titled, “Why .tel and not a free hcard microformat?“, they seem to also be taking aim against the increasingly popular hCard Microformat standard in favor of .TEL. What’s funny about this is that this is comparing apples and oranges, and Telnic has deployed example domains (see emma.tel, henri.tel) which provide a vCard at the bottom of the pages.

It’s absolutely stunning to me that they took the trouble to provide vCard off of their contact info pages when they could easily also embed all the vCard information into the page itself, using semantic markup! Meanwhile, his blog is suggesting that using .TEL in some way should be done instead of using hCard! And, I totally fail to see the significance of protecting info he’s referring to with privacy settings — are the .TEL pages a publicly-findable directory of contact info, or not?!? It’s disappointing that they wouldn’t simply incorporate the hCard and thereby gain additional advantage from the special display treatments that Google has begun applying to microformat-enriched pages.

Telnic is partly promoting their service as a way of providing individuals’ and businesses’ contact info on the internet, “even if you don’t have a website”. Ummm… don’t the online white pages and yellow pages already do this?

For companies considering adopting the .TEL for online marketing advantage, you should seriously reconsider. This is not going to become the defacto online standard anytime soon, and expending time playing with this domain is going to take resources away from efforts which are likely to be far more beneficial. At worst, linking to new .TEL domains could also subtract some of your existing PageRank value to little advantage.

The only case in which a .TEL domain could potentially provide advantage is in the case of a project to improve online reputation, if you’re looking for additional webpages to come up in SERPs, helping you to push down some sort of negative content which may be ranking for your brandname. However, there are a lot more social media sites, business profile pages, and additional strategies which you should be employing in that case, and the unproven nature of .TEL sites in organic search rankings relegate use of the new TLD to the bottom of your list of possible online reputation weapons.

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11 thoughts on “Should You Use .TEL Top Level Domains (TLDs)?

  1. Hi Chris,
    Again .tel is NOT about web pages. .tel information can get viewed on the web, but that’s not its primary goal. Its primary goal is to solve the problem of a single universal personal identifier for multiple communication services. Having a web-based interface is useful for the human eye, but it’s at least as important for devices to be able to access that information at the lowest possible level, and highest speed and reliability.

    The hcard microformat is very nice, but as I said in my blog, there are major problems with it. Not in the format itself, but in the implementation. I quote:
    “So let’s recap the hcard solution: you need to pay for your domain (any .com or equivalent will do) and a website, you need a means to easily update your hcard even when on the move, and you need a custom-built privacy infrastructure that you hope will be accepted.”

    As for why we provide a vCard link, it’s as a convenience to mobile users who want a one-click import into their address book from the web. We are going to also add automatic semantic markup on the page itself (that is a very good suggestion), but the link will stay anyway. Not every browser can suck in semantic info directly from a web page.

    Online yellow pages are very weak in the information they provide: it’s not timely at all, out of the control of the company, and good luck providing a sip number, twitter name or anything out of the ordinary.

    Finally, regarding privacy, no single universal personal identifier for multiple communication services will ever function properly without complete atomic privacy. And that is why we designed privacy into the system from the start. Incidentally, there’s nothing proprietary about .tel: the specs are public, it’s fully compliant with the DNS RFCs, and you can elect to use your own privacy infrastructure as well. We only mandate implementation of our API specs for interoperability between all .tel applications.

  2. Hi, Henri – thank you for dropping by and commenting.

    I think the advantage of using .TEL is still unclear to me, and is therefore an indistinct marketing message overall. It may fulfill a niche need for a few individuals or companies, but it’s not at all clear to me why a “single universal personal identifier for multiple communication services” could not be their existing website.

    Indeed, for a great many individuals and companies out there, it already is their existing website, and it would be superfluous to set up a .TEL presence in addition to their core site.

    As you state about the hCard, you need a site, you need to pay for it, and you need a means of updating it. All of these are also dependencies for .TEL as well, so they don’t really detract from the usefulness of implementing hCard microformat on existing sites, nor are they substantially convincing arguments of further benefit that .TEL might bring with it.

    I can definitely see that if .TEL becomes a more universally-accepted standard source of authoritative contact information, it could be beneficial. The problem as I see it is that it must gain a sufficient volume of marketshare before that point is reached, which requires a truly large investment of capitol, and a much clearer marketing message.

    I’m pleased to hear that .TEL may incorporate microformatting in the future! It definitely makes sense if you want to facilitate machine-readable contact info.

    Now, no one can call me a shill for the yellow pages industry, but I have to take exception to some of your statements about yellow pages. At least in America, the larger online yellow pages do provide businesses with a large number of optional information fields, and even free-form text fields for providing details. They’re not out of control of the companies listed — indeed, any company can claim their listings and update them as frequently as they may wish — and many companies do, even to the point of performing montly huge bulk uploads of listing info for their hundreds of chainstores. And, perhaps just as importantly, even with the concept of “yellow pages” becoming somewhat less popular, that information source still has a far larger marketshare than .TEL.

    The privacy feature is the least clear selling point about .TEL. I’m by no means ignorant about privacy issues, but it’s unclear to me how .TEL helps those, and why that those of us who want to make our contact info more readily findable should simultaneously want to keep it private?

  3. I can’t comment about subtracting or dribbling page rank, but from personal experience of owning hundreds of .tel domains, at least 95% of them are ranked and found by Google, some now with PR 3. Even the one created just last week for TelCamp has a top 10 spot already. Those .tel domains without ranking or not found on searches are probably due to the fact they are not yet linked to from other domains.

  4. Mark, when you say “ranked and found by Google”, that only means they’re indexed and showing up in results. It does not mean that they’ve necessarily accrued much PageRank.

    If you’re talking about http://telcamp.tel/ – I viewed it just this moment and Google Toolbar showed no PR value. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have PageRank value, but it could mean that it’s so small as to not even register as a “1″ on the logarithmic toolbar PR scale. And, it’s very easy for a page to appear in the top ten listings for a fairly uncontested keyword term.

    I just now looked more extensively, and I now found a couple of .TEL domains in the upper rankings for that TLD in Google which had a PageRank value of 1 to 3. However again, the Toolbar PageRank scale is logarithmic, so achieving PR of 1-3 is not all that difficult.

    From the perspective of internet marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I stand by what I wrote earlier: just as with the other lesser top-level domains, the search engines are likely to consider them less trustworthy currently. For most companies, attempting to establish rankings on an additional domain is contraindicated because it will split their link-building efforts and effectiveness. Until or if .TEL becomes more established, natural search marketing benefit is unproven.

  5. Remember that Google cares a lot about the age of a page and domain. My own .tel is PR 5 as it’s been around for a good 6 months longer than the oldest purchased .tel domains.

  6. Those are good points, Henri.

    I did note that .TELs haven’t been around all that long, so this could easily explain low-or-no PageRank Toolbar scores, since Google updates the Toolbar ranking data infrequently – only every so many months. Your .TEL must have some good amount of high-PR pages linking to it or it would not achieve such rankings.

  7. Chris Silver Smith’s original article does hit the point, quite well. The fact is .tel is a money making conception, aimed at forcing trademark owners to pay a fee to the Telnic owners. The only reason companies will register a .tel is in order to prevent cyber-squatting. Look at the BBC. Their bbc.tel record is kept to the bare essentials with just a link to their website URL.

    The fact is if you want to find an organisation you will use their ‘real’ website.
    If you don’t know what their domain name is, you use a search engine.

    There is absolutely no legitimate reason for the .tel domain in it’s current format, probably why some 6 months later even websites such as bbc.tel have a Pagerank of 0 in Google.

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