Sweetmantra: Domain Name Strategy

Last month I gave a devil’s advocate keynote talk about the new TLDs at DOMAINfest Asia[1] in Hong Kong. Since my talk didn’t get me thrown into Hong Kong harbour, as I feared it might, I thought it would be worth sharing my talk with a wider audience via my blog. The following is an abbreviated adaptation of that talk.

Bill Sweetman's DomainFest Asia Keynote(photo courtesy of Jothan Frakes)

What constitutes “success” in the new TLD program? And how could this could be measured?

Many people have strong opinions on this topic. And so they should. I propose we look at the new TLDs through the eyes of end user registrants. That’s a perspective we don’t hear much about, and we don’t talk about, as much as I think we should. I will conclude this article with some suggested – and alternative – metrics to gauge the true success of new TLDs.

But first, a bit of background.

I make my living as a domain buyer broker[2] helping entrepreneurs acquire their dream domain names. Prior to this I spent over 15 years working in marketing and advertising. I love domain names and naming, but I always have my marketer’s hat on. This means I am always thinking about the customer, the consumer, the end user.

When it comes to domain names, I’m TLD agnostic. I will help my clients acquire any TLD domain they want.

Here’s a fact that may surprise you: I often ask my clients if they’re aware of the new TLDs (they usually aren’t), and I’m usually the one who recommends they consider a new TLD domain.

So, as regards the new TLD program, I’m an enthusiast.

When the new TLD program was first announced, I was excited and optimistic.

This was the largest namespace change in the history of the Internet.

We could see some amazing technological innovation.

We could see some very creative naming options and uses.

Physical and virtual communities could use these new names to define themselves.

And brands could have greater control of their own namespace.

I believed the new TLDs could have enormous potential if we as an industry brought them to market in the right way.

Unfortunately, and despite some notable exceptions, I don’t think that’s what’s happened yet. As an industry, I think we lost our way a bit with the new TLDs. In the excitement to launch this bold new namespace, some participants forgot something very important: the consumer. And by consumer I am talking about the end-user buyers of these new TLDs, not domainers (domain speculators).

Don’t get me wrong: I love domainers. I buy domains from them all the time on behalf of my end-user clients. And domainers are an important part of the domain name ecosystem.

But the long-term viability of new TLDs depends on more than just domainers. It depends on consumers becoming aware of these new TLDs, and it depends on consumers registering these new TLDs, and it depends on consumers using these new TLDs.

Somehow, sadly, a number of industry players appear to have forgotten what it’s like to be one of those consumers.

And the reason I say that is that many aspects of the new TLD program don’t seem to consider how consumers think about and purchase and use domain names. The process of buying a new TLD domain is not always consumer-friendly.

How do I know this? Because consumers – end-user buyers – tell me this all the time.

So let’s spend a moment looking at the new TLDs from the point of view of a consumer. Let’s forget about the domainer point of view. Let’s forget about the registry point of view. And let’s forget about the registrar point of view.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a consumer. In fact, let’s give this consumer a name. Let’s call him “Adam.”

Adam is a middle-class, white collar business guy. Adam has a day job at an accounting firm. He also has a bit of an entrepreneurial streak and would someday like to start his own music lesson business. Adam knows that he’ll need a business name and matching domain name for his new venture.

Adam is a lucky guy: He lives in 2016, a world where he has a choice of hundreds of new TLD domains to choose from.

We will assume that Adam has already heard about an exciting new TLD called .Banjo. This will be the perfect TLD for his music-related venture.

Let’s also assume that .Banjo is now in its General Availability phase.

Today is Adam’s big day. Today’s the day Adam has decided to name his new business “Flying Banjo”, and so off he goes to his favourite registrar to register Flying.banjo.

Adam is so excited because all he’s been hearing about for the past few months is how this expanding universe of domains beyond .com will give him the opportunity to get his dream domain name.

But when Adam goes to his registrar to try to register the domain, he discovers that Flying.banjo is not available to register and is, in fact, one of the so-called “premium” domains being held back by the registry. The domain Adam was expecting to be able to buy for $20 is actually priced at $5,000.

Adam is confused. Adam is upset. Adam is wondering what happened to all the choice and availability he had been promised – by our industry – with these new TLDs?

I call this the False Promise of Availability. And it’s the first major disappointment for consumers with the new TLD program.

I’m a businessman. I get it. Registries need to make a profit. So I understand why many new TLD registries decided to hold back a portion of their inventory as premium domains. But Adam doesn’t understand this. Adam feels like he has been stiffed.

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